20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World

Know what Toska means?  How about JayusJason White wrote an article about ’20 awesomely untranslatable worlds from around the world for Matador Abroad.

Toska and jayus are two of 20 untranslatable (or at least tough to translate) words from other languages.

Toska is a Russian word meaning “great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause; a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning.” Lots of English words to describe one Russian word.

Jayus on the other hand is Indonesian for “a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh”.

Language, when we’re on the same page and speaking from the same perspective, can be a bridge to understanding.  When that bridge is very long and overarching however, one can’t see the other side.  It can be shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding.  Confusion results.

“What are you talking about?”  “I don’t get it/her/him!”  “That person is from another planet.”  “They’re speaking English but they may as well be speaking Latin.”

For example, for people who communicate with emotion and rely on their intuition (Heart Life Lenses™) those who rely on logic and facts (Head Life Lenses™) can be completely baffled by them (and vice versa).  Here’s a simple tip to get across the bridge:

If you’re a Heart Life Lens™ try using the word ‘think’ (even though it may feel odd), as in ‘What do you think is the best way to proceed?’

And if you’re a Head Life Lens™ try using the word ‘feel’ (even though you may think it’s odd), as in ‘What do you feel is the best way to proceed?’

In my experience substituting think for feel or feel for think can make a big difference.

Understanding another’s perspective helps get across the bridge to understanding.  Figure out your perspective (including where your blind spots are) and you’ll go far.

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6 Responses to 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World

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  2. Dyana Valentine sent me this and the Matador post by mail – very interesting!
    I would spontaneously add “escampar” (Spanish): to stop raining. Always amazes me. (I hope there’s no word for that in English – at least, there isn’t one in German!)
    Also, there are other German words to add for sure. Thinking of “Sehnsucht”, for example: Craving, longing, yearning, but all of these don’t quite hit it. Literally, it’s the “addiction to long for sth.”.

    Thanks for posting this and the suggestions for building communication bridges! :)

  3. admin says:

    Hi Fabian- nice to make your acquaintance. Any pal of Dyana Valentine’s is ok in my books.

    How do you pronounce ‘sehnsucht’- which sounds like a powerful word indeed. Isn’t there a word in German that literally translates to ‘ear worm’ and means when you get a song stuck in your head and you can’t get it out?

    Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.

  4. Hey Lee-Anne,

    Sorry it took me some time to get back here. I was moving houses and spending some time offline! :)
    As for the pronouncation of “Sehnsucht”, I don’t know how to write phonetics, but here’s a song that features the word prominently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9KWLTjjRts (1:11-1:15, the “e” is longer than in mormal speech)

    As for the ear worm: Funny enough, the exact same word exists in German, it’s “Ohrwurm”.
    And just to share another favorite word of mine: Spanish “murciélago”. It’s easy to translate (bat –> “El hombre murciélago” is batman! :)) but it sounds so nice and features all the vowels! :)

    Have a happy new year!

  5. admin says:

    Hi Fabian
    I hope your move went well. Not a great time of year to be moving (unless you happen to be living on a lovely little tropical isle and moving involved shifting a few things from one hut to another).

    Hear hear to being offline. I just wrote a post about hitting the off switch: http://rpsinc.ca/blog/?p=1285 It was inspired by a friend of mine who didn’t know that you could turn an IPod off.

    LOVE the song. Thanks for sending the link. Have tagged it on delicious.

    I don’t know much Spanish but as you almost always say words how they’re written (unlike English), I can get a sense of how murcielago rolls off the tongue. Thanks bat man!

  6. Lee-Anne, the move was actually quite enjoyable, moving within one and the same tropical city. About three bags of stuff plus two dogs (that’s the hard part!)… we actually moved three times, staying a couple of days in another house before finding a room in my favorite hotel of the city, and then to another (bigger) room with kitchen in the same hotel.

    Over the move, I got rid of my thesis documents at last; two years after writing it. Found a local professor interested in my topic, so it felt good to use the opportunity to let some things (read: 25 kilograms of paper) go.

    Lovely story about that “Off switch”. I find it actually quite patronizing that these new gadgets make it so hard to turn them off. In some sense, this is showing how much they want us to become connection-addicted. That said, laughing about it (and finding the switch anyway!) is certainly the best way to handle it!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the song. The most popular song featuring the word is probably “Sehnsucht” by Rammstein, but their music isn’t so easy-going! 😉

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