If you’re one of those people who swears by the all dictionary because you think it will help you out of any situation, it’s time to face the truth. Dictionaries do not have all the answers. And that’s because languages also have untranslatable expressions. If you have travelled the world a little or have friends in other countries you will have undoubtedly seen some surprised reactions to certain everyday expressions that are common in our country or in another, but for which there is no equivalent.
Just as an example, the Spanish expression “Te voy a cantar las cuarenta (literally “I’ll sing you forty”) has nothing to do with singing, but means that someone is going to give you a good telling off! And they’re not going to do it forty times either, just once… But what happens when someone finds this literal English translation in Google, imagine their reaction! It’s not easy at all, is it?
“Matar el gusanillo” (“Killing the little worm,” meaning to eat a quick snack) or “echar margaritas a los cerdos” (“throw daisies to the pigs” or in English “pearls to the pigs”) or “tirar los tejos” (throw the tiles, meaning to flirt with someone) are some Spanish expressions that “dejar a cuadros” (“leave foreigners like paintings,” meaning leaving them blank or perplexed), but they are not alone. In every country, in every language, there are untranslatable expressions or, at least are very difficult to translate in the simple form. Shall we give you an example?
Untranslatable expressions that you would never imagine
Eskimo. The urge to peep or leaning out of the window when you’re waiting for someone.
Russian. The feeling of existential anxiety that appears for no apparent reason.
German. The feeling of pleasant solitude that arises when you are in contact with nature.
Scottish. The feeling of embarrassment and anxiety you get when you have to greet or introduce someone and you can’t remember their name.
Indonesia. A person that tells really bad jokes that everyone finds funny. For example: What did one wall say to the other? “I’ll meet you at the corner.“
Let’s look at another untranslatable expression. This time in Czech. The truth is that this little world, that seems so difficult to pronounce, means that you are in a state of agony and turmoil caused by the agony itself. It doesn’t seem like a very happy expression to us.
If there was ever untranslatable expression, it’s this one. It’s true that this word does have its complexities. In fact, in translation we define this as a person who is ready to forgive and forget a first offence, can tolerate the second, but will not accept a third.
And you, do you know any untranslatable words or expressions’