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'Illunga' tops ten toughest words that leave translators tongue-tied
Thread poster: Wenke Geddert

Wenke Geddert  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:00
Member (2004)
English to German
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Jun 22, 2004

As published in The Times:-

June 22, 2004

'Illunga' tops ten toughest words that leave translators tonge-tied
By Robin Young







THE Times has translated for you the most untranslatable word in the world.

The word is ilunga, from the Bantu language of Tshiluba, and means a person ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.

It came top of a list drawn up with the help of 1,000 translators, narrowly beating hlimazl, Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person and radioukacz, Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain.

In the English language, googly (as in cricket), Spam (as in tins) and gobbledegook (as in every Plain English Campaign press release) were among the most untranslatable words, but the top place was, surprisingly, reserved for plenipotentiary. No problem for classicists there surely? It means a special ambassador or envoy, invested with full powers. Next!

Whimsy, bumf and serendipity (the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident), poppycock (which is what you may consider all this nonsense), chuffed (which is what I am to be writing it) and kitsch (oh, you know) were other English words to make it into the Top Ten. The survey was conducted by Today Translations, a London-based agency which asked 1,000 of its linguists across the world to nominate their personal bêtes noirs. “My own vote would have gone to googly,” said Jurga Zilinskiene, the managing director. She worked as an interpreter herself before founding Today and becoming an award- winning businesswoman.

“People sometimes forget that an interpreter must translate not just from one language to another but from one culture to another,” she said. “Sometimes, the equivalent idea simply does not exist in both cultures. I am from Lithuania, for example, and we simply do not have googlies in Lithuania.”

A googly, for any Anglophones who may still be in doubt, is an off-breaking ball in cricket delivered with an apparent leg-break action on the part of the bowler. Howzat? The linguists taking part in the poll were native speakers of, among other languages, English, French,Turkish, Ukranian, Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Amharic, Pushto, Somali and Tamil.

WORDS LOST IN TRANSLATION

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
SHLIMAZL Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person


RADIOUKACZ Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain


NAA Japanese word used only in Kansai area of Japan, to emphasise statements or agree with someone


ALTAHMAM Arabic for a kind of deep sadness


GEZELLIG Dutch for cosy


SAUDADE Portuguese for a certain type of longing


SELATHIRUPAVAR Tamil for a certain type of truancy


POCHEMUCHKA Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions


KLLOSHAR loser in Albanian


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Andrzej Lejman  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:00
German to Polish
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RADIOUKACZ Jun 22, 2004

must be an original invention of The Times. I've never heard this word. Are the other words similar reliable?

Regards
Andrzej


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Wenke Geddert  Identity Verified
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TOPIC STARTER
Andrzej, good point.... Jun 22, 2004

... certainly worth discussing / asking for feedback from other ProZ...!

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Klaus Herrmann  Identity Verified
Germany
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English to German
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Interesting Jun 22, 2004

Thank you, Wenke. Reminds me of a short piece in our local paper about Günther Grass meeting with 'his' translators in Straelen in order to resolve hard-to-translate terms. One of the examples I remember was "Brausepulver", which -according to the article- doesn't exist in China. Thus, the Chinese translator had problems renderring it correctly.

Andrzej Lejman wrote:

must be an original invention of The Times. I've never heard this word. Are the other words similar reliable?

Regards
Andrzej


Kitsch being classified as an Englisch word amazes me. It must have been naturalized quite recently. All Americans (as this is an NYT article) I have met and who understood the word Kitsch were either German-Americans or used to live in Germany. In New York, I got around using "shlocky" and a short explanation while in other states, Kitsch plus a lengthy explanation was the best way to explain this "English" word. And a Shlimazl ('Hlimazl' is a typo, I guess) is person who gets into 'Schlamassel' all the time in German. I guess this confirms Jurga Zilinskiene's statement about conveying concepts, not words. Interesting to see how translation problems depend on the language pair.

[Edited at 2004-06-22 09:44]


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R Farhat  Identity Verified
Lebanon
Local time: 15:00
Member (2004)
English to Arabic
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arabic Jun 22, 2004

hello Wenke & all

interesting topic! I can give feedback on the arabic term only.
there is no 'altahmam'. but it could be 'al-hamm'.
al-hamm : deep grief, deep affliction, deep distress

al- : the ; hamm: deep distress/affliction

the term 'al-hamm' in Arabic reflects a sort of long-suffered sadness and worry. for example, a terrible tragedy that left its untreatable physical/emotional scars; a horrible loss; a long family distress, etc..


some equivalent terms in Arabic:
- SHLIMAZL : man'hoos (h pronounced differently)
- POCHEMUCHKA : su'alah (keeps asking),
'heshary (nosy)
- KLLOSHAR: khaser (khas.er)

regards,

[Edited at 2004-06-22 09:47]


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Natalie  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 14:00
Member (2002)
English to Russian
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MODERATOR
"pochemuchka" (Russian) Jun 22, 2004

The versions of the English translation may be found here:
http://www.proz.com/kudoz/654288


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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Russian to English
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Not just a word, but an entire poem. Jun 22, 2004

I don’t know Danish, but I have the highest admiration for Arne Petersen, who translated Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” into Danish.

