Daily Archives: September 25, 2015

*** Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders


Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World is a just-for-fun book that should live on a coffee table, inviting amateurs to open it and nibble on a word or two. Reading it from cover to cover, as I did, makes it hard to appreciate the words that the author wishes would exist in English, but it shows two interesting themes: one is measurement, surprisingly. It may seem silly to speak of the time it takes to eat a banana (pizanzapra, in Malay) or the amount of water one can hold in one’s hand (gurfa, in Arabic), but I love the idea. If I could remember pizanzapra, I would definitely use it.

The other theme, not surprisingly, is behaviors and feelings. My favorites were tsundoku (leaving a book unread after buying it, piled up with other unread books, in Japanese) and nunchi (the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood, in Korean). I could see ways of using all the words in the book, except the puzzling mångata, which means the road-like reflection of the moon in the water in Swedish; do you feel you need a word for that?

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Filed under Non fiction