8 Untranslatable Words Every Creative Needs To Know

It’s fair to say that as kind-hearted creatives, we spend a lot of the time feeling like we’re swimming against the tide. We contemplate things which others think are plain odd (my Dad is SO sick of being asked if he’d rather be a bench or a tree) and generally spend a lot of time thinking about abstract ideas, about the meaning of life and the impact we want ourselves and our work to have on the world.

 

Sometimes it feels like no one gets us, and it can be a lonely experience.

 

Recently I was in one of my favourite shops, and I stumbled upon a wonderful book about untranslatable words. Experiences and emotions that have no easy English translation. Things that are common place in other countries and cultures; experiences a lot of us have.

 

As creatives, we love using words to explain, ponder on and validate our thoughts, ideas and experiences. We like to make ourselves understood, and we’re often good at it. But do the experiences that we can’t quite describe become lost somehow when they can’t be contained within a singular word?

 

It was with this thought in mind that I started exploring untranslatable words that have real meaning and speak to the experiences of us as creatives and multi-passionates. Today I’m sharing them because I’m hoping they make you feel less alone, and because they’re too beautiful not to share. (I’ve included a list of pretty irrelevant funny ones at the bottom that made me smile).

 

Querencia (Spanish):

 

‘Describes a place where we feel safe, a ‘home’ (which doesn’t literally have to be where we live) from which we draw our strength and inspiration. In bullfighting, a bull may stake out a querencia in a part of the ring where he will gather his energies before another charge’ via The Book of Life

 

I have a couple of querencias. The main one is a nice coffee shop with a cup of hot chocolate and earphones in. Here I find space to think, a lot of my ideas and I leave with a bounce in my step. What about you?It’s so important to have somewhere to go to recharge your batteries and get more lightbulbs. It doesn’t have to be glamorous. It could be a corner of your apartment with a lovely cushion.

 

 

Fika (Swedish):

 

‘A traditional break from work usually involving a drink of coffee or tea. In Swedish offices, you are strongly expected to take a fika, no matter how busy you are. You should not discuss business matters, but chat pleasantly with your colleagues and get to know those above and below you in the official pecking order. It’s democracy and community in a beverage.’ via Collective Hub

 

I’ve been thinking about how this can really translate to the online world. For those of us whose creativity mainly exists online, we end up finding ‘colleagues’ online, where we can get together, support each other and also recommend the best TV shows. For me, taking a fika happens both through skype calls with online friends and twitter breaks when my brain feels fried. I’m really up for really celebrating a good fika – we often discard these times as procrastinating, but I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the power of taking a break and just chatting shit with friends!

 

 

Litost (Czech):

 

‘The humiliated despair we feel when someone accidentally reminds us, through their accomplishment, of everything that has gone wrong in our lives. They casually allude to a luxurious house they are renting for the holidays. They mention the glamorous friends they have had for dinner. We feel searing self-pity at the scale of our inadequacies.’ via Untranslatable

 

Oh, friends. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and ending up having an existential crisis about how we got here and what went wrong. I don’t know about you, but knowing there’s a word exclusively about that experience makes me feel better. I know we talk about comparison-itis, but it’s really reassuring knowing that it’s an experience in its own right. (And if you do struggle with this, unfollow those people who invoke litost – you’ll feel better!

 

Wabi-Sabi (Japanese):

 

‘The quality of being attractive because of being imperfect in some way. Instead of getting annoyed and upset by imperfections, which are experienced as spoiling something, wabi-sabi suggests that we should see the flaw itself as being part of what is charming. Can apply to pots, furniture, houses – and whole lives.’ via Collective Hub

 

Ooh this is one of my favourites! And a topic that often comes up on The Couragemakers Podcast. This idea that perfection can actually give instead of take away. I remember I used to get really sad when I accidentally bent notebooks, got pen on the cover or if they look battered. Now it reminds me of how happy I am they get used, and the adventures we’ve been on together. Imperfection can be the crack where the light gets in, where the real beauty lives. When we start celebrating imperfection as creatives, we give ourselves permission to experiment more, get adventurous and find alternatives.

 

Extrawunsch (German):

 

‘Used to denote someone who is slowing things down by being fussy. It means an additional request which turns a simple delivery/operation/undertaking into a complicated one, often with only a marginal benefit and a sense of it being an unnecessary complication.’ via Thought Catalogue

 

Ever had a pretty simple idea and before you know it, you’ve turned it into this massive tangled ball? I know that feeling only too well. It’s the reason I have a post it note next door to my desk which literally says ‘SIMPLIFY!’ next door to my desk. This is another one that I don’t think we ever really pay attention to. In our work, we can often become the obstacle in the way, because we want everything to be just right. So, here’s to becoming less of an extrawunsch and like Rebecca Thering said in her episode of Couragemakers, let done prioritise something being perfect!

 

Bricoleur (French):

 

 ‘A bricoleur is someone who starts building something with no clear plan, adding bits here and there, cobbling together a whole while flying by the seat of their pants.’ via io9

 

Come on, it’s not just me. We might like to think we’ve got everything together and everything is under control…but we don’t.  In fact, this might just describe the process of Couragemakers at the beginning! As creatives, all too often, we’re called flaky or seen as a bit of a reckless dreamer. But I say, let’s claim that. There is always method behind our madness; it might just be that the method is somewhat hidden from everyone – including ourselves. I like to think of being a bricoleur as being a painter. We start with no real idea and ideas come to us on the spot as the colours blend.

 

 

Torschlusspanik (German):

 

‘This word literally means “gate-closing panic” and is used to describe the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.’ (via Altalang.com)

 

I mean, how can you not love this word?! Gate. Closing. Panic. It’s all to familiar a feeling – worrying about how far we’ve come in the years we’ve had, and panicking that we don’t have enough time. As creatives, we’re all too aware of the pressure to have ‘made it’ by a certain age. But I have another suggestion – how about, instead of measuring our success with accolades and age, and instead by the amount of joy they bring?

 

Raaskia (Finnish):

 

To have the heart, courage to do something (via Dr. Tim Lomas)

 

Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

 

Other untranslatable words that made me smile:

 

Tingo (Pascuense): The act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them

 

Age-Oteri  (Japanese) – To look worse after a haircut

 

Jayus (Indonesian):  A joke told so poorly and unfunny that one cannot help but laugh

 

Pisan zapra (Malay): The time needed to eat a banana.

 

Gheegle (Filipino): When something is so ridiculously cute that you want to pinch it

 

Which word spoke most to you? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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Showing 3 comments
  • Rebecca Thering

    This is awesome, Meg! Thank you so much for sharing your recent findings—I love how you had commentary with each word too, applying them to your own life. (And was humbled to see my name in here!) This was especially fun to read with my language background. My French ex would “bricoler” all the time—fixing random things using all sorts of tools, so it’s a verb I would hear often. Thus it was neat to see the noun “bricoleur” and a definition more complex than just DIYer/handy man. <3

  • Jess Meza

    I LOVE untranslatable words! My favorite is Meraki: the soul, love, or creativity you put into your work.

  • Karen J

    HaHaHa! Thanks Meg :) Love those last 5, too!

    I often think my middle name is Extrawunsch – “But, first I have to…” Aaarrgghh!
    Bricolage is one of my favorite creative styles, too… to fix or create from random tools, with what’s been kept or collected, spending as little as possible on new parts!

    Blessings ~

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