How to Translate the Untranslatable|
The art of translating a word or phrase into another language is a beautiful, but complex one. To translate something is to transfer meaning across from one written or verbal form to another.
What is an Untranslatable Word?
Since the formative years of human interaction, translation has played a major role in connecting people of different creeds and cultures. Its significant development over the centuries has contributed greatly to an increased melting pot in society and has been a key feature of globalisation.
Top 10 Untranslatable Words
Some words in certain languages cannot be directly translated into a single word, like-for-like, or localized into certain regions, but instead can be explained in terms of meaning and sentiment.
1. Sobremesa (Spain)
This noun refers to the Spanish tradition of sitting round the table and chatting after lunch or dinner, typically for around 30 minutes to one hour. Its literal translation is “upon the table”.
2. Verschlimmbessern (Germany)
A colloquial term which refers to a person attempting to improve something but instead making things worse in the process. It is a fusion of verschlimmern (“to make something worse”) and verbessern (“to make something better”).
3. Abbiocco (Italy)
It is a noun that denotes the sleepy feeling a person experiences after eating a large meal. There are no literal translations, but related meanings include “fit of drowsiness” and “a sleepy desire to lie down after food”.
4. Utepils (Norway)
The term refers to a beer enjoyed and cherished outside in the sunshine, usually in the summer period, as opposed to the long, dark Norwegian winters. The literal translation is “outdoors lager”.
5. Desenrascanço (Portugal)
Considered to be a key Portuguese virtue, it is a noun that describes the ability to improvise quickly in order to problem-solve quickly, using whatever means available. The literal translation is “disentanglement”.
6. Yakamoz (Turkey)
A poetic word that describes the beauty of seeing the moon’s reflection on a piece of water. More specifically, it refers to the bioluminescence, or sparkling light, emitted by sea creatures. The literal translation is “sea sparkle”.
7. Hyggelig (Denmark)
In just one word, this adjective describes a combination of: caring, friendly, safe, and snuggly. There is no literal translation but it shares the same etymology as the British English term “’hug” and means something much deeper emotionally, in Danish.
8. Prozvonit (Czech Republic)
Refers to the act of calling somebody on a mobile phone but only letting it call once, with the aim being that the receiver calls back, therefore saving the caller money. There is no literal translation.
9. Wabi-Sabi (Japan)
Is a profound concept that refers to finding beauty in something that is not perfect in the eyes of others, through accepting the natural cycle of decay and imperfection. There is no literal translation.
10. Jayus (Indonesia)
Is a slang term that is used to describe the feeling experienced when a person delivers a joke so unfunny that it is almost impossible not to laugh at, mainly out of awkwardness. There is no literal translation.
How to Get Around Translation Issues
● Direct Translation
When it comes to attempting to translate certain words into a different language, the first and most straightforward step is to try a literal – or direct – translation. In a process known as formal equivalence, translators will closely follow the words represented in the original language.
● Word Adaptation
Where direct translation is not possible, the next step is to attempt to adapt the word. This can be achieved by using other terms or phrases in the target language to convey an accurate meaning of the origin or source word.
● Word Creation
Another alternative is to, in essence, borrow words, by taking terms from another language, adjusting the way they are used and adapting them to the grammatical rules of the target language. In some cases, the spelling can be altered to match the word’s pronunciation.