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Last year a London-based translation service published a list of "the ten most untranslatable words," as determined by a poll of over 1,000 translators.

This week we'll examine some foreign words of that sort, both from that list and otherwise. Some will be from major languages, some from obscure tongues. As we view them we'll see various senses of what could be meant by "untranslatable". (PS: Data is limited. So if I have erred, forgive me and enjoy the errors.)

mamihlapinatapei – a shared glance of longing between two people, each knowing the meaning and each wishing the other will initiate something where neither is quite willing to make the move.

This word, cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "most succinct word", is from the Fuegian language of Tierra del Fuego at the extreme southern tip of South America. Credit here to They Have a Word For It by Howard Rheingold. I am unable to find any information on this word, other than obvious takings from the Rheingold book.
 
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Wordcrafter, can you tell us about that new experimental forum? How would you like us to use it?

This is a great word because we have all experienced that situation, I am sure. Yet, the pronunciation of it might be a bit tough!
 
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Trying to imagine a sentence using that word ... here's my best so far:

"That old familiar feeling of mamihlapinatapei pervaded the atmosphere, if you know what I mean."

~~~ jerry

This message has been edited. Last edited by: jerry thomas,
 
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Most succinct word? Exactly how do you measure that?
 
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Kalleh says, "Wordcrafter, can you tell us about that new experimental forum? How would you like us to use it?"

I'd asked about some of these words on a forum for professional translators. It produced some spirited discussions among them, but those discussions are really outside the scope of that forum, and I'd not want to burden them with too much of it. My hope among those translators, those who find the subject interesting will join us here, and that together we'll find, disect and enjoy more words of this sort.

nevau comments, "Most succinct word? Exactly how do you measure that?"
Ask Guinness!
 
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saudade (Portuguese) – roughly, "sorrowful longing". Depending on context, can have the sense of homesickness, yearning for someone, fond remembrance, melancholy and fond memories of gone-by days, lost love, and a general feeling of unhappiness.

More generally, a combination of feelings for something or someone that is not there, with you: missing, longing for, remembrance, a closeness that is no longer there. The absence may be permanent or temporary. Applicable in contexts from romantic to sentimental to physical. One can feel saudades of his/her homeland, when living abroad; saudades of a deceased person; saudades of a situation, a time, a toy, a feeling. One nuance: it is a positive-valued concept.

Etymology: probably from Latin for 'solitude'. Some say it came to life during the Great Portuguese Discoveries, expressing the sadness of those who departed in journeys over the unknown seas. Those who stayed behind—mostly women and children—also deeply suffered with their absence, and such state has almost become a "portuguese way of life": the constant feeling of absence, the sadness of something that's missing.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to many, particularly to translator Neila Carneiro, and to the Brazilian consulate, for help on this subtle word. Further thoughts about this word will be posted shortly in our "Untranslatable Words" forum.
 
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How to describe today's word? One source notes, "The most frequent translation of gezellig is 'cozy,' [but] being alone and wrapped up in a blanket on the couch while reading a good book is cozy, but not gezellig. Gezelligheid is not possible without the secure bonds of family [or] friendship."

gezellig (Dutch) – cozy, in the sense of being with people;
with comfortable congeniality;
with the homey, relaxed feeling of being with people with whom one feels a sense of "belonging", of being in a welcoming, sheltering and tolerant place

Again, further thoughts about this word will be posted shortly in our "Untranslatable Words" forum.
 
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pochemuchka (Russian) – the inquisitiove child who nags with constant questions
[from Russian pochemu "why". So the literal sense is something like "Mr. Why guy".]

You have mixed feelings about such a child, whose curiousity is laudable and adorable, but terribly taxing!
 
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kloshar (or klloshar) (Albanian) - tramp, vagrant, homeless person; with the sense of 'loser'

I'm told that the word originates from the French word "clochard" which has the above given meaning.
 
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saper vivere (Italian) - the art of living well; knowing how to enjoy life and the best it has to offer. the "taste for living"
 
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I mentioned, as you recall, that a London-based translation service recently published a list of "the ten most untranslatable words." Here is the word rated the most untranslatable of all.

ilunga – a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time; to tolerate it a second time; but never a third time.
[from Tshiluba, a Bantu language spoken in south-eastern Congo and in Zaire]

Or so they say. But I have my doubts, for a web-search reveals that 'Ilunga' is a reasonably common surname or first name. One would hardly take the above concept as one's name.
 
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On ilunga. As for what people take for names, anything goes.
 
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