Lost in Translation

One of the most famous quotes attributed to Ludwig Wittgenstein goes, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world”. If this is indeed true, then it is truly regrettable that some of the words that we find in other languages have no precise English equivalent. Do have a look at some of the words and their meaning, and see if you agree!

1. Utepils (Norwegian)

This singular word refers to the act of enjoying a beer while sitting outside on a sunny day. Perhaps not too applicable to Singapore since the weather is too hot for anyone to sit in the open?

2. Komorebi (Japanese)

Just as the Italians coined the word ‘Chiaroscuro’ to refer to the artistic interplay between light and dark (the term itself is derived from the Italian words for ‘light’ and ‘dark’, in fact!), the Japanese have a specific term to refer to the sunlight that shines in through forests, creating a scattered or dappled effect. The English have co-opted the Italian word into its dictionary. Might we suggest they do the same for this nifty Japanese term?

3. Tingo (Pascuense)

Do you have an annoying neighbour who’s always borrowing everything from kitchen seasoning to home repair essentials? Be careful! The Spanish have a word to refer to such a person, although it also carries the connotation of “gradually stealing everything out of a neighbour’s house by borrowing but not returning.” One has to wonder, though: what kind of terrible experiences they must have endured to have such a specific word coined!

4. Itsuarok (Inuit)

Are your friends frequently tardy and keep you waiting? Isn’t it a frustrating experience when you wait for 30 minutes, sometimes an hour for a friend who doesn’t seem to respect your time? “Itsuarok” captures this frustration of waiting for someone to turn up, although, given that the word doesn’t have an English equivalent, we might want to just give those friends a piece of our mind instead.