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How Do You Translate this Word

Hardest Words to Translate

One of the most difficult challenges for any translator is when they come across a word that either has no translation into the required language, or take a lot of explaining to fully translate. So, with that in mind here are a few words that are difficult to translate.


This is a fairly new word which is probably why it has no translation, or to use a commonly used term, untranslatable. The term is used to describe a singer to whose voice is altered to make them sound pitch-perfect. It’s used by a lot of music artists including; Kanye West, Kesha, T-Pain and literally any rapper on the radio. Translators will have to complete the laborious task of describing the process of auto tuning as opposed to just saying the word.


To the naked eye you would assume this Spanish word means to be “drunk” or “intoxicated” but you would be wrong. It actually translates to a type of poisoning, but “poisoned” cannot be a direct translation as it requires much more explanation in English. It is important that this word isn’t mistranslated as it could lead to unfortunate circumstances, for example, a young man was given incorrect treatment and became a quadriplegic because of a mistranslation. Take the time to translate a hard word, it’s worth spending the extra time on.


This one sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Different countries, where Spanish is the native language, have different words for lunch. In Spanish, most people use the word “almuerzo” for lunch but this translates to brunch in some rural parts of Mexico. In Spain as well as parts of Mexico, lunch is called “la comida” instead, which translates to supper in places like Cuba, Colombia and Peru. If things weren’t confusing enough “la comida” is also used for the word “food”. Still following? Let’s make it more confusing; Ecuador borders both Peru and Colombia, but supper isn’t called “la comida”, no because that would be too easy. Instead, its “la merienda”, which in almost every other country, means snack. So, to sum up, organising lunch in a Spanish-speaking country is going to take some time.


A term coined in the 90’s but has made a comeback in today’s society. To describe the word bromance, you would say it’s a close, nonsexual relationship between two guys. In various cultures bromance is commonly mistaken for homosexuality, which is why no one other than the English have invented a term for this particular type of relationship. However, other cultures can easily describe it but it’s a longer process as opposed to having a specific word for it.


The Hmong people are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of southern China, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. They do not have a word for cancer, meaning doctors face a problem when treating cancer patients as they have to describe what their illness is. Medical practitioners at The University of California have tried to create a new word that describes what cancer is, but because this new term isn’t regularly used, doctors will still have to give lengthy explanations to their patients.


A cricket term that describes a type of delivery from a right-arm leg spin bowler. First try explaining cricket to a country that’s never heard of it, then talk about leg-spin bowling and you’ll see why the English language is the only language where this term exists. The Wikipedia article that describes what a “googly” is isn’t even available in another language, just to emphasis its exclusivity. Translators would have to describe the move in precise detail in order to have it understood.


Here’s one for you Harry Potter fans! The Harry Potter books have been translated into many languages but all face the same problem, translating the name “Tom Marvolo Riddle”. This refers to the name of the big baddie of the series Voldemort, and is an anagram for “I am Lord Voldemort”, spoiler alert I guess… Some languages found it so difficult to translate this that they reverted to making up a new anagram that best describes what they were going for. An example of this is as follows; the Bulgarian Том Мерсволуко Риддъл (Tom Mersvoluko Riddal) is an anagram of Тук съм и Лорд Волдемор (“Here I am—Lord Voldemort”). With all the ridiculous names in the series, there’s bound to be more that are rather difficult to explain.