Untranslatable Words

It is the kind of joke you hear on TV or in movies all the time. A character who speaks another language tries to translate a “beautiful saying” from his native language into English, but are unable to convey the real meaning (and hilarity ensues). Over at BraveNewTraveler, there is a really fun article featuring 20 “Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World”.

Some of our favorites:


Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement”


German – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”

And one that all travelers understand:


French – The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.

Browse some of the other very cool words and sayings from other languages. What are some idioms from your language that BNT missed?


  • Apopotamus

    In Italian you can say “Faccio la scarpetta” [I make the little shoe], which means to wipe the sauce, or whatever is left in the plate with a piece of bread.

  • Brooke Martic Drury

    “Trazhe zjhavo” from Serbian. Not sure how it is spelled, in Roman or cyrillic letters. It means “Tempting the Devil” and is cited as a warning for mischievous little children — or adults — when they are doing something that could get them into trouble.

  • Tina Cheung

    Love this post and the how sometimes words /phrases simply cannot be translated. Makes me want to learn more languages and understand them from the ground up.