Words that Can’t Be Translated

Despacito. Gangnam Style. Macarena. Have you ever sung/mumbled the chorus of these songs, despite the fact that you aren’t really fluent in Spanish and Korean? Don’t be shy. We all have, and lucky for us (or at least the French), there is a word for a foreign song we sing just by imitating the sounds – yahourt.

Translations In Other Languages

Some languages are blessed to have come up with words that not only don’t have translations in other languages, but that capture an experience so universal that we have to marvel at that language’s ingenuity and wish our native tongue had something so clever and succinct. If you’re trying to figure out how to translate these words, you’re out of luck, but if you’re looking to enhance your own multilingual vocabulary with what you’ll find to be absolutely essential words, read on.


Der Vorführeffekt – German. When you try to show someone you can do something but you screw it up just because they’re watching you.

Mamihlapinatapai – Yaghan. That silent look exchanged between two people who both want the other to initiate something, but are too hesitant to initiate it themselves. For example, think about that moment right before two people kiss for the first time.

Jubjoter – French. When you wake up during a dream but try to fall right back asleep so that you can continue it.

Akihi – Hawaiian.  Listening intently to instructions on how to do something and then forgetting everything the moment you try to do it.

Bulimielernen – German. Literally translated as “bulimic learning,” this is the act of cramming for an exam, then forgetting everything as soon as the exam is over. 

Sólviskubit – Icelandic. The guilt you feel when looking out the window and seeing nice weather, but still choosing to stay inside. 

Gluggaveður – Icelandic. Weather that looks pretty through the window, but that you wouldn’t want to be out in.

Translation Services

The beauty of these terms is their ability to neatly capture a complex and universal concept or emotion in just a single word. There is no best translation into a single other word, making them a sort of linguistic unicorn. When you need to translate other words that can’t be translated, however, count on APlus Translations as your reliable translation services provider.

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