Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Translate that!
July 7, 2012 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Are there any untranslateable American and British words?

There are many words in many cultures which are very hard to translate. iki, esprit, and so on. Does American and/or British English have any of that?
posted by curuinor to Writing & Language (61 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
chav
posted by HotPatatta at 7:26 PM on July 7, 2012


fuck
okay
cool
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:33 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


All words -- in any language -- are, ultimately, if perhaps roughly, translatable.

Not all words are exactly comparable to one single word in another language. To take the example of iki, you could probably translate it as "a uniquely Japanese aesthetic"*. A translation of chav from British English to American English would be "white trash". Just like you can say that schadenfreude means "taking pleasure at others' pain". Just because there's no one-word equivalent doesn't mean that one can't translate the word.

I don't understand why "esprit" is used as an example of an un-translatable word. Isn't it French for "spirit"? Not only is it translatable into English, it's a cognate with an English word!

*Actually, from what I can tell, iki does have a single word English equivalent: style. It's just that the Japanese word for style has uniquely Japanese attributes and/or is used in English as a loanword to mean style that is specifically Japanese.
posted by Sara C. at 7:38 PM on July 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


untranslatable to who? There might be some that are translatable from British English to American English, or American English to French, but not British English to Brazilian Portuguese or something like that.
posted by sweetkid at 7:38 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


dreich
dwam
glaikit
thole
posted by scruss at 7:39 PM on July 7, 2012


We've Talked about this before.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:46 PM on July 7, 2012


I agree with Sara C. - even if a word doesn't have an exact match (rojo = red), it's possible to translate it with multiple words (fuerte = strong or loud or intense). Some words take a paragraph or more to explain.

That said, if you're looking for English words without a single-word translation, I would imagine English has just as many as any other language.

Apologies if my Spanish isn't correct, but I think it gets the meaning across.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:50 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


previously

I have found the word "skanky" (which had a lot of currency when I was in college) terrifically difficult to explain to non-Americans.

Also "raccoon." Good. Lord. I have on two occasions spent like twenty minutes trying to explain (to Russians and to Italians) what a raccoon was. It's mostly just called a "raccoon" in other languages because they don't HAVE them anywhere but North America, there's not a particularly famous raccoon from literature or film to point to, and they're not really popular zoo animals, but nobody had any idea what one WAS even if they had seen the word before. I guess Wikipedia has probably made this less of a problem, but trying to explain a raccoon is hella hard.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:53 PM on July 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


Balk ( in baseball). Nobody really knows what the hell that means.
posted by karlos at 7:55 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've found that foreigners--French, German, and Swedish particularly--have a hard time determining when to use "fun" instead of "funny." "Funny" is easy to translate, but I haven't had much luck explaining why to use "fun" instead.

There are things that French (which I know best) uses the English word for, and I think don't have translations that accurately or comprehensively convey the English: "sexy," "cool," "look" in a fashion sense, eg, "That shirt and skirt together are a really great look" or "The bohemian look is very in right now."
posted by thebazilist at 7:55 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I got into an epic scrabble brawl with a surly gang of brits over the very existence of the word "bayou".
posted by elizardbits at 7:55 PM on July 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


I've had a difficult time translating the word "cheesy" into my other languages, although examples are usually available to use for illustrative purposes.
posted by msali at 8:00 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cheesy or corny. My chinese parents just don't get it.
posted by extramundane at 8:03 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know my girlfriend had a hard time explaining the word "awkward" to the locals while in Buenos Aires.
posted by moonroof at 8:03 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also IME it is near impossible to translate the offside rule from any language to any language if the listener finds football tedious.
posted by elizardbits at 8:11 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


tacky?
posted by pupstocks at 8:11 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


UK words with no US equivalents

Cow (in the slang sense)
Fuckwit
Wally
Common (as an insult)
Jobsworth
posted by w0mbat at 8:22 PM on July 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


"esprit" in French covers not just what we'd call "spirit" (whatever that is) but "mind" in the more philosophical sense. There are other meanings but that's the one that can trip up an English speaker, because "spirit" tends to have a more airy-fairy meaning in English than in French.
posted by zadcat at 8:26 PM on July 7, 2012


Any word is translatable if there's no restriction on the number of words it takes to describe it in the target language. The problem with translation occurs when there's no point of reference in the target culture. You can explain "curry" all you want, but it's very difficult for someone who's never had a curry to form an idea of it based on a description of spices and ingredients.

