Which English words do not have equivalents in other languages? | Notes and Queries (2023)

Which English words do not have equivalents in other languages? | Notes and Queries (1)
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Which English words do not have equivalents in other languages?

Jeffry Larson, Hamden, CT USA

  • To the best of my knowledge, "shallow" cannot be said in one word in French ("peu profond"); another difficult word to translate is "cogent" (how different is it from "coherent"?); other delightful English words: flabbergasted; mind-boggling; the countless nouns and verbs describing sight, light, and sounds (glisten, glare, gleam , rustle, etc...)

    Maryse Petros, Toulouse France

  • Every language has words and concepts with no single equivalent in other languages.For example, there is no "logic" nor "romance" in Chinese (ok, there are modern day phonetic translations).Try translating/explaining the Danish "hygge" to English.

    Lewis, London, UK

  • Another English word with no one-word French equivalent is "Peck", which translated into French is "Donner de coupe de la bec" or "Attack with the front of the beak."

    Raven Garcia, Whitechapel, London, England

  • In my professional life as a traslator I have translated some 203 books from English into Spanish. The worst I've found is "insight".

    Alejandro Pareja, Madrid Spain

  • A frind of mine says that there is no foreign equivalent for the word "stuff" in it's "collection of things" sense.

    Robin Hall, Hitchin UK

  • According to George W Bush "...the problem with the the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur."

    Eddie Ryan, Villeneuve d'Ascq France

  • Portuguese doesn't have the words "bully" or "impeach", while bread dough, cake mix, batter and pastry are all called "massa".There are some words in Portuguese without English equivalents too, starting with "Jarrete" (the back of the knees) and "tez" (face skin)

    F. R. Offa, São Paulo Brazil

  • I don't think there is an English word that can't be translated into any other language, but specific examples for specific languages abound. You can't say that you "miss" something in Japanese for example.I would guess that there are lots of slang words in particular that don't quite carry the same flavour or meaning of the English original.

    Sam, Higashine Japan

  • I don't think there is an English word that can't be translated into any other language, but specific examples for specific languages abound. You can't say that you "miss" something in Japanese for example.I would guess that there are lots of slang words in particular that don't quite carry the same flavour or meaning of the English original.

    Sam, Higashine Japan

  • I beg to disagree with Raven Garcia: for a start, his "translations" are written in a funny sort of French (beware the dreaded automatic translators!). ""peck" (noun) is definitely a "bécot" or "bise" (kiss), while "peck" (verb) does translate as "donner un coup de bec" (poultry,/aggressive) or "faire une bise" (people / friendly).

    Maryse Petros, Toulouse France

  • `Vicarious´causes some problems in German, becoming more of an explanatory sentence.

    Daniel Morris, Göttingen Germany

  • 'Nice' is a very difficult word to translate into other languages.

    Fragano Ledgister, Atlanta, USA

  • My (German) friend Marianne had to admit there is no normal equivalent in German for the self-referring equivalent of our word "Anglophile" to mean a lover of German or Germany. I'm not sure if other languages similarly lack a word meaning "others' love of us".

    Jim Scobbie, Edinburgh

  • Don't forget - apparently the French have no word for "entrepreneur". That anecdote about George W Bush tells you everything you need to know about linguistic borrowing and lexical equivalences across languages.So in answer to your question, the answer is "all of them".

    Jim Scobbie, Edinburgh

  • The English words for all the different ways of walking (wander, stamp, stride, stagger, stumble, etc.) have to be paraphrased in some way when translated into Spanish (caminar sin rumbo fijo, caminar pisando fuerte, caminar a zancadas largas, etc.).

    Alistair, Mexico City, Mexico

  • The word `serendipity´ is also a word that is just about translatable with something like a `happy accident´. `Serendipitous´ does tend to furrow a few brows though.

    Daniel Morris, Göttingen, Germany

  • My Spanish girlfriend and I speak a hybrid of English and Spanish in which we automatically use the word which best expresses the meaning we want to communicate. Often this involves using one word in Spanish where English would require several words in order to express the same idea, and vice versa. My favourite Spanish word in this sense is 'ganas' (plural of 'gana'), as in 'no tengo ganas' which translates as 'I don't feel like it' but literally means 'I haven't got any ganas', whatever ganas are. I find myself saying things like 'I haven't got much ganas today' (curiously, using 'much' even though the plural noun would normally require 'many').In effect, 'ganas' has become part of my English vocabulary.

    Mark Lloyd, Bath UK

  • "Put" cannot be translated into German. One has to use another German word which has an equivalent in English i.e. "stack", "lay", "stand", etc. depending on where and how something is being put. To that extent, "put" would seem superfluous.

    John Cockling, Halesowen, England

  • I have been speaking and communicating in Spanish for the last 6 years and although I try, I fail to find the equivalent of 'crush' or 'to have a crush on someone' in Spanish. Any ideas?

    Lucy, Marbella Spain

  • Probably all of them. The dictionary may give us approximate translations of words, but we must interpret these according to our own experience. The word "hill", for example, is easy to translate, but according to the country in which we are brought up our mental picture of a hill will vary. One of the things that first struck me on arriving in Japan was that it would be possible to stand with one foot on the hill and the other on the plain, a feat which would be impossible on the the undulating hills of Britain, where one cannot tell where the hill begins. The mental image of a "hill", therefore, is quite different for a British or a Japanese person, or even for an American, where translation is not required.All words and expressions have cultural and behavioural connotations which cannot be transferred to another language without explanation. Consider, for example, the simple act of having a "bath". The Westerner gets into a long, fairly shallow tub, soaps himself vigorously, and then lets the water run away. The Japanese soaps and rinses himself thoroughly outside his squarish and deep tub, and when he is quite clean gets into the hot water to soak there at leisure. Ideally, for maximum enjoyment,the water should overflow when he gets in. When he has finished, he leaves the water for the next person.The cultural norms of bath-taking then produce a psychological dimension: the Japanese person, thinking of the Westerner sitting among his soapsuds, thinks "Ugh! - how dirty!" while the Westerner, thinking of having to get into water that someone else has already used, thinks in turn "Ugh! - how dirty!" While we agree that they are both washing the entire body, rather than just the hands and face, can one say that the Westerner and the Japanese are really performing the same act?A Japanese child would not have reacted as I did when I first heard about Archimedes, who discovered his famous Principle when his bath overflowed as he stepped in to it. Instead of admiring his genius, I thought, appalled, "Whatever did his wife have to say about the mess in the bathroom!"When our interpretion of a concrete object or a daily routine can vary so widely, how much more scope there is for misunderstanding when we discuss abstract ideas!

    M. Heather Kotake, Sendai, Japan

  • I dare say the Greeks have a word for this phenomenon.

    Paul Thompson, Perth, Scotland

  • It. Languages which sex inanimate objects refer to everything as He or She. I suspect they would say this says something about the English...

    Pete, Cambridge Uk

  • Of course in addition to lacking their own words for entrepreneur, menu and restaurant, the french also have no real words for the numbers between 69 and 100.If anyone can shed any light on why, I would be interested. Are septante, hiutante, and neufante obscenities in French?

    Tim Skerry, Sheffield UK

  • May I turn the question around? In my native language (Frisian - spoken in the north of the Netherlands) we of course have a word for pouring a liquid into a container, but in addition we have a word for 'pouring' a dry substance like sugar or flower into any container - this word is RUGELJE. Does English or any other language also have such a word?

    Geart Van Der Meer, Midlaren, The Netherlands

  • The way the French expression "Ooh-la-la" is most commonly used in English has to be translated into French as something like "Chic alors!" (oh goody!); which is almost the direct opposite of the sense of the original French "ooh-la-la" (here comes trouble)!

    Greg Smith, Trenton, NJ USA

  • I don't know why the French can't count properly after 69, but the Walloons can. In Belgium they have septante, octante and nonante. The Swiss count likewise,I believe. The French, however, split their sides when they hear this, but their attitude towards Francophone Belgians and Swiss is another story. So much, anyway, for Gallic logic.

