Words that don't have translations in English

royal744

Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
10,756
San Antonio, Tx
The Swedish language has several such words, perhaps most famous among them being "lagom". It is most often translated as "just enough", "in moderation", "average" or "sufficient", but none of these words are quite right as they suggest that something is lacking. "Lagom" means that something is appropriately sufficient and just the right amount, lacking nothing but also not achieving perfection. Not too much, not too little. For us Swedes, it is often seen as the ideal state of things, from food (most would prefer "lagom" seasoning, and nothing too spicy nor mild, or a "lagom" amount of food so they are no longer hungry but also do not feel too full) to one's personal finances (most prefer having a "lagom" amount of money, meaning enough to pay for their needs with a bit to spare, but no excessive wealth nor any degree of poverty).
Native French speaker please?

This is a French translation of the Arab historian Al Mas'Udi. He's talking about Cleopatra.
"C'était une princesse versée dans les sciences, adonnée à l'étude la philosophie et admettant les savants dans son intimité. "

I'm having trouble with the word "intimité".

I believe the notion is that she discusses philosophy with scholars in a superior position. She "admits them into her inner circle". Something along those lines. There's another document in Greek where Cleopatra is quizzing philosophers on alchemy, so that's consistent.

Is that really a fair translation/use of "intimité"?
Yes, close enough
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,179
România
Saudade isn't untranslatable. Some Portuguese speakers, usually those who are not proficient in English, think it is. Same goes for Romanians and the word: "dor" (which means the same as saudade and it's mentioned in the wiki). It usually just means: "longing".

From the wiki about saudade:
The rock band Extreme has a Portuguese guitarist Nuno Bettencourt; the influence of his heritage can be seen in the band's album Saudades de Rock. During recording, the mission statement was to bring back musicality to the medium. "Nancy Spain", a song by Barney Rush, made famous by an adaptation by Christy Moore, is another example of the use of saudade in contemporary Irish music, the chorus of which is:

"No matter where I wander I'm still haunted by your name
The portrait of your beauty stays the same
Standing by the ocean wondering where you've gone
If you'll return again
Where is the ring I gave to Nancy Spain?"
That's saudade. You have to be able to speak Portuguese to understand those lyrics. No one else could possibly relate. They only managed to reach those deep feelings, because their guitarist is from Portugal. You can see how that entire wiki is written by people who desperately want to prove a point. Listen to the songs they reference, look at the poems, it's nothing that can't be translated with "yearning", "longing" or "nostalgia", depending on the context. All those feelings can also be expressed in a deep and poetic manner.
The Good Son, a 1990 album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, was heavily informed by Cave's mental state at the time, which he has described as saudade. He told journalist Chris Bohn: "When I explained to someone that what I wanted to write about was the memory of things that I thought were lost for me, I was told that the Portuguese word for this feeling was saudade. It's not nostalgia but something sadder."
That's just nostalgia. Nostalgia can be very sad.

There's a good debate on reddit, where two people who know Portuguese and English explain why it's not untranslatable (while a guy who speaks English, but not Portuguese, tries to counter-argue): https://www.reddit.com/r/DoesNotTranslate/comments/1bay2v/_/c95am6v
Edit: I don't know why it looks like an image. You can click it.

This is concise and well written:
As a fluent Portuguese speaker, I agree 100% with what you said. Longing, yearning and even nostalgia convey perfectly the meaning of saudade. The only reason some lusophones think it's unstranslatable is because of the way they express the feeling of missing someone in their language. While in English (I miss you), Spanish (te extraño) and French (tu me manques) this feeling is expressed with a verb, in Portuguese (estou com saudades) it is expressed with a noun. That's also why saudade feels more powerful, because being a noun, it expresses a whole concept and it's one of the reasons why it's such an important word in genres such as Brazilian bossa nova and Portuguese fados. That being said, it's only deep and special from a Portuguese speaker's point of view.
I'm not trying to devalue it. The Romanian word "dor" has a huge place in our culture, but it's not unique, nor untranslatable. Google translate won't change its place in Romanian culture, because it says it means: "longing".

