The most untranslatable word in the world

Scholars and professional translators have determined that “ilunga” — a word in the Bantu language of Tshiluba for a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time; to tolerate it a second time; but never a third time — is the “most untranslatable word in the world. “Shlimazl”, a Yiddish word for a chronically unlucky person, and “radioukacz”, a Polish word for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain, ran a close second and third. The most untranslatable word in the English language was voted to be “plenipotentiary”, which means a special ambassador or envoy, invested with full powers.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | June 24, 2004
Category: Travel News


2 Responses to “The most untranslatable word in the world”

  1. Mary Says:

    Kitsch as an untranslatable word doesn’t qualify, in my opinion, because it’s taken straight from German with the same meaning.

    Therefore, a German-speaker wouldn’t need a translation, so it is NOT untranslatable.

  2. George Says:

    Interesting list.
    Here are some considerations, and two of the words are not in most common English dictionaries:

    The ten (!) english words that were voted hardest to translate

    plenipotentiary = A diplomat who is fully authorized to represent his or
    her government.
    gobbledegook = language characterized by circumlocution and jargon, usually
    hard to understand
    serendipity = Pure luck in discovering things you were not looking for.
    poppycock = Senseless talk; “don’t give me that stuff”. First used 1865
    googly = A cricket ball bowled as if to break one way that actually breaks
    in the opposite way
    Spam = (trademark) a tinned luncheon meat made largely from pork. Also
    from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”] To crash a program
    whimsy = The trait of acting more from whim or caprice than from reason or
    judgment.
    bumf =
    http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/english/bu/bumf.html
    chuffe =
    http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/english/ch/chuffe.html

    Regards, George