Difficult Words to Translate

December 23rd, 2015

A survey was carried out in 2004 of linguists around the globe, to determine what phrases, terms, expressions, and so on were the most difficult when it comes to translation.

Difficult Words to Translate | One Hour Translation

A survey was carried out in 2004 of linguists around the globe, to determine what phrases, terms, expressions, and so on were the most difficult when it comes to translation.

  • Why is it that certain terms are so difficult to translate?
  • Is there a cultural factor that determines our language?
  • Do all words have an equivalent in other languages?

We know that, sometimes, a certain term in one culture can’t exist in another, simply because this concept does not culturally exist in the other.

Below we’ve listed some of the more complex terms translators face in their everyday translation tasks –

  • Interestingly, the hardest word in the world to translate is Ilunga. This word belongs to the Luba-Kasai or Tshiluba language, which is spoken by more than 6 million speakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So, what does Ilunga mean? It’s the ability to forgive a person for an offence or abuse the first time, to tolerate it the second time, but never a third!
  • Radioukacz: This is a Polish word which refers to someone who worked as a telegraph and acted for the resistance movement in Soviet Russia.
  • Shlimazl refers to a person who is chronically unlucky: it’s a term from the Yiddish language.
  • Naa: This is a Japanese term that’s used to agree with someone or to emphasize statements. It’s only used in the Kansai area.
  • Gezellig is an adjective in the Dutch language, designating a pleasant, homey, or warm place.
  • Selathirupavar: This word comes from the Tamil language: it designates a specific type of truancy.
  • Altahmam is an Arabic word: it describes a deep sadness.
  • Pochemuchka is a Russian word. It describes a person who asks too many questions.
  • Saudade refers to a kind of nostalgia. It’s a Portuguese word.
  • Klloshar: This is an Albanian word, describing a man who is a loser.

This is obviously not a complete list, and there are many words in other languages that have no equivalent in any language. A good example of this is that the Eskimos have many terms to describe the various shades of white snow; but for most of us it’s just white.

So, as translators, is our job just translation, or is interpretation a part of it as well?

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