Untranslatable words

I’ve always loved words like Schadenfreude (for those of you who don’t know, it means delight in another person’s misfortune) which don’t have a simple equivalent in English. Here is a list I have compiled from different websites. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these translations so if anyone sees any inaccuracies, feel free to suggest corrections.


Areodjarekput: To exchange wives for a few days only (Inuit)

Attaccabottoni: A bore who buttonholes people and tells sad, pointless stories. (Italian)

Backpfeifengesicht: A face that cries out for a fist in it. (German)

Bakku-shan: A girl who appears pretty from behind but not from the front. (Japanese)

Buaya darat: A man who fools women into thinking he’s a very faithful lover when in fact he goes out with many different women at the same time – literally, a land crocodile. (Indonesian)

Chaponner: To investigate digitally a chicken’s rear end to see if an egg is about to be laid (French)

Embasan: To wear clothes while taking a bath. (The Maguindanaon language of the Philippines)

Fensterln: for climbing through a window to avoid someone’s parents so you can have sex without them knowing. (German)

Gigi rongak: The space between the teeth. (Malaysian)

Ikibari:  A “lively needle” and describing a man who is willing but under-endowed. (Japanese)

Iktsuarpok:To go outside to check if anyone is coming. (Inuit)

Ilunga: A person who is ready to forgive any transgression a first time and then to tolerate it for a second time, but never for a third time. (The Tshiluba language of the Republic of Congo.)

Jayus: From Indonesian, meaning a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.

Kanjus Makkhichus: someone so tight that if a fly falls into their tea they’ll fish it out and suck it dry before throwing it away. (Hindi)

Katahara itai: The action of laughing so much that one side of your abdomen hurts. (Japanese)

Korinthenkacker:  A “raisin pooper” — that is, someone so taken up with life’s trivial detail that they spend all day crapping raisins. (German)

Kyoikumama: A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement. (Japanese)

Lalew: To grieve so much you can’t eat. (Filipino)

Mamihlapinatapei:  A wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start. (Yagan, the indigenous language of the Tierra del Fuego region of South America.)

Momma ko ene: Having red eyes from crying over your boyfriend marrying someone else. (Cheyenne)

Nakhur: A camel that won’t give milk until her nostrils are tickled. (Persian)

Nakkele: a man who licks whatever the food has been served on (Tulu).

Nito-onna: A woman so dedicated to her career that she has no time to iron blouses and so resorts to dressing only in knitted tops. (Japanese)

Oka-shete: Waterworks difficulties engendered by eating frogs out of season. (Ndonga language, Namibia)

Okuri-oka-mi: A man who feigns thoughtfulness by offering to see a girl home only to molest her on her own doorstep – literally, a “see-you-home wolf” (Japanese)

Pana po’o: To scratch your head in order to remember something (Hawaiian)

Pesamentiero: Someone who habitually joins mourners at the homes of the deceased to get at the free refreshments. (Portuguese) 

Pisan zapra: The time needed to eat a banana. (Malay)

Poronkusema: The distance a reindeer can travel without taking a comfort break.

Prozvonit:  To call a mobile phone only to have it ring once so that the other person would call back, allowing the caller not to spend money on minutes. (In both Czech and Slovak language)

Putzfimmel: A mania for cleaning. (German)

Puyugaktuq: To approach a sea mammal by crawling along. (Inuit)

Saudade: A feeling of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost. (Brazilian Portuguese)

Scheissenbedauern: The disappointment one feels when something turns out not nearly as badly as one had expected. (German)

Schlimmbesserung: a so-called improvement that makes things worse. (German)

Seigneur-terrasse: A person who spends much time but little money in a cafe (literally: a terrace lord) (French) 

Sjostygg: Someone so ugly the tide refuses to come in if they stand on the shore. (Norwegian)

Stroitel: A man who likes to have sex with two women at the same time. (Russian)

Tantenverführer: A young man whose excessively good intentions suggest suspicious motives. (literally aunt-seducer) (German)

Tingo: The act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them. (The Pascuense language of Easter Island),

Tlazlimquiztli: The smell of adulterers. (Aztec)

Torschlusspanik: The fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older (literally: gate-closing panic), often applied to women worried about being too old to have children. (German) 

Uitwaaien: Walking in windy weather for fun. (Dutch)

Yubisakibijin: One who spends rather too much of her salary having her fingernails done. (Japanese)


3 Responses to Untranslatable words

  1. Heen says:

    Very enlightening! My Portuguese-English dictionary gives the word JANELEIRO, meaning “fond of being at the window”. One of my favourite English “untranslatables” has to be CAMEL TOE.

  2. […] them. I also love scouring the Internet and compiling those collections such as Famous put-downs, Untranslatable words, Really terrible predictions, Classic cock-ups, and all those quotes. I have a fixed format but […]

  3. […] did a piece a while back about untranslatable words. This week Lingua Franca has an interview with Adam Jacot de Boinod, author of a book about such […]

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