Translating the Untranslatable

Listened to this story on NPR the other day on the way to work. It was really cool. I'm going to try to work some of these words/expressions into my everyday vocabulary. Check it out!

Morning Edition January 19, 2005 -- Linguist Christopher J. Moore has made a career of searching out some of the world's most "untranslatable" expressions -- words from around the globe that defy an easy translation into English. Moore shares a few of his linguistic favorites from his new book In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World with Renee Montagne.

My favorites:

meraki - [may-rah-kee] (adjective): This is a word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love -- when you put "something of yourself" into what you're doing, whatever it may be. Meraki is often used to describe cooking or preparing a meal, but it can also mean arranging a room, choosing decorations, or setting an elegant table.

litost - [lee-tosht] (noun): This is an untranslatable emotion that only a Czech person would suffer from, defined by Milan Kundera as "a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery." Devices for coping with extreme stress, suffering, and change are often special and unique to cultures and born out of the meeting of despair with a keen sense of survival.

ilunga - [ee-Iun-ga] (noun): This word from the Tshiluba language of the Republic of Congo has topped a list drawn up with the help of one thousand translators as the most untranslatable word in the world. It describes 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.

tatemae - [tah-tay-mye] (noun): A term often translated as "form," but it also has the specific cultural meaning of "the reality that everyone professes to be true, even though they may not privately believe it." For privately held views, the Japanese have a different term, honne, meaning, "the reality that you hold inwardly to be true, even though you would never admit it publicly." The British civil servant muttering the reproach "bad form, old boy" over a drink in the club, may be expressing something very close to the quality of tatamae.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another special word is SAUDADE. Is a portuguese word that expresses the feeling of missing something or somebody. Its something you feel deep in your heart. Is like beeing home-sick, or missing a loved one... Search for it... it is interesting.