"Serendipity" means "the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for" and it's very hard to translate it from English to another language (I'd need a long phrase to do it in Romanian) and "schadenfreude" is "pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune". Those count as being untranslatable. Saudade isn't special, because you sometimes might want to add the word "intense" in front of "yearning", "longing" or "nostalgia".

Another annoying wannabe special word is: "ennui". That one just literally means boredom. "A feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement" is boredom. The existence of pretentious French poetry containing that word doesn't suddenly make it untranslatable, nor it being tied to some part of French culture. The fact that "boredom" isn't a very poetic sounding word doesn't change its meaning.

This would be like Americans saying "freedom" is impossible to translate, because of how deeply tied it is to American culture, or Germans doing it with "order". The North Koreans are capable of translating "freedom" and the Somalis can translate "order". There's no need for a special relationship with the word.

Just like with saudade, if you google "dor Romanian word", you'll find a ton of stuff about how incredibly unique it is, unless you get a native English speaker who knows Romanian or a Romanian proficient in English. Then, you'll get stuff like this: Romanian’s Special Word: DOR He's a bit wrong, we can say "mi-ai lipsit" ("I missed you") as a casual way of saying we missed someone.

Someone from Portugal/Romania grows up reading their country's literature. He's aware of their country's masterpieces. He's told saudade/dor is special. English is mostly experienced thru the internet, mainstream music and movies. Of course a word like saudade/dor is going to then look far better than various English equivalents. The internet associates nostalgia with being a 90s kid or playing video games on the NES/SNES. Longing is associated with "I long for you" and it's viewed as being almost exclusively about having a sexual desire for someone. Yearning isn't well known (non native speakers tend not to know The New Colossus). If that person then starts going deeper into the culture of one or more English speaking countries, they get a fuller understanding of those words and realise the ones from their native language that they thought were uniquely sophisticated are not really like that.

Wiki gives this for longing: Longing - Wikipedia -> Desire - Wikipedia
It literally has a painting called Saudade, the same one used in the wiki for saudade.
Nostalgia - Wikipedia
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,179
România
I like how the wiki defeats itself with this (it's very hard to translate, but it can be translated with just one word in many different languages):
Despite being hard to translate in full, saudade has equivalent words in other cultures, and is often related to music styles expressing this feeling such as the blues for African-Americans, Sehnsucht in German, dor in Romania, Tizita in Ethiopia, Hiraeth in Welsh, or Assouf for the Tuareg people, appocundria in Neapolitan. In Slovak, the word is clivota or cnenie, and in Czech, the word is stesk. In Turkish, the word Hasret meaning longing, yearning or nostalgia has similar connotations.

The similar melancholic music style is known in Bosnia-Herzegovina as sevdah (ultimately from Arabic سَوْدَاء sawdā' : 'black [bile]', translation of the Greek µέλαινα χολή, mélaina cholē from which the term melancholy is derived).
They haven't proved it's hard to translate in full. The wiki starts with: "a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing", instead of just saying "nostalgia" or "longing". One of the first examples of equivalent words is "Sehnsucht". Its wiki immediately says it means: "longing", "pining", "yearning", or "craving".

Prior to them saying how hard it is to translate, they have this:

Saudade is a word in Portuguese and Galician that claims no direct translation in English. In Portuguese, "Tenho saudades tuas" (European Portuguese) or "Estou com saudades de você" (Brazilian Portuguese), translates as "I have (feel) saudade of you" meaning "I miss you", but carries a much stronger tone. In fact, one can have saudade of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future. For example, one can have "saudade" towards part of the relationship or emotions once experienced for/with someone, though the person in question is still part of one's life, as in "Tenho saudade do que fomos" (I feel "saudade" of the way we were). Another example can illustrate this use of the word saudade: "Que saudade!" indicating a general feeling of longing, whereby the object of longing can be a general and undefined entity/occasion/person/group/period etc. This feeling of longing can be accompanied or better described by an abstract will to be where the object of longing is.
No citations for three entire paragraphs (the entire "Related words" section of the wiki).