I don't know any other (natural) languages well enough to know of any English words that don't translate - unless you count Klingon, which has a very limited vocabulary compared to English!
posted by WasabiFlux at 8:26 PM on July 7, 2012


wilderness
posted by iiniisfree at 8:59 PM on July 7, 2012


All words -- in any language -- are, ultimately, if perhaps roughly, translatable.

For a very, very large degree of roughness, perhaps. I would find it insanely difficult to convey what the word 'country' means to many Australian Aboriginal people, for example, not least because it's never been satisfactorily explained to me. The best explanation I had was from a Warlpiri man, who said that trying to explain 'country' was like trying to explain what it meant to have kids to somebody who didn't have any. That I could understand.

A more accessible example might be 'mate', as the word is understood by many Australians. It's a word we feel, and generally understand all that it implies, but I don't think I've ever heard a fellow Aussie put it into words in a way that made me say 'that's it, mate, fuckin' nailed it.'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:24 PM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine who taught ESL classes to refugees in the U.S. told me that the word he had the most difficulty explaining was "inconvenience," particularly when used in the phrase "Sorry for the inconvenience." As he explained it, it's not like you've actually done anything to anyone or anyone's done anything to you, but nevertheless, you feel aggrieved.
posted by heurtebise at 9:25 PM on July 7, 2012


Re "country", "inconvenience", and the like.

Yes, but there we're getting into cultural outlook, or philosophy, or lived experience, and away from language.

For example, I grew up within 100 miles of most of the people featured on the reality show Swamp People, and by and large we speak the same language and have the same home culture. And yet what they say when they mean "country" and what I say when I mean "country" are ever so slightly different, based on the fact that they live off the land and I'm a doctor's kid who moved away to the big city.

In that sense, none of us speak the same language, and no word that anyone says can ever be translated into another person's language.

But still, I'm pretty sure that I could go to the Netherlands and have a decent idea of what a Dutch person meant by the term "gezellig." A French kid throwing around the slang term "cool" could probably explain to her mom what she meant by that with a few well chosen phrases.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 PM on July 7, 2012


I'm not sure if you've read the wikipedia article on Untranslatability, OP, but it's one of the most interesting ones I've ever read, about anything, ever.
posted by Sara C. at 9:59 PM on July 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


> Wally

Dweeb, surely?
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:01 PM on July 7, 2012


The philosophical question of 'translatability' has been ticking over for the best part of a century, going back at least as far as Wittgenstein. Here's a paper that covers a chunk of modern work on the topic and categorises a lot of the points made in comments above.
posted by holgate at 10:05 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dweeb has kind of a nerdy connotation to it that Wally doesn't have. If a soccer player misses an open goal you could shout "you wally!" but "you dweeb!" doesn't seem right.
posted by w0mbat at 10:10 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, I didn't think of the nerdiness. I know Wallys from How to be a Wally, but it's been decades.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:22 PM on July 7, 2012


I find that in British English, "piss" contains a number of nuances that are likely untranslatable into English (especially given that some of these distinctions aren't even present in American English): pissed vs. pissed off vs. taking the piss vs. having a piss vs. pissing down, etc.
posted by scody at 10:26 PM on July 7, 2012


All words -- in any language -- are, ultimately, if perhaps roughly, translatable.

Well, things can ultimately be described to some degree of satisfaction, but I see a difference in "translating" and "roughly translating" in that the latter isn't translating, it's describing. And often, it misses the emotional depth of the word entirely. Obviously, to saw that one language has something the meaning of which is impossible to convey in any other language is pretty ridiculous, but I don't think "translation" needs to have such a broad meaning . . . if one needs a parable to express something for which other languages require only a word, I'd consider that a case of untranslatability.

