Combining our love of beautiful words and the beautiful game we took a look through a favourite book of ours: Untranslatable Words by Ella Frances Sanders. We cross-referenced the origin of untranslatable words against nations in this summer’s football World Cup to see which countries had the best unique words. With 32 teams competing in Russia, not every country is covered, but there are plenty which are featured to make an interesting list for the World Cup of Untranslatable Words.
Plain words vs unusual words
Often copywriting is about writing in plain language to communicate a message as clearly as possible. But there are many occasions when you may like to choose an unusual word to illuminate your content. Or capture attention with something interesting which educates your audience or satisfies their curiosity.
And as this list shows, although the English language is wonderfully diverse, sometimes it simply does not contain the word you are looking for.
World Cup of Untranslatable Words contenders
The hosts of the tournament so a natural place to start. RAZLIUBIT means to fall out of love. So whoever you are supporting in this World Cup let’s hope you don’t razliubit with them after a disappointing performance.
Russia’s opponents in the opening game of the tournament so let’s look at an Arabic word next. Impress your loved one with YA’ ABURNEE. It literally means “you bury me”. This is in the context of hoping that someone that you care for dies after you. Maybe one to use if you like a sense of drama.
A World Cup Thoroughbred. Germany are the reigning champions and have won the tournament four times. They also have an impressive five untranslatable words featured, but we will highlight DRACHENFUTTER. The literal translation would be dragon fodder but this is a “charming” metaphor for the present a wife is given by her husband to buy forgiveness after he has misbehaved! Tip: implying your wife is a dragon in English will not help getting back in her good books.
A really sweet word from five-times winners Brazil. CAFUNÉ means to tenderly pass your fingers through your partner’s hair. They conquer the world with their silky football skills and their even silkier language.
One of the dominant players in world football over the last decade, but with some internal turmoil will they lose their way in Russia? If they adopt the principle of VACILANDO it will not matter. This is a Spanish word which means the experience of the journey is more important than the destination.
Always flattered to deceive at the World Cup but surprise winners of Euro 2016. And they are contenders in our World Cup of untranslatable words with SAUDADE. This means a niggling desire for something unreachable or once had and now lost. It should be an English word for feelings about World Cup success.
A regular participant at world cups but not much burden of expectation on their shoulders in Russia. They are well represented on the untranslatable words front and we have gone with BOKETTO which means a vacant stare into the distance accompanied by a vacant mind.
Co-hosted the World Cup with Japan sixteen years ago (that makes us feel old), and slot nicely next to them here with their own untranslatable word NUNCHI. A tricky one to describe, it is the gradual ability over time to be able to gauge someone’s precise mood by listening to them.
Mo be or not Mo be: will Salah be fit? That is the question. Another question could be what “on earth does the Arabic word GURFA mean?” Strangely, the answer is “the amount of water that you can fit into the palm of one hand”. Could be a handy word in a country which is more than 90% desert.
Zlatan may have retired but Sweden has an untranslatable word that will appeal to many in his place: FIKA. This is long, long break taken from chores to drink coffee, eat cake and chat.
Another team that has made a few appearances at the World Cup without going deep into the tournament. Farsi is their official language and its untranslatable contribution to this list is TIÁM. This describes the twinkle in your eye when you are pleased to have met somebody for the first time.
The miracle nation that has a population well under that of our hometown of Bristol, but yet has mustered enough quality footballers to qualify for two international tournaments in a row. They qualify for our wordy world cup with TÍMA. This is the feeling you get when you can afford to acquire something, but are not ready to part with your time or money to do so.
What’s your favourite untranslatable word?
There are some great contenders for the World Cup of Untranslatable Words in there and it is hard to pick a winner. In our view, perhaps a semi-final line-up may look like VACILANDO vs FIKA and SUADADE vs TIÁM. And then Spain to beat Portugal in the final and see VACILANDO crowned the untranslatable word of the 2018 World Cup. Tell us what your favourite untranslatable word is in the comments below or on social media, or why not add your own untranslatable word along with its meaning.