That's simply written by people who don't know English that well. Of course you can tell a person: "I miss the way we used to be" or "I miss what we could have been". The general feeling of longing can also be expressed in English. The people who wrote that seriously think you can only possibly say "I miss you", because that's the only way they heard it used.

You can look at the talk section for the wiki article and see plenty of people who know both Portuguese and English saying it's not untranslatable: Talk:Saudade - Wikipedia

Also, show this to someone who thinks saudade is untranslatable and can only be experienced thru things like Portuguese music (mainly for the melody and voice):


I know I rambled and I could have been more concise, but this is a huge pet peeve of mine. The internet is filled with stuff like this: 11 Romanian Words That Can't Be Translated Into English
acasa = home
a darui = to gift
nadejde = faith (in someone/something) + she mistranslated, she thinks it's only related to other people
a se gudura = to fawn upon
a se înfiripa = (beginning) to blossom
stingher = lonely
vrednic = worthy
mărțișor = that's about a certain tradition, of course countries that don't have it also don't have a specific word for something that's related to it, what a discovery
a se deretica = to tidy up (a room)
doină = look at her definition and then look at this: Doina - Wikipedia It's also dead. English didn't invent a specific word for a dead musical tune style found in the Balkans and the Middle East.

Stuff like this happens because English has 1.1 million words, while Romanian has 80,000 (67,000, if we remove specialised terms, from medicine, chemistry, IT and so on) and 40% of the active vocabulary is taken from French, so people want to search for uniqueness as if it does anything to change reality. Romanian is cool as it is, no need for artificial stuff.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,916
It's still as the Italians put it: "Traduttore - traditore", translator - traitor.

Sure, everything is translatable. But translation is not identity. They all betray something. Which is why getting by on translation never quite beat actual language knowledge.
Traduttore, Traditore - ALTA Language Services

And the 1.1 million English words vs the poverty of just about every other language is a bit of BS really. That if anything is a failure of communication about how languages work.
 
Jun 2017
626
maine
I encountered a Scottish word, mingy, that has no specific English equivalent. One always winds up explaining what it means rather than being able to translate directly.
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,179
România
Mañana is one of my favourite words. I've been abusing a Romanian word to make it mean something similar ever since I was a kid (I found out about mañana a decade after I started). I use "imediat" ("immediately", obviously) when asked to do something and when I want to reply that I'm probably going to eventually get to it. No one uses it like that and nobody enjoys me doing it.

George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia:
Every foreigner who served in the militia spent his first few weeks in learning to love the Spaniards and in being exasperated by certain of their characteristics. In the front line my own exasperation sometimes reached the pitch of fury. The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war. All foreigners alike are appalled by their inefficiency, above all their maddening unpunctuality. The one Spanish word that no foreigner can avoid learning is mañana — ‘tomorrow’ (literally, ‘the morning’). Whenever it is conceivably possible, the business of today is put off until mañana. This is so notorious that even the Spaniards themselves make jokes about it. In Spain nothing, from a meal to a battle, ever happens at the appointed time. As a general rule things happen too late, but just occasionally — just so that you shan't even be able to depend on their happening late — they happen too early. A train which is due to leave at eight will normally leave at any time between nine and ten, but perhaps once a week, thanks to some private whim of the engine-driver, it leaves at half past seven. Such things can be a little trying. In theory I rather admire the Spaniards for not sharing our Northern time-neurosis; but unfortunately I share it myself.
A song I thought about while writing this post:

 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,179
România
I encountered a Scottish word, mingy, that has no specific English equivalent. One always winds up explaining what it means rather than being able to translate directly.
Doesn't it mean stingy? That's how I interpret it when I hear it, maybe with the added nuance of being mean while being stingy.