Beyond Words - Language Blog

5 More Difficult Words to Translate

Over the last several months, Beyond Words readers from around the world have contacted us to share their experiences with particular words that are difficult to translate.

If you enjoyed our Ten Most Difficult Words to Translate article, here are some additions that have caught our attention. Thanks to everyone who sent words! Keep them coming for our next installment.

Hyggelig
In Denmark, the word Hyggelig is used often, and is said to be closely tied to the Danish national character. A dictionary will provide translations along the lines of cozy, warm, and nice, but a typical Dane will argue that these words don’t come close to capturing the full meaning of the word. Perhaps a true Dane would like to share some thoughts here?

Wabi-Sabi
We recently featured an entire blog article on the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi. It is a compound word with a long history, and carries a lot of meaning. Put succinctly, it’s a way of living that emphasizes finding beauty in imperfection, and accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay.

Duende
This Spanish word has a long and interesting history. It’s original use was to describe a mythical entity that lives in forests, sort of like a fairy or a sprite, that possesses human beings and causes them to feel awe, fear, or a sense of beauty in their natural surroundings. Since being updated by the Spanish poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca, in the early 20th century, it is now used to refer to the mysterious power of a work of art to deeply move a person.

Saudade
This Portuguese word was also featured in our most beautiful words post a while back. It refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.

Fairness
This past January, a blog post from the Atlantic Monthly by economist Bart Wilson sparked a debate about whether the English word Fair can be accurately translated. In the Beyond Words analysis of the Fairness translation debate, we explored all the sides, and discussed Wilson’s position that Fairness is a uniquely Anglo concept that carries historical baggage making it very different from notions of equity and right vs. wrong. You decide.

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