The answer is no.

The question came from this piece in the Guardian:

“Is any word untranslatable”?

It starts off with the Japanese word “tsundoku”, which may not have a 1:1 ratio for translation into English, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be translated or explained.

The piece introduces a post which lists a series of “untranslatable” words, and then goes on to translate them. Seems contradictory to me.

So while it may be true that there are many words in the world that are not translatable 1:1, they can still be translated.

It’s an interesting article, well worth reading and thinking about the next time you grab your electronic dictionary.

My favorite part:

The danger with such untranslatable words is that it’s tempting to infer general cultural characteristics from them, to assume for example that because the Japanese have a word for the aforementioned variety of book abandonment they must all be serial abandoners, or that the Spanish are world leaders in tackiness; I doubt that either is the case. All the same, it’s interesting to reflect on what these words can show us about the practice of translation and its role in communication between cultures.

 

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