Language insights

Untranslatable Words in The English Language

Mark Blackwood 22 Aug 2017
Untranslatable Words in The English Language

How do you say restroom in French? What’s the Japanese word for grape? If you’re a Japanese translator or just speak more than one language you probably answer questions like these frequently. The answers, by the way, are salle de repos and グレープ (gurēpu). You may also be aware that there are words that simply don’t translate well out of or into certain languages. This is even true for English. Keep reading to learn what some of these words are.

Untranslatable Words in The English Language

Auto Tune

No, this doesn’t refer to something automatically tuning up a piece of machinery. Instead, it’s a technology used in recording studies to correct a singer’s imperfect singing. If you’ve noticed an almost robotic like perfection in the pop songs you hear on the radio, that’s autocorrect. It’s such a new thing that there really isn’t a foreign language equivalent.

Hyggelig And Koselig (Scandinavian)

Sometimes it’s possible to find a word, but it just doesn’t accurately convey the sentiment behind the word. You could use the word cozy as an English language replacement, but it’s not quite right. These words are used to describe an almost spiritual level of safety, security, and warmth.

Read also: What are certified language translation services and how to choose the best one?


Radar stands for radio detecting and ranging. As you can imagine as these words are completely different in other languages, the word radar itself cannot be translated. This isn’t the only scientific word that this applies to. Other words such as modem are also impacted.


The googly is a cricket maneuver which is performed by a right armed bowler. It is a powerful move in the game, thus its unique moniker. In other countries, the googly is known simply as ‘googly’. There is no word for it in other languages. If it had to be translated, it would literally be the foreign language version of ‘cricket maneuver performed by a right armed bowler who is spinning their legs’.

Read also: Where to find a reliable certified French translation company?

Treppenwitz (German)

There is no direct translation for this German word, but we have all experienced what it describes. Roughly translated as ‘stairstep wit’, this term describes thinking of a clever reply or joke. Unfortunately, the term refers to this happening after an exchange or interaction has ended.

Read also: Certified English to German translator for all your individual and professional needs.


Words like tennis or rugby don’t have equivalent terms in other languages. They are simply known worldwide by their English terms. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t unique to the English language. Pad Thai, burrito, taco, Tae Kwon Do, and wienerschnitzel are foreign words that are used worldwide as well.

Read also: How to find human translation service with certified linguists.


The reason that translating is such an interesting and challenging field is that languages aren’t legos. You can’t simply snap out one word and replace it with another. Sometimes there isn’t a piece that fits. Sometimes the piece doesn’t do the sentiment behind the word justice. The words on this list are examples of this.

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