Words for every occasion: English is not as diverse as you might think.

Diversity in words


If you’re one of those people who insist on having the last word and the answer to everything, we are sure you completely disagree with the above statement.

There are many arguments either way but in no language other than English is phrasal verb use so prolific, speaking volumes about the need for creating diversity where there is none or it is limited.

Take, for example, the classic example of the extensive variety of words for snow in Inuit. We have ‘sleet’, and ‘snow’, and that is about all. It is not as though we are oblivious to snow either, whether it is that fine stuff that doesn’t settle or the slushy stuff that seeps in through your shoes no matter how waterproof they are. We know what it is. So why such a short list of names for all the different types of it?

Japanese competes with Inuit in the weather stakes by having a high number of different words for rain. Perhaps this is a little overzealous and there really is no need to differentiate between ‘cold’ and ‘chilly’ rain, however, to a Japanese person these probably make a lot more sense than our ‘cover all bases’ of simply ‘rain’: it is just difficult to translate exactly.


Words to loan


However, there is more to untranslatable words than a seemingly uncountable number of ways to describe precipitation. There are some beautiful examples out there that when you read them you will no doubt think ponder why there is no such English alternative. Here are some suggestions for loanwords that we might want to adopt.


Sisu (Finnish) – stoic, determined, brave.

Pochemuchka (Russian) – a person who asks far too many questions.

Fernweh (German) – feeling homesick for a place you have never been.

Saudade (Portuguese) – nostalgia for something that doesn’t exist.

Hyggelig (Danish) – comfortable, contented, intimate.

Abbiocco (Italian) – post-meal sleepiness.

Bakku-shan (Japanese) – a girl who is considered beautiful but only when viewed from behind.

Backpfeifengesicht (German) – a face that is desperately in need of a fist.

Shlimazl (Yiddish) – an incredibly unlucky person.

Gattara (Italian) – an old and lonely woman who devotes her life to her cats



Prozvonit (Czech) – to ring a mobile number just once so that the receiver has to call you back.

Friolero (Spanish) – a person very susceptible to cold weather.

Utepils (Norwegian) – to sit outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer.

Schnapsidee (German) – an ingenious plan come up with whilst drunk.

Fika (Swedish) – gathering together to take a break from the everyday routine.

Pålegg (Norwegian) – everything that can be eaten on a slice of bread.

Tsundoku (Japanese) – leaving a book that you have bought unread, usually piled with other unread books.

Luftmensch (Yiddish) – a person who is a bit of a daydreamer.

Tretår (Swedish) – a second refill of coffee.

Trepverter (Yiddish) – a witty comeback you think of only when the time to use it has already passed.


Translating the untranslatable


Now imagine, if you will, the difficulty faced when translating these words into another language. There are times when an approximate translation is acceptable, but when it isn’t, would you really want to risk causing upset with a client or losing out on a sale because of a language barrier? Why not see what services we have on offer so that you can continue your business in confidence and leave the translation detail to us?