    Tony Kellaway, Havant, UK

  • 'reticent' is another one that doesn't have a French equivalent. You have to use 'peu communicatif' instead.

    Mark Harris, Enfield UK

  • Following a European Directive, the word "gullible" is to be removed from all EU members' dictionaries from 2011.

    Saffron, Lancaster, Lancashire

  • There is the Verb in German rutschen, to slide or as a noun, Rutsch - used for a landslide for instance. Ruckus is an English word used amongst other things for agitation. Not sure but maybe food for thought.

    Daniel Morris, Göttingen Germany

  • Tony Kellyaway is not entirely correct about the French numbers between seventy and ninety nine.Septante, huitante, octante and nonante are common in French-speaking Switzerland, the Aosta Valley, Belgium, Zaire and Rwanda, although dirigiste Francophones deplore these dialect neologisms.

    Charles Norrie, Islington United Kingdom

  • schunkeln in German hasn't got an equivalent in English. It means 'to link arms with the people to your right and left and sway from side to side in time to the music' - the sort of thing that happens at Fastnacht after a a bit of beer has been consumed.

    Peter, Öhningen-Wangen Germany

  • "Challenge" is one of the toughest to translate into French. It has mostly to be "interpreted" or paraphrased to make any sense and sound right. When I first started translating, I learned this word is one we use in English when we're not sure of the answer, "Well, it's a challenge." We use it so others will think we are smarter than we are.

    Robert , Toronto, Canada

  • "Challenge" is usually translated in "défi", but the English word is accepted as well. A common English word that has no French translation is 'weekend' when used to designated days off at the end of the week. We have to use the English word.

    Chris, Toulouse, France

  • "Picture" and "image" in French.

    Arnaud, Marseille, France

  • In Quebec we say "fin de semaine" for weekend - it means the same thing.

    Michael, QC, Canada

  • 'pouring' a dry substance like sugar or flower into any container - this word is RUGELJE. Does English or any other language also have such a word?Geart Van Der Meer, Midlaren, The Netherlands” On the subject of English words I always liked "jinx” – it can't be translated to Polish in one word, you have to say „something that brings bad luck”. The other way around, there's this type of steel-caped boots with additional piece of leather sewn over the toes, they're popular in rock and metal subcultures and the Polish word is "glany”. English… eh, steel-toed combat boots? But that can refer to boots with hidden metal plate, without the leather cap over the toes.

    Basia, Wroclaw Poland

  • It pains me that "awkward" has no exact translation in Italian. There is no word to explain the feeling. When I tried to explain this word in Italy, the translations I got ranged from "imbarazzate" (embarrassing) to "scomodo" (uncomfortable). None of them get the right mixture of embarrassment, discomfort, and uncertainty to really mean "awkward."

    Stephanie, Sacramento USA

  • English does not have a single word for 'open minded'. Nor is there is a single word for 'risk taker'.

    Megan, Canberra Australia

  • In IT terms, there are three things you can do with a piece of data, you can add it, delete it or update it. However, you can only form nouns describing these actions from two of these. English speaking Indian IT types, however have invented a delightful and relevant word and happily speak of Addition, Deletion and Updation.

    Charles Brewer, Westcott United Kingdom

  • In a fruit and vegetable preservation factory nearby they have a word for the place where goods come in which takes the ending from arrival to make an equivalent: the 'receival' gate.Works!

    Steve, Napier NZ

  • Try finding a Frenh word for 'off'.

    Brian Laurancet, Woolsingham England

  • I think that the word "ailment" cannot be translated in French as cogent and peck.

    Fiorina , Toulouse. France

  • The verb to enjoy + direct object has no equivalence in French, or Spanish - you have to use a circumlocution to get the idea across.

    David, Barnsley UK

  • Actually, "enjoy" in Spanish can be translated as "disfrutar".

    Lau Barraza, Mexico

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