Lost in translation: untranslatable words across languages

To translate between two languages, it is not enough for a translator to simply be bilingual; they also need to understand the best ways to communicate an equivalent message from the source language into the target language. One common equivalence problem is the existence of ‘untranslatable’ words- words in one language which cannot be translated with an equivalent word in another, but rather require a longer explanation. Here are some of our favourites:

Backpfeifengesicht (German) – a person with a face that you’d like to punch.


Friolero (Spanish) – a person who is always cold.

Jayus (Indonesian) – a joke that is so bad, it’s actually good.

Schnapsidee (German) – a (often somewhat misguided) plan thought up whilst drunk.


Yaourter (French) – to improvise a song when you don’t know the words.

Kyoikumama (Japanese) – a mother who pushes her child to do well at school


Menefreghista (Italian) – a person who is indifferent.


Kummerspeck (German) – literally translated as ‘grief bacon’. To gain weight because of comfort eating.

sad pig

Got some language-specific terms in one of your own texts? Why not get in touch with the Live Translations team to see how we can help you get your message across clearly.

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