Also "raccoon." Good. Lord. I have on two occasions spent like twenty minutes trying to explain (to Russians and to Italians) what a raccoon was. It's mostly just called a "raccoon" in other languages because they don't HAVE them anywhere but North America, there's not a particularly famous raccoon from literature or film to point to, and they're not really popular zoo animals, but nobody had any idea what one WAS even if they had seen the word before. I guess Wikipedia has probably made this less of a problem, but trying to explain a raccoon is hella hard.

This is true for lots of animals that aren't found in one's own land. I still don't understand what marmots or armadillos are. In Bosnian, raccoon is "rakun," but I was delighted (because I like raccoons) to learn that the Hungarians have a word for them - "mósomedve" - which means "washing bear." And so now I describe raccoons to those who don't know them as being something like tiny bears who like to wash things. People seem to get that, and are as charmed by the idea as much as I would imagine them to be charmed by actual raccoons. Not that my having to explain raccoons happens very often. Sadly.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:29 PM on July 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is a bit off topic but, from my understanding, there is a Russian word for raccoon. It's 'енот.' Though I've heard of people referring to them with the word for badger: барсук.
posted by Brachiosaurus at 11:47 PM on July 7, 2012


For a book-length exploration of this question, try Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter.
posted by flabdablet at 11:57 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know of any language which uses its own words for musical styles such as jazz, blues, rock'n'roll and rap. These words may change a little to better fit the phonetics and orthography of the loaning language, but I'm not aware of any language community coining their own words for them.

I think the term gridlock in both its original traffic-related meaning and as a political metaphor is difficult to translate too. It's much easier to just explain what it means than try to find an equivalent term. That's at least true for me with Finnish as my first language.
posted by tykky at 12:35 AM on July 8, 2012


Nothing is really untranslatable but there are English words from special domains that don't exist in other cultures and hence have no counterpart. Take cricket and words like googly or, um, doosra...
posted by Segundus at 1:15 AM on July 8, 2012


I favorited it, and I have to back it up:

fuck
ok
cool.

I haven't run into a non Europeans/American who can use any of these words effectively.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:25 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


As Sara C said, all words are ultimately translateable, the difficulty comes with those words which map onto culturally specific concepts which do not exist (or are not as important) in the other culture.

The equivalence of chav/white trash is a good one, in both cases the important nuance is the expression of disdain or contempt. "Not one of us", while having a related sentiment, is very British; it implies class-based separation which Americans like to pretend they do not have.
posted by epo at 1:57 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Camp", the aesthetic style.

I've always found it very difficult to explain the Australian English term "dag"/"daggy" for non-Australians. ("Unfashionable, lacking self-consciousness about their appearance and/or with poor social skills yet affable and amusing", according to Wikipedia)
posted by dontjumplarry at 2:25 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, things can ultimately be described to some degree of satisfaction, but I see a difference in "translating" and "roughly translating" in that the latter isn't translating, it's describing. And often, it misses the emotional depth of the word entirely. Obviously, to saw that one language has something the meaning of which is impossible to convey in any other language is pretty ridiculous, but I don't think "translation" needs to have such a broad meaning . . . if one needs a parable to express something for which other languages require only a word, I'd consider that a case of untranslatability.

I'm seconding this. If you have to read a book translated from a language with a word that has no corresponding word or short phrase in your language, what will the translator do? Often they'll pick some other word which might be close, but drop all the nuances. In other words, the word is untranslatable unless you want to take a very long detour.

Yes, there are untranslatable words. I do not mean words that can be defined in a sentence or a paragraph. I mean

1) Words that are so layered in their usage that it may take a long time for someone not raised in that language to pick up all the nuances.
2) words which may have more than one meaning and bring both or all of those meanings into play when used by writers or speakers

My Portuguese wife often encounters this and after I explain a word to her, I feel like there's still something missing. Day later, she'll ask "Is this also an instance of X?" and I'll answer yes or no as we drill down, eventually, into what that word really means. Some recent examples are 'overwhelming' (doesn't have a casual meaning) and 'cosy' (doesn't have all the nuances) and 'pimp' (lacks the modern full range of meaning) and 'trade-off' and 'serendipity' (Sorry, but I wonder how many people saying everything is translatable are really familiar with two or more languages. )

Conversely, the Portuguese writer Miguel Cardoso has a book A Causa das Coisas, in which he devotes a chapter each to particularly unique Portuguese words or phrases. One chapter is devoted to 'Ja Agora' which I'm still not sure I understand after reading an entire chapter on it. It means "Now Now" but also refers to a sort of running present.