JABBERWOCKY, by Lewis Carroll

(from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, 1872)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.


"Kloppervok"
Translated by Arne Herløv Petersen from "Jabberwocky",
by Lewis Carroll,
Copyright 1986 Arne Herløv Petersen


I glummert lys den slyge spæg
stod gomrende og glim.
I børkens dyb stod mamren fjæg
og bungrede i skim.


"Vogt dig for Kloppervok, min søn,
pas på dens tand og klo!
Hold dig fra fuglen Djubberløn
og fra den spuge flog!"


Han tog sit vorpne sværd i hånd
og søgte fjenden trum,
Ved tomtetræets smækre vånd
han ventede så stum.


Som uffig han i tanker stod,
den kurpe Kloppervok
med flammeøjne ret imod
ham kom og guste spok.


Men hug på hug! Og sværdfet slog
så vorpent mod dens hals!
Dér lå den død; dens hoved tog
han med sig i gefals.


"Og, har du fældet Kloppervok?
Min søs, du est en knog!
Det er en glamrig dag, og nok
en spurkel værd, mintro!"


I glummert lys den slyge spæg
stod gomrende og glim.
I børkens dyb stod mamren fjæg
og bungrede i skim.



[Edited at 2004-06-22 12:10]


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Henk Peelen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:00
Member (2002)
German to Dutch
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Gezellig surely exists Jun 22, 2004

This is a cosy thread!

I'm no translator Dutch-English, so I'll be a little aloof in reponsing, but I wonder why 'gezellig' would be difficult to translate.

The 'zel' part of 'gezellig' is related to 'zaal' (room, hall, ward, auditorium, house), whereas the '(l)ig' part is the Dutch adverbially suffix (Dutch -(l)ig, or -(l)ijk, English -ly, German -(l)ig, or -(l)ich).
The 'ge' part is difficult to explain, but sometimes has sometimes an adverb creating function as well.
A 'gezel' originally was somebody sitting in the same room as you. For illustrational purposes:
gezel = companion, mate, comrade, journeyman, workman
metgezel = companion, fellow, mate, partner
reisgezel = traveling companion, fellow traveler
odd enough, vrijgezel = bachelor, single


There could among others be two reasons why they find gezellig hard to translate
1) What in Holland is considered gezellig, seems partly not to exist in North America. When in the fifties Dutch people emigrated for instance to Canada, they came some years later back, with nearly tears in their eyes, because they missed the coffee mornings / parties / klatsches which are quite common in The Netherlands, and I thought in other continental European countries as well.
2) Gezellig has a broad meaning, a person can be gezellig, but a house or an environment as well. When translating gezellig, you have to choose among differents words, depending on the context of course; the Van Dale dictionary N-E says:
* enjoyable, pleasant, entertaining, sociable, companionable, convivial (entertaining)
* pleasant, enjoyable, comfortable, cheerful, cosy, snug (congenial, agreeable)
* companionable, nice
* social, gregarious, sociable (seeking companions)

Some more:
een gezellige babbel = a good chin-wag
een gezellig mens = a good mixer, a chummy, matey person
een gezellige prater = a chatty person
een gezellige brief = a chatty letter
een gezellig hokje / plekje / kamertje = a cubby(-hole)
een gezellig vuur = a welcoming fire
de kachel snorde gezellig = the stove roared cheerfully
een kamer gezellig maken = make a room homey; or cheer / brighten a room up

I guess an English native speaker has no great difficulty to find another ten words being quite synonym to cosy, enjooyable, gregarious et cetera. Gratifying, perhaps.

It's common that a big choice of target language words for one source language word makes translation difficult, but I don't know if 'gezellig' deserves it's top ten ranking (irregardless whether it's a credit or not).


Anyway, the word 'gezelligheid' exists.
Non-existing words are perhaps the most difficult ones to translate.

To be or not to be, that's the question.

[Edited at 2004-06-22 17:58]


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Marketing-Lang.  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:00
English to German
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Too cosy for me Jun 22, 2004

I rather thought that "gezellig" was related to the German "gesellig" which refers to somebody who is gregarious and sociable -- good descriptive words describing the kind of people that help make up a cosy group. Just a thought.

