Word Nerd: 5 Untranslatables

posted in: Word Nerd 8
Tiny book. Image: Wikipedia.


I have a fondness for words. Does it show?

But there is woe in my life. This woe is real and comes from the fact that I do not speak another language. Though I do feel English is a boss language to know, I read somewhere that “speaking a second language is like having a second soul” and I want one!

I wanna second soul! I wanna second soul!

:: kicks feet, flops on floor of supermarket, wailing ::

Yes, I did take a few Spanish classes two summers ago; remember how I was, however briefly, “Chica de Papel“? It was fun, but look: If I’m going to learn a language I need to take a year off my life (or large chunks of it) and learn a language. One class a week for eight weeks, working in a workbook at Instituto Cervantes just didn’t take. Maybe I was a bad student, but I have lots of credit hours that would prove otherwise. I fear it’s immersion or nothing for me if I want a second soul.

So I make do. One way I make do is to continuously improve my working vocabulary, annexing both English and non-English terms. Which brings me to several untranslatable words that I would now like to share. These have been pulled from a couple different sources, one of them being The School of Life, which I have crowed about before.

Here are a few words from other languages/times with their definitions. See if you aren’t charmed, moved, and thoughtful as you read through them.

saudade (Portuguese)
A bittersweet, melancholic yearning for something beautiful which is now gone: a friendship from childhood; a great apartment; a successful business, etc. With this pain comes an attendant pleasure that we had such pleasure in the first place.

schilderwald (German)
A street that has so many street signs, you get lost.

pochemuchka (Russian)
A person who asks too many questions.

vade mecum (Latin)
A valued, even precious, book or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation; literally translates to “go with me.” [I see my diary as a vade mecum, for example!]

litost (Czech)
The kind of humiliated despair we feel when someone accidentally reminds us, through their accomplishments, of everything that has gone wrong in our own lives.


Perhaps I don’t need a second soul. There’s an awful lot to do with the one I already have.


8 Responses

  1. Scott Vause
    | Reply

    And alas has the week of my most recent past, truly embodied this term saudade. We all reminisced about this, and well this and that too, a picture shared, a memory blue. Time divided us and still miles apart, fond memories shared, matters of the heart. A sigh, a pause, selah.

    (This last week friends and family shared memories going to grandmas as children, and filling in their S&H green stamps books )

  2. Marianne Fons
    | Reply

    “Nostalgia” is a pretty good English substitute for saudade.

  3. Jody Randall
    | Reply

    I like pochemuchka! I have known a few!

  4. Ronda Parsons
    | Reply

    Hi Mary,
    I have another wonderful word for you…..“Schmierfink”. We used it in our family to describe a messy worker or someone who made a mess of a particular project. When I looked it up just now it is described as a ‘dirty fellow’, a ‘muckraker’, or my particular favorite, a ‘mucky pup’. It is part of my ordinary vernacular, and I laugh to myself when I hear my husband use it. Because as he now agrees, there are times when our English words just won’t do.

  5. Melanie
    | Reply

    Oooooh, those are all such good words. Saudade suits my past couple of weeks. My dad passed away on Dec 20 and we’re having a memorial service this Sat, Jan 20. We’ve all been going through pictures to use in a slide show and a picture board. This means revisiting the nearly six decades of my life. So much fun and loss and happiness and sadness in those decades. Melancholy for sure.

  6. Suzanne Kaye
    | Reply

    Dear Mary,
    I also love words. When I was younger and had more people and things and places and stuff to do to keep track of than I have now, I used a planner called “Quo Vadis.” It was superb, as were many, but I chose this one because the paper very sensuous and a pleasure to touch and write on in those busy days.
    One gets one’s pleasure where and when one can; today it was reading PG.

  7. Barbara
    | Reply

    I also love words and phrases. I actually keep a list of my favorites in case I need to change a password. And by the way, I have been known to ask many questions, so now I have a name!

  8. Summer
    | Reply

    Have you tried the Duolingo app? I’m using it to learn Spanish (don’t really want to, but live in a place where chicken broth has “Caldo de Pollo” in huge letters and “Chicken Broth” in small letters on that particular item in the grocery store, so…cuando en Roma…). It’s neat because it’s like a game – multiple choice, word matching, listening and speaking in 10 question segments. And if Espanol is not for you, they do have other languages to choose from. 5-10 minutes a day over the last couple months and I’m 40% proficient (though i don’t feel that’s by any means accurate). However, I feel like I can understand and speak it at least a little bit better than before (more than finding items in the grocery store anyway), and feeling a little less lost is always a good thing! Hasta luego, mi amiga!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *