English idioms that can’t be translated easily

Untranslatable English idioms

English idioms that can’t be translated easily

(Last Updated On: May 19, 2017)

It should not be surprising that there are hundreds of words which only exist in the English language which can’t be easily translated into other languages. English is one of the richest languages, having over 250,000 unique words, with new words popping up periodically. Here are some examples of English idioms which are untranslatable or at least not so easy to translate in other languages. Many threads have been opened in our translator forum in regards to some of those words and all the professional translators working with us agreed there is no direct translation of those words in the languages they know.

Untranslatable English idioms

Pimp

This word pertains to the transitive verb “pimp”, instead of the noun. Pimp translates to “gussying up”. It started in hip hop culture and has now become quite popular in everyday use.  The closest word to pimp is “pompear”, which is Spanish. It is used in Latin America and has a pretty close meaning.

Auto-tuned

Due to our familiarity with unnatural, robotic sounding voices from singers, we have actually created a term for it. This word is used to describe the digitally covered mistakes of singers, usually to enhance to their music. Also, since this is term is quite new, there has not been a translation to any language yet.

Trade-off

This word describes an event when one has to lose something to acquire something else. It involves a person who has properly deliberated on the pros and cons of a decision. This term is hard to translate to other languages without the use of at least 5 words to explain the term.

Spam

Spam is described as the use of messaging systems to send unwanted messages in bulk.  None of the other languages has a translation for spam. Other languages even borrow the word since there is no other that can replicate it. Spam can also refer to canned meat. Yum.

Bromance

This is a term from the past that is not as common as it used to be. Founded in the 90’s, it refers to a close and platonic relationship between a group of men. In many countries, bromance is confused for homosexuality. This is why no other language  has  translations for this unusual word.

Facepalm

This frequently used term refers to the slapping with the palm to one’s face as a show of frustration. This term is commonly used in English, however no other language has an exact term for this common behavior.

Kitsch

This word describes an artwork that is a lesser duplicate of an existing one. It is also used for any artwork that seems obsolete or pretentious. It may have a translation in German, but it does not seem to have one in any other language.

Gobbledygook

This term refers to any jargonized text, that causes it to be too difficult to comprehend. It was first coined in 1944, by a past US Representative name Maury Maverick. This word still presents a challenge to translate even by the most experienced translators.

Serendipity

Serendipity describes any experience that is unexpected but appreciated. Some may call it coincidence or a stroke of luck. In June 2004, it has been labeled as one of the top 10 hardest words to translate. Since it has been used for sociology, it has been brought to many other languages for usage.

Googly

Google is delivery by a right arm bowler in cricket. It is a major tactic of leg spin bowlers, and is potentially one of the most useful wicket-taking balls. It is not use much, since it is effective only as much as it is a surprise. This term is so unique to English that it cannot be translated to any other language even by its Wikipedia article. Typically it would take a hefty amount of words to translate googly to any other language.

Do you know some more English idioms which are untranslatable? Join the discussion and we’ll add them to this post mentioning your contribution.