An example from Spanish. Anyone reading the translated Bolano's Savage Detectives has missed a lot. The book not only uses a lot of slang, but is rich with the full range of colorful Mexican profanity. It is a bit depressing to see a full range of profanity translated as 'That fucking fuck! Fuck him!' because the equivalent swear words don't exist. They are untranslatable.
posted by vacapinta at 2:28 AM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


On the British word chav: I switched tabs whilst reading this thread and saw a link on Twitter:
A Point of View: @adamgopnik on the curse of having a ridiculous name (Gopnik = chav/ned in Russia) Download: http://bbc.in/nqr0rT
to this 10 minute long podcast:
The curse of a ridiculous name
Adam Gopnik muses on what it means in life if - like him - you've been lumbered with a funny name.
posted by humph at 2:33 AM on July 8, 2012


"Cheesy or corny. My chinese parents just don't get it."

This word has come up a number of times now. I don't understand why other cultures would have a hard time with it. It's a cringe-inducing aesthetic failure due to lack of talent, taste, or budget (and frequently all three). Anyone with stylistic standards, in any culture, I would expect, would have a word for examples that fall far short of those expectations. Do many cultures lack a word for 'shoddy' or 'third-rate'? Does the concept of 'bad taste' not exist in other cultures??

It's hard to believe this, so I don't get the problem. Unless there are endless subtle dimensions to the word 'cheesy' that I'm missing. ('Corny' is similar, but often implies a style is expired or extremely dated.)
posted by dgaicun at 3:11 AM on July 8, 2012


It's a cringe-inducing aesthetic failure due to lack of talent, taste, or budget (and frequently all three)

You're using a synonym to define it, namely 'cringe-inducing' which also doesn't translate. Cheesy is not just bad Art, otherwise it would be easy to translate. It is also easy to define lack of aesthetic standards. But when is something cheesy and not just ugly?
posted by vacapinta at 3:18 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think part of the problem with translation is that as a native speaker, your vocabulary does not just consist of straight dictionary definitions. Anything more complicated than "dog" or "house," and maybe even those, comes with a set of nuances that you've internalized through a life-time of interactions and observations. I notice this every time I try to explain a new English word to someone, because the straight dictionary definition almost always feels completely lacking. So I start trying to explain the nuances of the word, and we have to go through a back-and-forth for a while to hammer out the exact parameters for that word. It works the same way in the other direction: I'm learning a new language and at my current level, we spend a huge amount of time asking the teacher things like, "If you were really angry, which word would be stronger: x or y? Is this word neutral or snide? If you were trying to be polite, which one would be better?" In this sense, I think there are a lot of words that are both translatable and un-translatable in any language, because the most direct meaning of a word is translatable, but the shades of meaning that color that word in a native speaker's mind are much harder to convey in a simple one-to-one translation.
posted by colfax at 3:35 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


A little more perspective might be gained from the foreign words we use in English. Why do we use loanwords and don't we have English words for zeitgeist, wanderlust, doppelganger ?

There are ways to describe those words though they w/could lose meaning if translated.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:07 AM on July 8, 2012


"Cheesy is not just bad Art, otherwise it would be easy to translate. It is also easy to define lack of aesthetic standards. But when is something cheesy and not just ugly? "

'Cheesy' shows up more than any other word in the previous thread, with many people saying it is not only impossible to translate, but difficult to explain, implying a deep conceptual gap. And that really puzzles me.

When is something cheesy and not just ugly? I would say it's simply when the user is amused by that ugliness. 'Cheesy' is most often just a playful word for bad art. But many people do use it to describe a failure in art/style even without implied amusement, so even the word "ugly" is not a translation without merit.

So maybe not "just bad art", but close enough. I would only add to a non-English speaker: find something done so badly you couldn't help but laugh at it (a joke by your dad, the inauthentic decor in a restaurant, a low-budget local TV advertisement, a weird fashion attempt by a teenager). We have a word for that.
posted by dgaicun at 4:39 AM on July 8, 2012


In Bosnian, raccoon is "rakun," but I was delighted (because I like raccoons) to learn that the Hungarians have a word for them - "mósomedve" - which means "washing bear."

