There is an old adage among translators that says ‘traduttore traditore’, which is Italian for ‘the translator is a traitor'. This is because, when something is translated into another language, many subtleties and cultural associations are inevitably lost in the process - meaning that the original sense of a word or phrase can change radically.

Lost in translation

Although most languages have millions of words, no single language can cover the entirety of human experience with the words you can find in their dictionaries. So, translators usually have terrible headaches trying to translate certain words whose meaning is incredibly difficult to convey in another language.

English is no exception to this rule, and despite being an amazingly flexible and expressive language, and having more than a million words of its own, it just doesn’t have equivalent words for certain concepts that are easily summed up in other languages. And if you find this hard to believe, just think of the large number of foreign words that, due to necessity, made their way into ordinary English – like entrepreneur or cigar – without us even noticing.

Here at Dictionary Scoop, we chose 10 foreign words or concepts that come into this category and cannot be easily translated without at least some context and an explanation. Feel free to use them afterward! It can be a refreshing way to think about different cultures and a great topic for conversation (perhaps during a sobremesa).


I wish English had a word for this. This Spanish noun refers to the small talk or conversations that happen after a meal when everyone is still seated.

Ngày kia

A very useful one. This is Vietnamese for ‘the day after tomorrow’.


For mean people… or anyone who likes to watch videos of funny accidents (not so funny if they happen to you, certainly). This is a German word that refers to getting joy from the misfortune of others.


This is a Swedish word that means something like ‘not too much and not too little, just the right amount’. Why do people from northern Europe seem to have such concise words for almost philosophical concepts?


A Dutch word that means acting convincingly as if you are doing something important, while actually doing nothing useful at all. Sort of sums up most office work.


Japanese is a beautiful language full of deeply insightful metaphors or poetic images. This word is no exception, referring specifically to the sunlight that filters through forest trees.


A fun one. This baffling Spanish adverb can mean anything from ‘right now’ to ‘maybe later’, or ‘maybe never’. So if you ask someone to do you a favor and they say ‘ahorita’, don’t wait around.


Often translated as ‘päntsdrunk’, this delightful Finnish word refers to the habit of drinking home alone in your underwear. The fact that this intriguing habit got its own word might have something to do with the fact that many Finns stay mostly isolated at home during Finland’s long and brutal winters. Self-isolation of people everywhere in recent times due to the COVID-19 pandemic created a global trend for this drinking habit, with many people embracing the kalsarikännit tradition.


A very wholesome word. Fargin is a Yiddish verb that means to ‘wholeheartedly appreciate the success of others’. Kind of an antagonist to ‘schadenfreude’ if you think about it.


A German verb that literally means ‘to make something worse while trying to improve it’. Most of us have probably been guilty of verschlimmbessern-ing some situations. Ever tried fixing a bad haircut yourself? Well, there you go.


I’m guilty of this myself. This Japanese expression refers to ‘leaving a book unread after buying it, usually piled together along with many other unread books’. Book hoarders, don’t let this word apply to you.


A personal favorite. This is a Portuguese word that conveys a feeling of nostalgia and bitter-sweet melancholy for something that is irretrievable, lost in time, or maybe even non-existent. Other languages have similar words, like the German word ‘sehnsucht’, or the Touareg ‘assouf’. Although English has technically no equivalent to ‘saudade’, some people say that the African-American concept of the ‘blues’ can approximate the same feelings of yearning and nostalgia.


Languages are a complex thing, and their particular idiosyncrasies can result in baffling or even poetic misunderstandings. Sometimes these confusions can be due to a bad translation, but many times words carry over such a large burden of cultural wisdom, that it ends up rendering any translation efforts almost impossible without delving into the singular philosophies behind the words.

If you liked our selection of weird, funny, and inspiring untranslatable words from all over the world, stay around! We will keep uploading content like this.