Untranslatable Words: What English Can’t Say

Just can’t find the right words to say today? Explore some of these universal experiences with us that don’t even EXIST directly in the English language! Here are some of our top picks for untranslatable words. 

Luftmensch

(Yiddish) refers to someone who is a dreamer, literally meaning “air person”.

Derive

(French) a spontaneous journey in which a traveler leaves their life behind
them to follow the spirit of the landscape and architecture; “to drift along”.

Tsundoku

(Japanese) to purchase books but to never read them, leaving
them untouched somewhere; literally meaning “reading pile”.

Orenda

(Huron) the power of human will to altar the world around us,
such as in opposing the determinations of fate or destiny.

Trouvaille

(French) a valuable discovery or lucky find, something
discovered through serendipity.

Commuovere

(Italian) the feeling one gets after finishing reading a story
that has moved them to tears.

Koi No Yokan

(Japanese) when meeting a person for the first time, the
feeling that you are going to fall in love with each other.

Iktsuarpok

(Inuit) the anticipation one feels when someone has arrived;
to go outside to check if anyone is approaching.

Have a favorite untranslatable word that we didn’t list here? Share it with us in a comment!

Kirsten Craig

Kirsten Craig

Kirsten is a graduate student in Columbia University's Masters of Global Thought program. A lover of anything friend and everything sweet, she is passionate about the environment and the many ways our communication is intricately linked to its preservation.

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