Words that don't have translations in English

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,405
Mehrkaiserherrschaft - The experience of living under multiple emperors, a term that is used in the study of the Roman Empire of the third and fourth centuries.
It's a good word for a weird concept – but German and other Germanic languages are notoriously pliable in how they allow you to string words together to form these kinds of new concept. "Flerkejsarvälde" would be a Swedish equivalent. And had English developed more like its Germanic cousins and less like French, it probable could have gone with something like "Manykaiserrule" and though that a perfectly normal English word.

The stricter application of the rules of this game asks for words that are distinct concept in themselves for something not really present in other languages.

The Swedish "problemformuleringsprivilegiet" is something like the "Mehrkaiserherrsschaft". It's actually a key word in contemporary Swedish political discussions – closest English translation one is proposed is "the privilege of formulating [what is] problems".
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,172
Welsh Marches
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt - no doubt we all know it, but only the Germans have a word for it. Could add countless compound words in Germa and doubtless other langauges, they have to be dismantled to translated into English.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,603
Lower Styria, Slovenia
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt - no doubt we all know it, but only the Germans have a word for it. Could add countless compound words in Germa and doubtless other langauges, they have to be dismantled to translated into English.
Does English really not have a word for Sehnsucht? I never thought of hrepenenje being such a weird concept to some ...
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,405
Is it not just nostalgia?
You get this scattergun flurry of suggested words to cover "Sehnsucht" – nostalgia, longing, yearning, pining, desire, wistfulness – which sort of indicates the problem. Of course a one word translation can almost always be proposed, but it's as the Italians say: "Traduttore – tradditore", translator – betrayer.

With the rider of the dangers of imperfect English, "wistfulness" to me seems the closest.
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,172
Welsh Marches
Wistfulness is a bit too passive I think, the element of yearning seems to be a crucial component! In translating a passage containing one the word one would of course have to resort to paraphrase, varying one's choice of wording according to the context. How boring it would be if every word in every language could be translated wiithout the loss of any shade of meaning into an equivalent in another! That would mean that all languages were like Esperanto, quite the most boring and unpoetic language imaginable, rather than being living and evolving organisms. These supposedly untranslatable words are really just ones ones that we notice because they lie at one end of a spectrum. I have thought myself fortunate in mainly have had to make translations from ancient languages, which are heavily inflected and so distant from modern European languages that the translator has considerable freedom of manoeuvre, since one has to resort to quite broad paraphrase the whole time; it is really more difficult to translate from one related modern language to another, because words that seem to express the same meaning (even words that are virtually the same in each language) all too often have different shades of meaning which are all too easily lost when one thinks that one is keeping close to the original.
 

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