The Untranslatables
’d bet that almost every language has at least a few words or expressions that are special to it alone, and don’t have equivalents in other languages  — so-called “untranslatable” terms. One of the most famous of these untranslatables is the French phrase “esprit de I'escalier” (pronounced something like “es-pree duh les-cal- yeh”). Literally, it means “wit of the stairs” or “mood of the stairs”, and it refers to thinking up something clever you could have said in a conversation after it’s already too late to say it. The expression was coined by the French Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot, who said that sensitive guys like him never think of snappy comebacks until they’re on the stairs headed home. Of course, it’s not just French-speaking people who are aware of this phenomenon — it’s just that the French language has a succinct way to express it, while in English, we have to waste words by saying something like: “you know how sometimes you think of a really cool thing you could’ve said, but the conversation is already over so you lost your chance…” There are books devoted to these “untranslatable” words and phrases, but here are a few examples: delendus This is a Latin word meaning “something or someone that must be destroyed”. It’s best known in its feminine form “delenda”, because of the quote attributed to Cato the Elder: “Carthago delenda est” (“Carthage must be destroyed,” or more literally “Carthage is a delenda”). Cato supposedly said this at the end of every speech he made to the Roman Senate, regardless of what the speech was about, and eventually Rome did in fact destroy Carthage. 夫妻相 This Chinese word is pronounced “foo-chee-shang” and literally meaning “husband-wife appearance”. It describes a couple who have been together for so long that they’ve begun to look alike. Although English doesn’t have a word for this, we generally understand the concept. In fact, some Americans say that people can start to look like their household pets after a while (an idea which Chinese people seem to think is hilarious). The resemblance can also be referred to as 夫妻脸 (“foo-chee-lee’yen") meaning “husband-wife face”. загуляться This Russian word is pronounced “za-gool-yah-tsah”, and it means “to call in sick to work so you can go get drunk”. The definition can vary a little, depending on the source — one respected dictionary translates it as just “to carouse till one forgets the time” — but I’ve been assured on good authority that calling in sick to work is indeed the traditional way to “zagoolyatsa”. In a similar vein, we have the Russian army slang term гаситься (“gah-see- tsah”), which means “to hide somewhere in order to avoid doing work”. Torschlusspanik A famous German untranslatable, pronounced something like “tawsh-luss- pah-nik,” it literally means “gate-closing panic”. It refers to the fear that time is passing and opportunities are being lost forever. The English- language expressions “midlife crisis” and “biological clock” would each be considered different types of Torschlusspanik. Some words that are considered untranslatable are linked closely to a particular culture. For example, Chinese has the word 孝道 It’s pronounced “shao-dao”, and it usually gets rendered in English as “filial piety”, but a more explicit definition might be “honoring and obeying one’s parents”. China’s Confucian values make the honoring of parents important enough to have its own word — in fact, it can even be shortened to just “shao” (), as in “Our son isn’t being very ‘shao’ today.” Another culture-specific word is the Arabic verb “basmal”, written which means “to say ‘in the name of Allah’.” Although we don’t have anything like this in English, it could maybe be thought of as using “hallelujah” as a verb — so “the preacher likes to ‘hallelujah’  a lot during his sermons” could be roughly equivalent to “the imam likes to ‘basmal’ a lot during his sermons.” But that said, “basmal” is seldom used nowadays. Untranslatables sometimes turn out to exist in multiple languages. Take another well-known example, the German word “Schadenfreude” (“sha- den-froy-duh”). It literally means “damage-joy” or “injury-joy”, but it’s used to describe a feeling of happiness over someone else’s misfortune. This cynical German expression has been adopted into English and a few other languages, but German wasn’t necessarily the first to have such a word. Aristotle used an almost identical Greek term: έπιχαιρέκακος pronounced “eh-pi-kha-rey-kah-kos”, which also means rejoicing over the suffering of another.
