Thoughts: Lost in Translation

lost in translationIn Lost in Translation, Ella Frances Sanders illustrates over 50 untranslatable words. This lovely book was a gift by my wonderful friends Vishy, who has impeccable taste in books.

Translation divides readers, connects communities, but always sparks debate. Sanders’ book is not an essay tackling issues of translation, but instead presents you with words that do not have a counterpart in English, words that take at least one sentence in English to capture their meaning. If you love words, you’ll be sure to treasure this book, I at least found great delight in discovering that other language communities found concepts that resonate with me so essential that they have a word for it. Why do other languages lack these words, why are they not loanwords?

If English is not your first language, you’ll probably find one in your mother tongue in this book. I admit, it was quite funny to see Kabelsalat on the list, which I think is a word every person needs that ever had to untangle headphones etc. But then I also found Waldeinsamkeit and was quite surprised, because i had never heard that word before. It first appeared in German romanticism, which makes sense I guess, and it just shows that you can still be surprised by your first language. There’s actually quite a number of German words in this book, so even if English already has a lot of German loanwords, there need to be more, mostly compound words 😀

The illustrations of the words are gorgeous, so I’m going to leave you with a few of my favorites. Let me know in the comments, which are your favorite untranslatable words!



11 thoughts on “Thoughts: Lost in Translation

  1. Wonderful review, Bina. Glad to know that you liked the book 🙂 ‘Tsundoku’ was definitely one of my favourite words from the book. It is so perfect for a book buyer like me 🙂 ‘Jugaad’ is a word which is often used here 🙂

    1. Haha yes, loved the coffeee and books words the most 😀 Jugaad is so wonderful, I noted down my favorites in my yearly planner so I won’t forget them.

  2. Schadenfreude: Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.This word is taken from German and literally means ‘harm-joy.’ It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune.

    I found myself in the throes of this myself just yesterday, as one of my least favourite people (we are very polite to each other, but coolly distant – we have a shared history in which she did something awful to someone I love) bemoaned her latest romantic misfortune to the world via Facebook. I was rather shocked at my feeling of vindictive pleasure at her emotional pain. “Schadenfreude”!

    1. Hah yes, that’s definitively a word that people seem to be drawn to 🙂 Too bad about this person, but at least you had an untranslatable word to put to your emotions. No idea what it says about Germans, that we use this word so often!
      Another favorite, which I think has not caught on in English but I’m betting will be next: Fremdschämen (v.) – being embarrassed for someone else/someone else’s behavior.

    2. That’s the one I was going to choose, leavesandpages! Cumbersome in English, but brief (for a German word 😉 ) in German.

      May I proffer a Scots word? Dreich. It describes today, in central Scotland, well: cold, cloudy, damp, a bit misty and miserable. When we say to someone we pass in the street, ‘It’s a dreich day!’ that one word sums it up! 🙂

      1. Dreich is perfect! I’ll have to remember it! It fits well with the weather in the north of Germany. And I really liked the dreich in Scotland, perfect for tea and reading 🙂

        1. One of my favourite German expressions is ‘Champagner Wetter’ (‘Champagne Weather’). – the images it evokes are so beautiful – the first days of spring, the first leaves coming out, the first blossoms blooming, the sun warm but the shade chill. I wish there was one word for it 🙂

    1. Heh, everyone wants Fika 🙂 I love gezellig, even if it’s obvious. It’s one of the first expressions I learned in Dutch, lekker gezellig!

  3. That sounds definitely like a lovely book, Bina. Now I want some fika. 🙂 I recently found out there is no concise way to say “scum”, “Abschaum”, in Hebrew. I love using this word for yellow-press journalists and people like that that I consider a bit, uhm, annoying, to say the least. In Hebrew you can only say it by a very complicated, artificial-sounding expression “the drainage and the mud of the country”.

    1. Amazing word, right? We need that! 🙂 Haha drainage and mud 😀 Could mean good things about the culture, and well..German priorities 😉

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