8 Untranslatable Words from European Languages

Have you ever been in a situation or felt a certain way without being able to put your finger on how to describe it?

This fast-paced, fabulous world we live in awakes the most wonderful emotions in us. Words help us to describe our feelings and ideas. To some it is the cosy feeling of having a nice cup of coffee on a rainy day or the buzz you get from a roller-coaster ride. To others it’s the feeling of satisfaction and success after a job well done or the spark of locking eyes with someone you just met.

The relationship between words and their meanings strongly influences our ability to express feelings and emotions. Many linguists have researched the phenomenon of words and their connection to the expression of emotions. Even though the English language has around 171,476 words currently in use, some of our feelings, ideas and emotions cannot be identified by any one of those words.

The intermingling of people from all around the globe opens up new possibilities for articulating these feelings and ideas – we can simply borrow words from other languages. Another term for these borrowed words is ‘untranslatable words’. Some people argue that a word is never truly untranslatable, since they can still be translated into the English language using multiple words or a sentence. The magic of these words, however, lies within the meaning that they convey. Untranslatable words catch our attention because they highlight values that other cultures hold in higher esteem than their English-speaking counterparts.

Here, we’ve picked 8 unique words from 4 different European languages that don’t have an English equivalent.

 

Danish Untranslatable Words

1. Hyggelig

This untranslatable word describes a feeling of a comfort; a soft and warm moment, that is mostly spent at home wrapped up in lots of blankets in a room filled with soft candlelight. Hyggelig boils down to spending quality time, either with yourself or in the company of your friends. The cosiness and relaxation aspect is very important to feel hyggelig.

 

2. Arbejdsglæde

Joy and happiness at work are deeply rooted into the Scandinavian work culture. Since the work-life balance is regarded as very important, the Danish came up with their own word for happiness at work: arbejdsglæde.

 

Swedish Untranslatable Words

3. Fika

Fika is a time to socialise – it is gathering together with friends or colleagues over coffee and pastries to escape everyday routines for a little while. It is commonly practised by employees at work to have some downtime. So why don’t you try and have your own little fika with your colleagues during the next lunch break at work?

4. Lagom

Lagom represents the concept of having a certain balance in your life. It means to have just the right amount of something and living life in moderation. The Swedish believe that having this moderation is the foundation to contentment.

 

German Untranslatable Words

 5. Weichei

Weichei is a German slang word meaning to behave in a weak and cowardly way. Literally, it translates to being a “soft egg”. Weichei can be used to either mock and tease another person or to push someone past their own boundaries and dare something.

 

6. Ohrwurm

Have you ever had a catchy song stuck in your head and caught yourself humming along to it over and over again? Then you probably witnessed first-hand what the Germans refer to as Ohrwurm. Tanslating to “earworm” in English, it describes the phenomenon of having a melody stuck in your head and the inability to dislodge it.

 

Spanish Untranslatable Words

7. Sobremesa

This untranslatable word describes the Spanish tradition of taking a moment to share with friends to chat, laugh and chill. Typically this takes place after lunch and lasts somewhere between half an hour and an hour. During a sobremesa, beverages like coffee, tea and alcoholic drinks are enjoyed together.

8. Estrenar

Who doesn’t know the tingling feel of excitement when wearing that trendy new pair of shoes out on the street for the first time? Getting excitement from life’s small pleasures is celebrated in Spain. The Spanish use the untranslatable word ‘estrenar’ to describe the distinct feeling you experience whilst wearing something for the first time.

 

Federico Fellini said, “A different language is a different vision of life” and his view on language matches the phenomenon of untranslatable words quite well. By putting on different cultural glasses to see how our neighbours live, we are able to express our own emotions better.

Do you know any other untranslatable words? We’d love to hear them! Share your ideas in the comments or find us on Twitter @FlashAcademy_HQ.

Are you interested in more language quirks? Then you should check out our blog post on 15 Weird French Expressions And What They Mean or our blog post on Funny German Phrases.

Sonja Woytena

Sonja is our Marketing Assistant who is a fan of everything related to technology and media. She speaks both German and English. When she is not busy working you can find her being creative on her Instagram channel or watching Netflix marathons.
You can contact Sonja and all of the marketing team on Twitter @FlashAcademy_HQ.

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