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Cultural Expressions: Discovering Words That Have No English Counterpart

In the past, we’ve written articles that demonstrate the importance of using human translators and avoiding direct translations. Idioms are a good example of why: These phrases are often context-sensitive and only make sense in their origin regions. There was also that time Pepsi accidentally advertised that “Pepsi will bring you, ancestors, back from the grave” instead of “Pepsi brings you back to life.” Another reason is that some languages have words that simply don’t exist in others. Let’s take a look at a list of words that have no English translation.

Gigil (Tagalog)

This is a word from the Philippines that is the overwhelming feeling one gets when one sees something extraordinarily cute. If you type gigil into an online translator often you will get back the word stunned. Where you can kind of see where this is coming from, it’s also easy to see it entirely misses the point of the word.

Fernweh (German)

“Fern” means far and “weh” means pain; basically, it pains one to not travel. The English translation is wanderlust, which is also a German word, but this doesn’t quite convey the true intensity of the word Fernweh.

Greng-Jai (Thai)

Typing this into an online translator will most likely end up with no results. The word describes a trait that is closest to consideration but with more depth. It is not wanting to burden or hurt others with actions.

Layogenic (Tagalog)

This word is considered to be in the slang category. “Layo” is the Tagalog word for far and “genic” is borrowed from the English word photogenic. It essentially means finding someone more attractive from a distance.

Packesel (German)

No one wants to end up being the packesel of the trip if they can avoid it. It is the person stuck carrying everyone else’s luggage. If you type this word into an online translator you will get “pack donkey.”

Boketto (Japanese)

In English you might think this is analogous to “zoning out,” but that is not quite right. It means to gaze into the distance with no thought. It has connotations of zen and vastness.

As you can see, these words would not make much sense in direct translations. On top of that, if you did not have a native speaker of the language it would be very easy to not do a proper translation of the words. Contact International Translating Company for your translation needs.

By Abbey Casella | October 24, 2022 | Categories: ITC | No Comments

About the Author: Abbey Casella