11 Untranslatable Words in English (That You Won't Find in Other Languages)

11 Untranslatable Words in English (That You Won't Find in Other Languages)

One of the most interesting things about learning a new language is discovering the many beautiful and unique words that the language contains.

The English language contains a lot of unique words that sometimes have not real equivalent in any other languages. These untranslatable words in English may initially be confusing, but they are also interesting to learn (and sometimes funny too!)

If you need a short break from memorizing lists of common words and phrases in English, you might want to look at this shortlist of untranslatable words in English and their meanings. Who knows, you might find yourself wanting to use some in conversation. If you do use them properly, you will definitely impress the native speakers and make them more comfortable around you. 

1. Cheesy

Meaning: False or trying too hard

This is an English slang word that is usually used to describe a person or an action that seems insincere or false. Something that is “cheesy” is trying too hard to be liked or likable.

For example, a “cheesy grin” is a smile that is meant to be integrating but seems too big and wide and fake so it just makes you dislike or regard someone with suspicion. A “cheesy romantic comedy” is a romantic comedy that is trying too hard to be cute or that has characters or situations that are too sweet and unbelievable.

2. Serendipity

Meaning: Happy accident

This English word is considered quite beautiful, and its meaning is nice as well. Serendipity is the state of “accidentally” finding something that is pleasant or desirable.

The word was first used by the 18th-century British writer Horace Walpole in a folk tale he wrote about the “princes of Serendip”. These three princes were always making discoveries by accident, finding things they were not in quest of”.

Because of Walpole’s writing, the word “serendipity” evolved into “serendipity” and came to mean making a pleasant discovery by accident.

3. Gobbledygook

Meaning: Nonsense

Does this word sound nonsensical? Well, it literally is. Gobbledygook is a funny-sounding “nonsense” term that has come to mean unintelligible jargon or rambling.

The term is supposed to have come into popular use during World War II. An American congressman named Maury Maverick reportedly used it in a memo in 1944 where he banned the “gobbledygook language”. By this, he meant that people shouldn’t use too much-specialized jargon that couldn’t be understood by laypersons.

It’s thought that Maverick was thinking about the turkey when he coined this phrase, a silly, rather stupid-looking bird that made a noise referred to as “gobble” or “gobbling”.

So, if someone tells you to stop speaking “gobbledygook” they are basically saying that you are not making sense or are speaking nonsense.

4. Pimp

Meaning: Someone who sells women for sex, someone who is too flashy or showy

The original meaning of the word “pimp” was that of a man who was in charge of prostitutes. So, a man who sold the services of prostitutes. This is an old slang word, coming into common use back in the 1700s. 

Pimps traditionally dressed in flashy outfits, supposedly to attract attention to themselves and signify that they had girls for “sale”. That is how the word “pimp” also came to mean a flashy dresser. A pimp may be dressed fashionably, but also a bit tackily.

Lastly, the pimp has come to also mean just “to sell” or “to recommend highly”. So, if you pimp out your native German-speaking tutor to your friend, you are recommending them.

5. Hillbilly

Meaning: Rural dweller

This is a rather derisive slang term used by American English speakers to refer to people living in rural areas. 

It’s believed that it first came into common use back in the 1700s when Sots-Irish Americans began to settle the Appalachia region. It’s thought to be a mashup of the term “hill-folk” which referred to people who lived in hilly or mountainous areas and “billy” which was Scottish slang for man.

This slang word didn’t really use to be derogatory, but it has some unpleasant connotations now. If you call someone a “hillbilly” now, you are not just making a reference to where they live but also implying that you think they are poor and uneducated.

6. Brouhaha

Meaning: A commotion

A “brouhaha” is a rather silly-sounding English word that is used to describe a confusing or confounding situation.

The implication when you describe a situation as a “brouhaha” is it is loud and unpleasant. The commotion doesn’t stem from happiness but rather from anger. If you are creating a brouhaha, you are complaining loudly about a situation.

7. Spam

Meaning: To receive something undesirable

The history behind Spam as it’s often used now is a long one. Spam was originally the term for a type of canned meat introduced back in 1937. Though Spam has its fans, it was actually first developed as a way to find a use (and way to sell) an undesirable cut of pork, the pork shoulder.

Perhaps, in a throwback to the idea that Spam wasn’t quality or desirable “meat” but sold a lot, Spam started becoming slang for something that wasn’t really desirable or wanted but that there was a lot of.

For example, spam e-mail is all those unsolicited emails from businesses that you often find in your inbox. Sometimes these emails make up the bulk of your inbox – taking up space, hence they are referred to as spam.

8. Silly

Meaning: Light-hearted but foolish

This English word is a synonym for “ridiculous” or “foolish” but it’s not as harsh as those two words. If you call someone or something “ridiculous” or “foolish”, you are a bit scornful of them and the implication is it is “stupid”.

Silly, on the other hand, has lighter connotations. Someone who acts silly is acting maybe a little foolish but in a playful way. Calling them silly means that you don’t consider their “foolishness” a problem but rather something a little amusing and even cute and endearing.

9. Facepalm

Meaning: To express embarrassment or dismay

This word basically describes a particular type of body language. When you facepalm, you place a hand on your face, covering your eyes and the upper half of your face. It’s meant to convey embarrassment or dismay and taken to mean something like “I don’t believe what I’m seeing” and “I don’t want to be seeing this”.

While you can just perform the facepalm to get your point across, you can also say the word “facepalm” to mean you felt like facepalming. Either way, you are saying that you felt embarrassed over what you witnessed.

Facepalm as a word is actually new, though the gesture is old. The word was only added to the Miriam Webster Dictionary in 2017.

10. Baloney

Meaning: Nonsense, I don’t believe you

This is another untranslatable English slang word that was originally just a word for a certain meat product. Baloney or bologna sausage was originally a type of sausage from Bologna in Italy. It began being referred to as baloney when it was sold in pre-sliced pieces in American delis as sandwich meat.

While you can still get baloney sandwiches, baloney also has come to mean nonsense. So, if someone is full of baloney, they are speaking nonsense or foolishness and are not to be trusted. You can also say “baloney” if you want to say “I don’t believe you.”

11. Bamboozle

Meaning: To trick someone

This somewhat nonsensical sounding English word is commonly used as a verb and it means to either trick or confuses someone. It originally had criminal connotations and was used to refer to criminals distracting their victims in order to pull off their crime.

You can now use bamboozle in a funny or joking way to imply that someone got the better of you or tricked you. They don’t have to have taken something of value from you, but the implication is that they made you look slightly foolish.

Conclusion

Studying lists of unusual or unique words in English is a great way to expand your vocabulary. Sure, you need to learn the meanings of the commonly used English words as well as how to use them in a sentence, but you need to go beyond just the common words and phrases if you want to be able to hold real conversations. 

Finding fun lists of funny English words and phrases or unusual and untranslatable English words like we’ve compiled here can help you speak more like a “local” and not like a textbook. You’re also going to want to learn English idioms and expressions as well as slang words and even swear words (if only so you know your not accidentally insulting someone who doesn’t deserve it).

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