Although I can read well in at least 6 languages, I’m not a very good translator. When I read a text in French or Catalan, I understand it in French or Catalan not what it would mean in English. Translation requires shifting from thinking in one language to thinking in another and that can be very tricky. It certainly requires training. The translation company Today Translations has recently undertaken a study with thousands of translators from all over the world to determine which words are the hardest to translate. Here are the top 10:

In English:

  1. plenipotentiary
  2. googly – a cricket term
  3. Spam –  as in the Monty Python famous song
  4. gobbledegook –  I have a friend who actually uses this one a lot
  5. whimsy
  6. bumf
  7. serendipity
  8. poppycock
  9. chuffed
  10. kitsch

In other languages we have:

  1. ilunga – Tshiluba word 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.
  2. shlimazl – Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person.
  3. radioustukacz – Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain.
  4. naa – Japanese word used only in Kansai area of Japan, to emphasise statements or agree with someone.
  5. altahmam – Arabic for a kind of deep sadness.
  6. gezellig – Dutch for cosy.
  7. saudade – Portuguese for a certain type of longing.
  8. selathirupavar – Tamil for a certain type of truancy.
  9. pochernuchka – Russian for a person who asks lots of questions.
  10. klloshar – loser in Albanian.

It’s nice to see a Portuguese word on the list. See the article here.

I came across this entertaining survey through an excellent blog post (in Portuguese) about a recent UNESCO study on endangered languages.  There are about 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, half of it in danger of disappearing altogether. The death of a language means the death of a culture and world view, the entire memory of a people. Every two weeks a language dies. Let’s hope the UNESCO safeguarding projects – modelled after similar projects for protecting endangered species – have some effects.