Here at Matinée Multilingual our team of translators and voice artists are fascinated by languages, but sometimes even the finest translators come up against words that defy translation from their native tongue to English. We thought it would be fun to compile a list of our favourite nine words that don’t exist in English, but really should.
1. Backpfeifengesicht (Bach-faif-en-ge-zisht)
It’s a German word that describes the kind of face that people want to hit. We’ve all come across someone with a backpfeifengesicht haven’t we?
2. Shemomedjamo (shemo-med-jamo)
You know that feeling when you’re enjoying a delicious meal so much that even though you’re really full, you just can’t stop eating. The Georgians feel your pain – so much so that they created a word for it. Shemomedjamo means “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”
3. Jayus (Jay-oos)
Jayus is an Indonesian word meaning a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.
4. Skjerp deg (shyp-dag)
This is a wonderful word from Norway which is used to say “you’re making an idiot of yourself”, or “sharpen yourself up”, or “stop it, you’re obviously lying”. Skjerp deg!
5. Tsundoku (tsoon-doh-koo)
This is a Japanese word that so needs an English translation. It describes the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books. Who isn’t guilty of Tsundoku, I know I am. I wonder whether the kindle equivalent is e-Tsundoku?
6. Pelinti (Pe-leen-tee)
This word comes from the Buli language from Ghana. It describes that thing we do when we put a piece of food in your mouth that’s too hot – it literally means “to move hot food around in your mouth”.
7. Hyppytyynytyydytys (hyp-ya-teyrna-teyrna-dish)
No list of foreign language words that need an English translation would be complete without at least one Finnish word. My favourite is hyppytyynytyydytys which means “bouncy cushion satisfaction”. Can’t you just imagine collapsing into your favourite chair after a long and exhausting day and saying, “ah, hyppytyynytyydytys”.
8. Abbiocco (Ab-bioc-co)
Another food related word, this time from the Italians (who else). Abbiocco is a wonderful word that describes the drowsiness experienced after eating a big meal.
9. Tingo (Tin-go)
The last in our list, and our favourite simply because it describes something so strange. How the people of Easter Island in the South Pacific ever thought they needed a word for it is just too bizarre. Tingo means “the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them”. How did that ever need a word?