In Dutch it's wasbeer which means the same thing.
posted by atrazine at 4:51 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


When is something cheesy and not just ugly? I would say it's simply when the user is amused by that ugliness.

Crucially, the producer is neither aware of nor amused by the ugliness. Without that earnestness something can't really be cheesy.

Maybe the reason that it doesn't translate as well outside of Anglo cultures is because its rooted in the historical existence in England of a social climbing middle class of strivers who try to emulate the wealthy in taste and style but fall short in comic ways despite working hard at it. Many other cultures had social hierarchies too rigid for the non-aristocratic wealthy to aspire to that.

That later evolved into a veneration for the "talented" bohemian artist over the work-a-day craftsman during the Romantic era and to the formation of a craft/art dichotomy.
Even though the class structures of that time barely exist in England now and only existed in the US for a brief period, I think the structure of the joke is still the same: Look at this striver who tried to emulate art but so misunderstood it that he created this grotesque parody.
posted by atrazine at 5:08 AM on July 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Now, see this is funny. I am an American (born and raised) and am finding the definitions of "Cheesy" and "chav" to be slightly... off... here.

A joke by my Dad would be corny rather than cheesy. Corny and cheesy are different. A corny joke is corny because it is a) mild and likely b) one that you can guess the ending for because it is simple, or have heard many times. Jokes are almost always what follows a descriptor like corny, but if you called something else corny, you would be talking about something that perhaps promised a thrill or interest, but turned out to be mild or derivative. I suppose you could have corny music, for instance. Corny is a disconnect between the implied transgressive nature of the cultural thing and what it delivers.

Cheesy is different in that there is a sense of low and high culture. Bad Art is a broad category under which cheesy somewhat falls. A cheesy television show, such as the A-Team, would be one that presents something sincerely but that isn't taken seriously because it is ridiculous, often by virtue of colliding an inappropriate frivolous or fun tone, or a low budget that doesn't sustain the seriousness and so on. So, when someone upthread said it was a "cringe inducing aesthetic failure due to lack of talent, taste or budget" I think a few elements were left out. One is that the aesthetic thing itself needs a sincere presentation to be cheesy. I also think "failure" is too broad a term for something "cheesy." I don't think "cheesy" things fail so much as produce a schadenfreude-like amusement at the disconnect between presentation, content and effect. Cheesy is a disconnect between the implied seriousness of the cultural thing and what it delivers.

In my limited experience with Chinese culture, I could understand how cheesy would be difficult to translate because in my understanding there is a much more limited tradition of cultural criticism. I have seen historical drama tv shows which would be seen as "cheesy" by an American audience and yet they are understood as "normal" or "the appropriate style" by a Chinese audience. This is not at all to say the audience is unsophisticated (far from it, in fact), but rather that the West has a fairly unique "culture" culture of being critical, snarky, sarcastic within and among cultural artifacts, partly because we have had such a long thread of diverse mass media. In fact, if you traveled back in time to the 1950s at the dawn of television, all the shows look cheesy, but the audience would have seen them as appropriate.

Now, chav... I lived in Dublin, Ireland for a year. There, the term was "scanger" and meant "low-class loitering youth." "Chav" was seen as roughly equivalent. I was also born and raised in semi-rural Kentucky, so I know from white trash. I don't see "chav" and "white trash" as completely equivalent, in part because chav and scanger are more largely imagined as urban figures, whereas the US does not have a visible urban poor white element. In the US, the mass media focuses obsessively and negatively on urban poor blacks. There is a long digression about Fox News and confirmation bias here, but I'll skip that.
posted by Slothrop at 5:20 AM on July 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


I like atrazine's description and explanation of cheesy, as well.
posted by Slothrop at 5:23 AM on July 8, 2012


The philosopher Quine also did interesting work on translation and meaning.
posted by carter at 5:30 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


... and if you search for (e.g.) "quine translation meaning" you can come up with some online resources.
posted by carter at 5:32 AM on July 8, 2012


I think the Australian slang word "dag" is both difficult to explain and difficult to translate.
It's a mysterious unknowable... ...


