Untranslatability

[Português]

Ever since I started a job related to translation I have been facing many words that are very hard to translate into Portuguese – most of them related to IT, like ‘bug’, ‘widget’ and so on. Of course I could explain what they mean, but so far I haven’t been able to find a word in Portuguese that would sound nice and describe exactly what these words mean.

I tried to think about other words that don´t have a direct translation and came across a list on the Internet compiled by the company Today Translations and published by the BBC. They show the 10 hardest words in the world to translate. Take a look:

  1. Ilunga: Word in Tshiluba for a person who is ready to forgive anything the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.
  2. Shlimazl: Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person.
  3. Radioukacz: Polish for a person who worked as a telegraph for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain.
  4. Naa: Word used in the Kansai area of Japan, to emphasize statements or agree with someone.
  5. Altahmam: Arabic for a deep sadness.
  6. Gezellig: Dutch for cozy.
  7. Saudade: Portuguese for a type of longing, missing something or someone.
  8. Selathirupavar: Tamil for a certain type of truancy.
  9. Pochemuchka: Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions.
  10. Klloshar: Albanian word for loser.

Source: http://www.robsmegaphone.com/2008/07/19/the-worlds-most-difficult-word-to-translate-loses-much-in-translation/

I asked my colleagues that speak some of those languages what the words really mean. The girl from Poland said she never heard the word “Radioukacz”. The Russian defined “Pochemuchka” as a “hindi kindi word for someone who asks “why” all the time” (his definition of hindi kindi is “little kids”). He says he is not sure it is even a word, since it became famous through a soviet cartoon – but he couldn´t find only one word in English for it anyway.

Now for the word in Portuguese, “Saudade”. I knew I would have a hard time defining it. Since I was a kid I learned in school that this is our unique word in Portuguese and that no other language has a word for that. Well, I could somehow find a translation from that into English, into German and into Spanish but I can´t help but wondering if they really describe what “saudade” is all about.

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