Top 10 'untranslatable' words

Aimée Smith, 14 March, 2019
Our favourite 'untranslatable' travel terms – expressions that don’t exist in English, though we really wish they did...

It’s one of the great ironies of travel: you visit somewhere new – somewhere inspiring and beautiful, somewhere about which there is so much to say – and yet you can’t find the words to describe it.

Because for all that language is progressive, fluid and inexhaustible, it is also vague, shadowy and limited. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of temporary amnesia – the right word exists, you just can’t pin it down – at others, there is no right word.

But the search doesn’t have to end there: even if your own language is lacking, that’s not to say the term you seek isn’t out there somewhere, perhaps in another tongue...

In this article, we take a look at some of our favourite 'untranslatable' travel words – expressions which don’t exist in English, though we wish they did, because they describe feelings and sensations with which we’re all very familiar.
1. Fernweh
Fernweh is the perfect example of an untranslatable travel term, and as such is the ideal word to head up this list. On the face of it, the meaning is clear: to suffer from Fernweh is to be inflicted with the ‘travel bug’, yet this is no ordinary wanderlust. Instead Fernweh suggests a far deeper longing, an ache, even, to be elsewhere.
2. Wanderlust
“I thought this was a collection of words we don’t have in English?”, you could be forgiven for asking. And while we do of course talk about wanderlust on a regular basis, the original expression means something very different. Wandern is the German verb ‘to hike’, with Lust signifying ‘joy’ or ‘pleasure’. So, rather than a general desire to travel, the German Wanderlust represents a much more precise emotion – the love of walking.
3. Utepils
We love how specific the Norwegian word utepils is. We could just give you its basic translation – ‘outdoor beer’ (from ute meaning outside and pils beer) – but that would be to ignore the subtle sense of sunshine, spring and socialising that the term also evokes. In Scandinavia, utepils is often used to refer to the first beer of the season – the first time that it’s warm enough to sit and sip outdoors with friends. And although the weather in the UK makes al fresco drinking a relative rarity, it’s something that many of us associate fondly with our travels.
4. Trouvaille
This is one of our very favourite items on the list. It literally translates as ‘a find’ or ‘a treasure’, the latter hinting at the sense of special discovery that the word also conveys. Trouvaille is often used by French travellers to describe a chance encounter with something wonderful; on an Inntravel holiday, this could be stumbling across a beautiful vista, an impromptu meeting with a welcoming local, or a delicious treat purchased from a half-hidden pâtisserie.
5. Dérive
Continuing the Gallic theme for the moment, our next untranslatable travel term is dérive. A holiday en dérive would be a trip that follows its own unplanned course – it could be a wholly unstructured journey, or perhaps a moment of drifting away from the beaten path to unplanned adventure and discovery.

We wonder, is it just a coincidence that both of our French expressions are so delightfully... expressive?
6. Waldeinsamkeit
To redress the balance and re-inject some Germanic common sense into the list, we’ve chosen Waldeinsamkeit as our next word. By now, you won’t be surprised when we say it’s not so easy to render this concept perfectly into English, but essentially it means a longing to escape the crowds and have some time to yourself to appreciate how beautiful the natural world is. Oh, and you must be in the woods (Wald) – that part is key.
7. Sobremesa
Sobremesa has two meanings in Spanish. We could argue that the first, ‘tablecloth’, is travel-related – after all, does anything say Parisian café quite like a red-and-white-checked tablecloth, or authentic Italy like white linen fluttering from a washing line? However, it is the second translation which interests us the most. For sobremesa also means ‘table talk’, or ‘after-dinner conversation’, and is used to describe that special time in the late evening when all the food has been eaten but the conversation continues.
8. Slampadato
This expression isn’t strictly travel related but it’s so wonderfully – and weirdly – specific that it had to make the list. Quite simply, it describes someone hopelessly hooked on the infrared glow of tanning salons! These sun-lamp addicts can be distinguished in public by their unnatural bronzed glow, and apparently are not such a rare sight on Italian beaches in the summer months. Sunglasses at the ready, then...
9. Resfeber
From the absurd to the affecting… Resfeber is a Swedish term which describes the way a traveller’s heart races before undertaking a journey. It can occur the moment you buy your plane tickets – when you know that you’re really going – or directly before you set off. This isn’t an entirely positive sensation, and is as much about anxiety as anticipation, but it does succinctly describe the flutter of the heart in the face of the unknown.
10. Saudade
Our final word is similarly thought-provoking. Signifying a nostalgic yearning for someone, something or somewhere, saudade is no passing sentiment but a longer-term accumulation of experiences that stay with us and beckon us from afar. Of all the terms here, this is perhaps the hardest to translate – you’re happy because you had the experience, met the person, tried the pizza (saudade is no snob – you’re allowed to feel it about anything), but sad because these events belong to the past, and may never reoccur…
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