There are 7,151 living languages spoken in the world today. In the English language, alone, there are 171,476 words in current use, and close to a million words in total. Most English speakers will use between 20,000 and 30,000 words regularly. Most languages don’t have quite that many words, but each language is going to have quite a large number.

You would think that with so many words, we would have a word for everything. But that’s not true. Not even close.

In our last blog, we discussed words and phrases that have no direct translation into English. (There are quite a number!) In this article, we’ll follow up with more about those words, and touch some more on loan words.

Words are more than just definitions or descriptions. They reflect our values, experiences, relationships, perspectives, and world views. The problem arises when you consider how your views, ideas, and values are formed. History, culture, economic status, religion, and geography all factor into how individuals view their world. That is why understanding a target language requires deep knowledge of and experience in a country or region.

A translator’s job is to have a grasp of all these factors to accurately translate the essential meaning of a word or phrase.

Let’s look at a few more examples of words that can be challenging for translators and don’t have a direct translation.

Japan’s fascination with the beauty of nature has resulted in the creation of very poetic and descriptive words like komorebi. It refers to the quality of sunlight filtering through trees, and there is no direct English translation that captures all the nuances of the word.

If you are an English speaker, the word snow covers a lot of ground. (Pardon the pun!) It can mean snow falling from the ground, already on the ground, packed, or slushy. To the Inuit in the Arctic regions of North America, one word for snow is not enough. They have over 40 words to describe it. Softly falling snow is aqilokoq. What would you call snow that is optimal for sleds? They call it piegnartoq. Climate can have a profound impact on language.

Have you ever had the urge to pinch something you find simply adorable, like a baby? In Filipino, you would use the word gigil to describe that urge.

Everyone has experienced that awkward moment when you are about to introduce someone and you cannot for the life of you remember their name. The Scottish would call that tartle.

Emotional intelligence is a term we have been hearing more and more. The Koreans have a word that refers specifically to the art of determining someone’s mood by listening to them, and then deciding what you should (or shouldn’t) say. If you were deficient in the skill, they would refer to you as a nunchi eoptta.

In the arts and in sports, we use the term “being in the zone” to describe being totally absorbed in a task. For the Greeks, the word meraki is used to describe those who put themselves totally into what they are doing with love, creativity, and soul.

Let’s turn our attention briefly to loan words, which we touched on in our last article. Here are a few of our favorite ones!

The word loot in English can be a verb. For example, the robbers looted the bank. It can refer to the stolen goods themselves, as in, “I hid the loot in a safe place.” We’ve heard it used colloquially when referring to gifts. “How much loot did you get for your birthday?” And did you know that loot is a Hindi word, pronounced and defined in the same way?

Have you ever been on a safari? The word originated in Arabic, became one of many English loan words, and is now widely used across the globe.

If you’ve been on a safari, you very well may have wanderlust – a strong desire to travel. The word derives from German and was adopted into English at the turn of the twentieth century.

When we think of cartoons, we think of Disney or the Sunday comics. The word originated from the Italian term carton, which initially meant a drawing on hard paper.

This is just a taste of the words, phrases, and meanings that could confuse customers or colleagues who speak other languages. When you need a translation service, it’s critically important to use professionals who have direct knowledge of the essential meanings of words in both English and their native language, and who know how to translate precisely.

Consider TrueLanguage for your next translation and localization project. We have over thirty years of experience dealing with the nuances of languages and can provide translations in over 120 languages. Contact us today for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, and experience the TrueLanguage difference!