Fantastic Words that are Genuinely ‘Lost in Translation’

Lost in Translation has become a bit of cliché in the translation world since Sofia Coppola’s 2003 comedy drama of the same name was released to critical acclaim. But there are some terms that are genuinely lost in translation due to the complete lack of a foreign language alternative.

For this week’s blog, we thought we’d have a bit of fun by canvassing our worldly translators for some of their favourite terms that lack an exact match in other languages.

There may well be some thoughts, feelings, actions or ideas you’ve always thought were worthy of their own word. For example, what about that conflicting sense of joy and sadness that comes when you’re eating a delicious meal – yes, it’s tasty and you want it all in your face, but it’s also tinged with sadness because the more you eat, the less you’ll have left. Okay, just me then!

SchadenfraudeThe sense of satisfaction that comes from the misfortunes of others

There’s nothing original about You’ve Been Framed, we’re probably on the 2,800 series of it by now, but yet, when the obligatory ‘old lady falls into water after failing to balance on boat’ video shows, we still can’t help a little titter. That ladies and gents, is schadenfraude.   

WarmdushcerAn individual who only likes warm showers

Warmduscher literally translates as ‘warm-showerer’, which probably accounts for most of the human race. However, the implications of this German insult are of a character who is a bit of wimp and afraid to step out of their comfort zone.


Nunchi refers to a concept in Korean culture that involves listening and gauging an individual’s mood, often without the help of clear signals. In Korea, nunchi is central to the dynamics of interpersonal relationships.

Pisan ZapraThe time it takes to eat a banana

In the UK, we have ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’ and ‘in a jiffy’, but in Malaysia, if something is going to take a couple of minutes, then you say pisan zapra, which is the time it takes to eat a banana.

FarpotshketCompletely ruining something due to bungled attempts to fix a minor imperfection

The perfectionists amongst you will recognise this situation all too well. This word describes an attempted tiny fix that ruins something completely. Imagine a painting with a small smudge that you try and remove, only to make a complete hash of your work. That is a farpotshket

TsundokuThe act of leaving a book unread after buying it

At one time or another must of us will have bought books only to put them in a pile with other unread books – certainly at university anyway. This act is referred to by the Japanese as tsundoku. Does it refer to unread books on a Kindle? That we simply do not know.

There are some beautifully evocative words out there that are simply impossible to translate. Of course, the expert translation team at Linguistica International will always find a concise and effective way around this linguistic stumbling block to ensure nothing is lost in translation.

Get in touch

Are there any words you’ve come across without an English equivalent? Please send us your favourite examples on Facebook or Twitter.