Have you ever had a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never been to? I have, but I’ve never explained it to anyone because there just isn’t a word for it in English. Apparently, though, there is one in German: fernweh. Ever tried to improve something but only ended up making it worse? That’s verschlimmbessern. Heard a joke that was so unfunny that you couldn’t help but laugh? That’s a jayus. All of these are words that don’t translate into one English word, but we still know the feelings behind them, and that’s the beauty of them.
The idea of untranslatable words has always been interesting to me. It’s a weird thought to know that there are words in the world that can only be translated halfway into your language; you’ll never really know the full idea of it. To some people, it might be annoying to not be able to translate everything, but I love the mystery of it. My sister gets annoyed when she has to learn too many languages, and she told me that she wanted the world to have one universal language. While it’s true that that might be much more convenient (no more getting lost in foreign countries would be amazing), we’d lose words and the excitement that comes with figuring something out for ourselves.
The whole point about words that are lost in translation is just that: their meanings are lost. They’re lost because people try to strip away the mystery surrounding them and explain them in a way that makes sense to everyone, but maybe that’s not the best way to understand them. These words are things you have to experience. Without the mystery, why would they be interesting? That’s why I don’t think untranslatable words should be translated. Most of them describe feelings, and can you really translate feelings in the first place? Not everything has to make sense to us. Being lost isn’t a completely bad thing anyway, and words are no exception.
Artwork: Lily Bix-Daw