Arab pearls of wisdom: 12 untranslatable words and phrases
Across cultures and languages and even religious traditions, words and often concepts can get lost in translation. Nuances and subtle undertones don't stand a chance on border crossings and cryptic idioms, well they can just forget it!
The Arabs as much as the next people, maybe more, have their own unique phrases and peculiar linguistically- contained notions that cannot conceivably be translated into any other frame of reference. Neologisms and international-speak are a force for universal understanding, making languages more transferrable and providing solutions for the overlaps and fringes, yet some vestiges are still intrinsically owned by the language and its people. Continue reading below »
The German and Japanese languages are renowned for their untranslatable turns of phrase - in German, they have a word for the cowardly individual who wears gloves during a snowball fight: ‘Handschuhschneedballwerfer’. Try saying that with a mouth full of kanafe! In Japanese, they have the beautiful ‘yugen’, which occurs when you have an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious to be described.
With the lyrical nature, poetic nuances of Arabic and the zaney notions of its speakers, there are plenty of words or idioms that simply have no precise equivilent in any other language. Some turns of phrases in Arabic are idiosyncratic to Middle Eastern culture - they have their origins in Islam or a bedouin tradition that isn’t replicated elsewhere. The denizens of Araby have their own esprit d'escaliers and we are taking away their exclusive rights to them for a moment to share a dozen of our favorites.
From Inshallah (God willing) to being able to tell someone they have heavy blood as an insult to their sense of humor, check out our editors' picks of the most untranslatable or precious Arabic words and phrases that wouldn’t work anywhere else but the colorful, rowdy and sand-swept Middle East! Indeed, some Arabs won't have a clue, since, need we remind you that the Arabic language groups loosely different dialects and speakers across the board who speak in variations of the classical, formal tongue.
If you enjoyed these Arabic classics, join the conversation! Have we missed out any goodies? Got any of your own to add? "You glassed me" or "burning your guts"? Share some of your favorite hard-to-translate Arabisms in the comment space below!