Words and their relationship with meaning is a fascinating subject so much that there is a whole science behind it. Linguists are spending their whole lives analysing everything about the simplest word you are using daily, trying to categorize it, find its origin, how it has changed over the years, while translators are trying to find suitable equivalents in other languages, and over the years, one particular phenomenon has been able to capture the attention of wider audience.
Untranslatable words (aka untranslatability), are words that do not have a simple equivalent in another language, and they can only be described via a certain phrase or a definition, which, in itself, is a form of translation. Here are some of the words which cannot be easily translated into other languages, and their meaning is unique to their place of origin.
“Hyggelig”, Danish, Norwegian
This word is used to describe being warm, but also friendly, or something that is accommodating. Trying to use Google Translate will give you the word Nice as a counterpart. But it also means comfort and welcoming. While this word can be used to describe things like apartments and sofas, it can also be used as a greeting, where it could mean pleasure. The Danish are quite happy about this word, and are more than willing to try and explain it. So, the next time you are drinking a hot cup of hot chocolate near the fireplace, you might feel that the whole situation is hyggelig.
This is a sad word, since it describes a state similar to nostalgia, where you are quite melancholic and longing for something or someone you love, knowing that they might never return. It is the feeling of emptiness in a particular moment, when a person experiences saudade the most. It can describe this complex feeling, or it can be simply used in a sentence to say I miss you, but in a much stronger way.
While this word is not a brainer, and it means Sitting outside, enjoying a beer, it is interesting to think how a single word can be used to describe that particular situation. True, this might not be the most difficult word in the world to translate from Norwegian to English, but it is strange because of the amount of details in it. It sure is a great day for utepils!
A complex word, it essentially means feeling sorry for yourself, but in a sudden manner. It is created instantly when you see how actually miserable, poor, unlucky or incompetent you are in a particular situation. Something like self-pity or shame could be chosen by a Czech translator. Litost is also a word that explains the moment when you find that something that should not have happened, happened. It does not necessarily have something to do with humiliation, but simply with regret or a deep feeling of sadness.
This famous Russian word is used as a perfect example of something that can only be felt and barely described in words. It is an especially strong feeling of sadness, spiritual anguish, but without a specific cause. When a person feels restless, and feeling a strong sense of yearning, that may actually be Toska, and it may range from sadness for someone or something to simple boredom. Similar to depression, boredom and nostalgia at the same time, the only problem being that this word means all of those at the same time.
Although Sanskrit is not commonly used, it is considered to be one of the perfect languages out there. The word Maya describes an illusion, or a delusion, or a fraud - deception that the symbol of a thing is actually the thing itself. It is a whole philosophy hidden behind this word - we do not experience the environment itself but the projection of it. It sets a goal of philosophy to prove that the self and the universe are actually one and the same, that the illusion is actually you thinking that there is a difference between you, everyone and everything else.
Unlike someone who plans ahead, first imagines and creates a goal and then slowly but steadily takes actions towards it, bricoleur is someone that starts building without a clear plan, design, adding here and there, improvising as it goes. Sometimes a bricoleur can be someone who creates something wonderful, but more often, it goes down in flames.