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Esprit de I'escalier Torschlusspanik Zagoolyatsah
The Untranslatables
’d bet that almost every language has at least a few words or expressions that are special to it alone, and don’t have equivalents in other languages  — so- called “untranslatable” terms. One of the most famous of these untranslatables is the French phrase “esprit de I'escalier” (pronounced something like “es-pree duh les-cal- yeh”). Literally, it means “wit of the stairs” or “mood of the stairs”, and it refers to thinking up something clever you could have said in a conversation after it’s already too late to say it. The expression was coined by the French Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot, who said that sensitive guys like him never think of snappy comebacks until they’re on the stairs headed home. Of course, it’s not just French-speaking people who are aware of this phenomenon — it’s just that the French language has a succinct way to express it, while in English, we have to waste words by saying something like: “you know how sometimes you think of a really cool thing you could’ve said, but the conversation is already over so you lost your chance…” There are books devoted to these “untranslatable” words and phrases, but here are a few examples: delendus This is a Latin word meaning “something or someone that must be destroyed”. It’s best known in its feminine form “delenda”, because of the quote attributed to Cato the Elder: “Carthago delenda est” (“Carthage must be destroyed,” or more literally “Carthage is a delenda”). Cato supposedly said this at the end of every speech he made to the Roman Senate, regardless of what the speech was about, and eventually Rome did in fact destroy Carthage. 夫妻相 This Chinese word is pronounced “foo- chee-shang” and literally meaning “husband-wife appearance”. It describes a couple who have been together for so long that they’ve begun to look alike. Although English doesn’t have a word for this, we generally understand the concept. In fact, some Americans say that people can start to look like their household pets after a while (an idea which Chinese people seem to think is hilarious). The resemblance can also be referred to as 妻脸 (“foo-chee-lee’yen") meaning “husband-wife face”. загуляться This Russian word is pronounced “za- gool-yah-tsah”, and it means “to call in sick to work so you can go get drunk”. The definition can vary a little, depending on the source — one respected dictionary translates it as just “to carouse till one forgets the time” — but I’ve been assured on good authority that calling in sick to work is indeed the traditional way to “zagoolyatsa”. In a similar vein, we have the Russian army slang term гаситься (“gah-see- tsah”), which means “to hide somewhere in order to avoid doing work”. Torschlusspanik A famous German untranslatable, pronounced something like “tawsh-luss- pah-nik,” it literally means “gate-closing panic”. It refers to the fear that time is passing and opportunities are being lost forever. The English-language expressions “midlife crisis” and “biological clock” would each be considered different types of Torschlusspanik. Some words that are considered untranslatable are linked closely to a particular culture. For example, Chinese has the word 孝道 It’s pronounced “shao-dao”, and it usually gets rendered in English as “filial piety”, but a more explicit definition might be “honoring and obeying one’s parents”. China’s Confucian values make the honoring of parents important enough to have its own word — in fact, it can even be shortened to just “shao” (), as in “Our son isn’t being very ‘shao’ today.” Another culture-specific word is the Arabic verb “basmal”, written which means “to say ‘in the name of Allah’.” Although we don’t have anything like this in English, it could maybe be thought of as using “hallelujah” as a verb — so “the preacher likes to ‘hallelujah’  a lot during his sermons” could be roughly equivalent to “the imam likes to ‘basmal’ a lot during his sermons.” But that said, “basmal” is seldom used nowadays. Untranslatables sometimes turn out to exist in multiple languages. Take another well-known example, the German word “Schadenfreude” (“sha-den-froy-duh”). It literally means “damage-joy” or “injury- joy”, but it’s used to describe a feeling of happiness over someone else’s misfortune. This cynical German expression has been adopted into English and a few other languages, but German wasn’t necessarily the first to have such a word. Aristotle used an almost identical Greek term: έπιχαιρέκακος pronounced “eh-pi-kha-rey-kah-kos”, which also means rejoicing over the suffering of another.
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Esprit de I'escalier Torschlusspanik Zagoolyatsah