Is There Such a Thing as “Untranslatable”?

Are there any truly untranslatable words?

The short answer is: No.

The long answer: It depends on your definition of “untranslatable”.

Given that different cultures code things differently, it is a fact of life that every language contains at least a handful of words for which no equivalent word exists in another language. But fear not! Even the meaning of so-called “untranslatable” words can be conveyed through equivalent phrases or sentences. 

Take for instance this cute little illustrated book I discovered at my local library today. It’s called Lost in Translation, by Ella Frances Sanders. Here are a few examples from German that have made my day – I hope you enjoy them too:

Drachenfutter” (literally, dragon fodder) = a gift from a husband to his wife when he wants to appease her (for instance, after having forgotten their anniversary!); a kind of atonement.

Kabelsalat” (literally, cable salad) = a big snarl of entangled cables.

Waldeinsamkeit” (literally, forest lonesomeness) = the pleasant, melancholy feeling of solitude, inner peace and oneness with nature a person experiences when walking alone in the woods.

That’s all for this week. See you next time. Until then, keep communicating!