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Lost in Translation: 11 Words from Other Cultures

lost in translationYou know how some things are simply hard to put into words? Basically, languages that are not our own are often a lot better at expressing certain emotions or ideas. As a result, there are many concepts that cannot be properly identified or explained across cultures – thus, they are lost in translation.

Linguists have spent countless years deconstructing languages, taking them apart letter by letter, and trying to figure out why there are so many things that cannot be translated into our own language. Often these foreign words provide insight into the cultures they came from. Here are some examples:

  • Waldeinsamkeit – German word for the feeling of being alone in the woods. (Ralph Waldo Emerson even wrote a poem about it.)
  • Komorebi – Japanese word to express the way sunlight filters through the leaves of trees.
  • Iktsuarpok – Inuit word for the feeling of anticipation that leads you to keep looking outside to see if anyone is coming.
  • Jayus – Indonesian word for a joke told so poorly and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.
  • Panapo’o – Hawaiian word for the act of scratching your head to help you remember something you’ve forgotten.

The folks at Maptia (a global storytelling platform) published an infographic featuring 11 of these wonderful, if slightly elusive, words from around the world. It’s basically a collection of drawings based on unique foreign words. For each of them there is no single word within the English language that could be considered a direct translation.

There is also a book, Lost in Translation, which brings to life more than 50 words that don’t have direct English translations along with charming illustrations of their tender, poignant, and humorous definitions. It’s illustrated by Ella Frances Sanders, the same person who designed the infographic.

These would be good words to learn how to say and spell, giving you new ways to express yourself… and maybe you’ll even recognize a feeling or two among them.

11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures

From Visually.

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