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Henk Peelen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 14:00
Member (2002)
German to Dutch
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Too cosy or not too cosy, that's the question Jun 22, 2004

Kentish_Man wrote:

I rather thought that "gezellig" was related to the German "gesellig" which refers to somebody who is gregarious and sociable -- good descriptive words describing the kind of people that help make up a cosy group. Just a thought.


"gezellig" is related to "gesellig", of course, but it has a much broader meaning:
* gemütlich
* gemütlich, behaglich, angenehm
* unterhaltsam, angenehm
* gesellig

I thought 'gemütlich' and 'gemütlichkeit' are difficult to translate into English as well, probably due to the Gaelic roots of the English 'cozy'


Although my "Wahrig" dosn't confirm my opinion, I'm quite sure the 'sel' part of gesellig is related to the Dutch 'zel', whereas German 'Saal' and Dutch 'zaal' both stem from Old Chruch Slavonic 'selo' = field.
I guess English salon and saloon do as well. I'm not sure about salvage and salve, which has Romanic roots and seem to be realted to anoint.

'gezellig' into Swedish:
* trevlig, sällskaplig, trivsam, rolig
* trevlig, mysig
* sällskaplig
underhållende, hemtrevlig
where 'hem' and 'säll' probably have the same 'hall' part as gezellig and gesellig.

Anyway, at least two of the ten TIMES words does exist, let's congratulate them with this sucess.

[Edited at 2004-06-23 01:43]


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Magda Dziadosz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 14:00
Member (2004)
English to Polish
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Radioukacz? RadioSzukacz? Jun 22, 2004

Andrzej Lejman wrote:

must be an original invention of The Times. I've never heard this word. Are the other words similar reliable?

Regards
Andrzej


it doesn't even sound like a Polish word...
The resisitance movement behind the Iron Curtain was using many innovative methods of communication, but ...telegraph?

Yeah, non-existing words are definitely the most difficult to translate.


Magda


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 07:00
Spanish to English
I vote for Ilunga being adopted into the English language Jun 23, 2004

Ilunga! What a lovely word and it does illustrate the idea that language helps you to think, a la George Orwell.
I think if we could adopt Ilunga into the English language we could encourage some people to be more tolerant and other people to put a limit on their tolerance.

My pet bug-bear in Spanish is trámite and tramitar, for some reason I always have to look it up and then think a lot. Trámite and tramitar are the essence of Mexican bureaucracy, and I suppose that the best word for them is paperwork, but it seems too casual a word for the type of documents I have to translate.


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Pablo Roufogalis
Colombia
Local time: 07:00
English to Spanish
. Jun 23, 2004

My pet bug-bear in Spanish is trámite and tramitar, for some reason I always have to look it up and then think a lot. Trámite and tramitar are the essence of Mexican bureaucracy, and I suppose that the best word for them is paperwork, but it seems too casual a word for the type of documents I have to translate.


Hello to all.

Maybe \'red tape\' is a stronger term for bureaucratic paperwork.


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J. Leo
Local time: 14:00
Dutch to English
+ ...
One man's gezelligheid is another man's yawn Jun 25, 2004

Thank you Henk for your description of 'gezellig'. I always have to describe this concept when I have guests from other parts of the world visiting me in Amsterdam.
I remember wrestling with this word when first coming to the Netherlands, learning Dutch. ‘Cozy’ just doesn't seem capture all of its possibilities. I was told how important it is to understand this word. After seeing how often it is used, and the various situations wherein I’ve heard it, I came to the conclusion that it's a very subjective term that may or may not be shared, and is sometimes used as a 'stop-word' like (leuk), 'nice' in English, which doesn’t say much, but someone thinks that something must be said. In any case, it can always serve the purpose of an opening to a conversation about the situation.

The descriptions you mention all apply; and I would add to your list a sense of: intimacy, belonging, inclusiveness, among others. As you mentioned, there are many synonymous words in English. However, it usually has to be qualified.

When I tell both Dutch and non-Dutch friends and acquaintances about my gezellige sailing on flat-bottom boat on the Waddenzee every year, I get different reactions from all cultures. This doesn't appeal to everyone, which I will never understand.
And I remember discovering that a cup of coffee is a (gezellige) event, which I thoroughly enjoy, rather than it being just another object on the table.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the word 'gezellig' is the gutteral 'g', which I'm happy to say I've mastered.

Gezellige groetjes,
Jim


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AngusJohnson
Local time: 14:00
Polish to English
Toughie Apr 30, 2007

Regarding untranslatable words, I've come up with a word in Polish that seems to me impossible, or at least very difficult, to translate. It's "rubaszny." A "rubaszny" person is witty in a crude but, at the same time, good-natured manner, knows how to enjoy himself, and is definitely not averse to drinking, which of course doesn't mean he's an alcoholic. I would say, the Shakespearean John Falstaff was "rubaszny." I welcome any suggestions on how to translate the word into English.


Best Regards


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