Untranslatable Foreign Words

Words voted trickiest to translate into English:

10: “klloshar” - Albanian for loser
9: “pochemuchka” - Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions
8: “selathirupavar” - Tamil for a certain type of truancy
7: “saudade” - Portuguese for a certain type of longing
6: “gezellig” - Dutch for cosy. I would have voted for the very common work “graag” here, an adverb that means to like doing something
5: “altahmam” - Arabic for a kind of deep sadness
4: “naa” - Japanese word only used in the Kansai area of Japan, to emphasise statements or agree with someone
3: “radioukacz” - Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain
2: “shlimazl” - Yiddish for a chonically unlucky person

1: “ilunga” - Tshiluba (spoken in south-eastern Congo) for a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time; to tolerate it a second time; but never a third time

English gets its revenge with:
9 chuffed
8 bumf
7 whimsy
6 spam
5 googly
4 Poppycock
3 serendipity
2 gobbledegook
1 plenipotentiary


As in: I chuffed and bumf my way through your whimsy spam which made me googly at your poppycock . This sent me into gobbledegook serendipity and I became a plenipotentiary ? Works for me! :laughing:

Aw Fluffy, it isn’t the words that are the problem, it’s the CLIENTS!! :laughing:

(And the “editors” in the government departments, each of which is absolutely convinced his English is far, far better than any native speaker’s could ever be…) :raspberry:

Please translate. I’m a native English speaker and never heard of the words “BUMF” or " PLENIPOTENIARY " How do you even pronounce the latter?

Are you a native American English speaker or a native British English speaker or what?

Plenipotentiary is pronounced just like it is spelled… duh??? :stuck_out_tongue: OK… Ok… I’ll do my best to help you, with my limited knowledge of phonetic symbols and such… plen-ih-poh-ten-shee-airy.

Am I wrong? Anyone?

I lived in Kansai for three years, and the dialect is know collectively as Kansai-Ben. The kansai plain is massive and hundreds of millions of people live there, including the Narans and Osakans. The use of NA is a bastardization of the word NE which is used commonly throughout Japan. The word has several meanings, but they have similar sentiments. I can say Atsui Na, to mean, “Its hot isnt it?” “It is hot” “You are correct, it is hot” “I agree with your statement.” But I never really had a problem understanding the sentiment because the Japanese can express feeling through tone of voice, something which cannot be done too well in Mandarin. I thought the word OMOSHIROI was a tougher one to translate, it means ‘interesting, but in a weird or curious kind of way’.

Bumpf is written material which is probably unnecessary.

Chuffed, means that you are happy about something. i.e. I was well chuffed this morning. It can also mean to have smoked a spliff. Have a chuff on that.

I think that FAFF is a great English word. Bet not too many Americans know how to use that one.

Ah, quit your faffin’ about! I wouldn’t be too sure about that being British use only. It is used in the US quite a bit - at least used with the meaning of wasting time/effort.

NERD ALERT: (FAFF was also an old Amiga file extension and seeing how it is used so extensively today, the file type naming was appropriate.)

I used to have a boat which we christened ‘faffalonious’.

And the Faffalonious can be yours again.


Here’s the Chinese for plenipotentiary, if anyone wants to know.


…an interesting word in that it consists of two different characters pronounced the same, including the tone (second).

And the Faffalonious can be yours again.


Can anyone help me sail it here and get it registered? :laughing:

Brings up a point Richard H. might be able to answer - how can one register a boat and at what size? I want to get a small boat (probably partially motorized) or even a little “fishing” boat. Is it adequate to just have the boat registered to a “legal fisherman”, even though nobody on board is?

I can’t speak for the rest of the English speaking world, but in the States (many parts of it at least) heaps of colorful yiddishisms including “shlimazl” have been abosorbed into the common language, and don’t need no translation.

Even “Laverne and Shirley” described themsleves as shlemil & shlimazl (shlemil meaning idot).

I always found ‘tacky’ difficult to translate in to both Chinese and Japanese.

‘Cool’ is different to translate it into German, so we usually use that word itself.
‘Geil’ comes close; it can also be used in a sexual / vulgar context (‘horny’, ‘randy’ …).

BTW: the Dutch ‘gezellig’ translates perfectly into German: ‘gesellig’ (same meaning).

Um, show me something that Chinese people regard as tacky, and then we’ll start to translate…I don’t think we’ll have to, somehow! :laughing:

I think ‘tacky’ or ‘naff’ is usually translated into Chinese as “好可愛!” :laughing:

Ding! (Little lightbulb goes on) Is that what they were saying in the opening theme song? Well, there’s a 25-year-old mystery solved. Not that it was vitally important, but it was one of those things that puzzled me when I was a kid. I’m Australian - what do we know from Yiddish? :laughing:

As far as slang goes, I like ‘lairy’ and ‘suss’ myself :slight_smile:

Edited: LOL at BFM, that thought actually crossed my mind…

Um, show me something that Chinese people regard as tacky, and then we’ll start to translate…I don’t think we’ll have to, somehow! :laughing:[/quote]
Duh, Ironlady. That is so easy. Tacky to a Taiwanese person would be driving anything less than a BMW or Mercedes (but they’d of course still be wearing flipflops).

tacky would be “song” or “tu” no? (someone else can type the characters)…altho they are usually used to describe someone or something lacking in sophistication but close enough…

I know, I see things which ‘I’ regard as tacky EVERYWHERE, but I can’t explain this to locals for lack of a word…It’s probably best that I don’t.