Also... we talking interpreting or translating in this thread?
posted by taff at 5:59 AM on July 8, 2012


Hipster. There. I said it. Also, see this video of a French woman interviewing Williamsburgians trying to find out what "hipsters" are.

While I agree with Sara C. that there really isn't such a thing as "untranslatable", I offer that a word which barely even has a definition in English might qualify.
posted by mhum at 7:53 AM on July 8, 2012


I translate a lot of lyrics for my Italian family, especially from Country songs. I am usually not stumped by single words, but some phrases that evoke complete images in the US are beyond me. I gave up trying to translate appropriately "muscle cars on cinder blocks".
posted by francesca too at 8:06 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


"In Bosnian, raccoon is "rakun," but I was delighted (because I like raccoons) to learn that the Hungarians have a word for them - "mósomedve" - which means "washing bear."

"In Dutch it's wasbeer which means the same thing."


Same concept!
German: Waschbär
Polish: szop pracz
Italian: orsetto lavatore
French: raton laveur
posted by travelwithcats at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


chintzy did not translate easily for the native Chinese speakers I used to know.
posted by lemniskate at 10:23 AM on July 8, 2012


Would it be a derail to ask what what English words are commonly used in other languages rather than trying to find a translation? The reverse of English speakers using 'schadenfreude' or 'apropos' and the like.

I've really enjoyed reading the thread, but this is how I understood the question. It and it seems apropos.

If I'm being honest, the truth is I pronounced 'apropos' in my head as if it were of Greek origin, with a stress on the second syllable and a sibilant S until, oh, let's just say not very long ago at all. I knew what it meant when I heard it, and I knew what it meant when I read it, but I did not associate the two at all in my brain. Thankfully I never tried to say it, but that's probably because I never had the encouragement of ever hearing anyone say 'uh-PRO-pos' outloud ever.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2012


Bollocks.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:01 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My Portuguese wife often encounters this and after I explain a word to her, I feel like there's still something missing.

But there's always something missing in verbal communication to some varying degree, and I think that's at the heart of the philosophical debate about 'translatability' and its attempt to split it into smaller conceptual chunks. It might be historical or geographical or cultural, but even seemingly straightforward mappings (for instance, colour) turn out far trickier in practice.

We're talking about a range that goes from short jog to long detour even within broad linguistic communities; to draw a threshold of untranslatability is inherently to assert a distinction that isn't purely linguistic, whether between different languages or hyper-local dialects. It's saying 'this is ours and you can't have it.' To some degree, that's true, but it's more on the level of cultural translation, which applies to most of the suggestions in this thread and the previous one. To quote fourcheesemac's comment from the earlier thread: 'We all need to believe our language contains untranslatable concepts.'
posted by holgate at 3:23 PM on July 8, 2012


Hipster. There. I said it.

Isn't that just the opposite of a dag?
posted by flabdablet at 7:31 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"In Bosnian, raccoon is "rakun," but I was delighted (because I like raccoons) to learn that the Hungarians have a word for them - "mósomedve" - which means "washing bear."

"In Dutch it's wasbeer which means the same thing."

Same concept!
German: Waschbär
Polish: szop pracz
Italian: orsetto lavatore
French: raton laveur


On a roll here. In Japanese, this animal is called an araiguma (アライグマ), in Chinese, 浣熊。Both mean "washing bear." These names were most likely direct translations from the word for "raccoon" in European languages, which seem to congregate around "washing bear." Raccoon, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the native American "Algonquian (Powhatan) arahkun, from arahkunem 'he scratches with the hands.'" Even "raccoon," when you break it down etymologically, sounds a little washing-bearish.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:32 AM on July 9, 2012


fuck
ok
cool.

I haven't run into a non Europeans/American who can use any of these words effectively.


Fuck and okay are translatable in other European languages though (joder, vale etc.) and I can even think of a translation of cool that covers most bases.
posted by ersatz at 6:38 AM on July 9, 2012


« Older Help me make a decision: What ...   |  Today, a chicken was killed. ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.