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11 Untranslatable Words from Other Cultures

11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures


This infographic comes courtesy of Maptia, a new storytelling platform ‘on a mission to build the most inspirational map in the world.’

We’d like to add to this list an ‘untranslatable’ of our own:
Toska – noun /ˈtō-skə/ – Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.

Accordding to  Vladimir Nabokov “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

Do you have favourite word that can not be directly translated into English?



  1. 14 October 2013 / 12:29 am

    “Saudades” which is Portuguese for a sense of longing for something now past or otherwise distant. It has a shade of meaning not covered by “I miss…”

  2. Topsy
    14 October 2013 / 12:50 am

    In Dutch, “gezellig” means something between cosy, friendly and warm. It can be used to describe a place, person, situation and even idea.

    • 17 October 2013 / 1:06 am

      That sounds exactly the same as a word in Danish; “hyggelig” 🙂

      • Topsy
        17 October 2013 / 5:59 pm

        From Topsy: Forgot to mention that “gezellig” (in Dutch) can be
        Negative as well – depending on one’s intonation.

  3. 14 October 2013 / 8:58 pm

    I thought that saying homesick is synonymous to Depaysement (in French)

    • Cécile
      5 February 2023 / 8:45 pm

      Not really. If you feel homesick, you say “j’ai le mal du pays”. Dépaysement – at least how I’ve always understood it, as a native speaker – is a sensation that is actually sought after, the very reason people want to travel in the first place. E.g. “au Japon, le dépaysement est total”. In other words, you get to experience something quintessentially “other” than what you know and are used to, you are bewildered by an utterly new and unfamiliar environment – in a good way. Germans have “fernweh”, the longing to see far-away places”, and “dépaysement” is what you experience once you’re there.

  4. 15 October 2013 / 1:32 am

    Never heard of “Waldeinsamkeit” and I am living right next to a german forest 😉

  5. f
    15 October 2013 / 10:12 pm

    I read (Salman Rushdie???) once that the untranslatable words are the key to a countries culture/soul.

  6. 25 February 2021 / 9:00 pm

    ‘adda’ in Bengali.. it means an amalgam of chitchat, harmless gossip (we call it PNPC), heavy political debates, cultural discussions, idle chatter, swearing, everything..
    It’s something that is integral to the tea-stall culture of the Bengali people..

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