Untranslatable Phrases


My thesaurus.

I love words. For as long as I can remember I’ve dreaded math class but awaited English with eager anticipation. My number one rule for writing  is always have a thesaurus on hand, because I firmly believe that for every different combination of emotion and motivation or intent, there is one perfect word. It’s not just about the meaning of the word when you’re writing, it’s about the sound, how it flows with the rest of the sentence.  The components of writing aren’t isolated like that; it’s all connected.

English is a beautiful language; it’s malleable, the words easy to shape  into the messages I need to get across. But every once in a while, it fails me; English is a vast language, but there are still portions of the expansive human range of emotion that it sometimes can’t cover. That’s why I have such a love for untranslatable phrases from other languages, those words that just don’t have an English equivalent. So today I’m going to share some of my favorites with you! 🙂

1. Schadenfreude – One of the most famous untranslatable phrases (even has a song dedicated to it!), schadenfreude is that German word which describes ‘enjoyment obtained from the trouble of others’. Pronounced ‘Shaw-den-froy-duh’.

2. Torschlusspanik – Another German word pronounced ‘Torsh-la-pawn-ik’. The fear of closing opportunities in life as we grow older.

3. Duende – A Spanish word which refers to that prickle-down-the-spine, inspirational feeling you get when you see a piece of art that really moves you. Pronounced ‘Doo-en-day’

4. Tartle – Scottish word meaning to hesitate when introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. Pronounced like you’d expect. ^_^

5. Shnourkovat Sya – A really useful Russian term for those  obnoxious drivers that keep switching lanes for absolutely no reason. Pronunciation: I honestly have no idea.

6. Épater la Bourgeoisie – This French phrase could be used as a battle cry for punks everywhere (although maybe it doesn’t quite have the edge they’re looking for). It means ‘to shock the Bourgeoisie’, or the middle class. Pronounced ‘ay-pah-tay la bour-jwa-zee’.

7. Creerse La Ultima Coca-Cola en el Desierto – A Spanish phrase used in Central America that literally means ‘to think one is the last Coca-Cola in the desert’. It’s a particularly wonderful way to call someone full of themselves. 🙂 You can pretty much sound this one out!

8. Jayus –  An Indonesian term used for those occasions when someone tells a joke so painfully unfunny that you just have to laugh. Pronounced ‘Jie-oose’.

9. Zeitgeist – Another well-known German phrase meaning ‘the spirit of the times’, referring to cultural, social and political movements. Pronounced ‘zite-guy-ste’ ( <– I know that’s not exactly the most proper way to depict pronunciation, but it’s right! ^_^ )

10. L’Esprit de l’Escalier  – My favorite, a French phrase meaning ‘the spirit staircase’. It’s used to describe that moment when you walk away from a situation and suddenly the perfect comment or comeback pops into your head, but it’s too late to use it. Pronounced ‘less-pree der less-cal-yay’. 🙂

So there you go, your vocabulary has now been expanded by that much, as well as your worldliness. 🙂 Go forth and spread these wonderful phrases through the nations!




4 thoughts on “Untranslatable Phrases

  1. Pingback: 20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world | Matador Network | CLASH

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