The world’s most difficult words to translate

Ilunga: The world’s most difficult word to translate has been identified as “ilunga” from the Tshiluba language spoken in south-eastern DR Congo. It came top of a list drawn up in consultation with 1,000 linguists. Ilunga means “a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time”.

Bakku-shan: Here is another great Japanese word with no English equivalent. Bakku-shan is the word for a girl who looks pretty from behind but ugly in front. I can’t find out whether they have a word for the reverse situation, or for that other frighteningly common problem these days, where you think a girl looks good from behind only to discover that she is a he!

Thingo: This is a word that hopefully few of us would need to use. It comes from Easter Island and it means a person who borrows things from a friend’s house one by one until there is nothing left. I guess the closest thing we could use in English would be “thief”, but then, usually, a thief is not a friend to begin with. Perhaps this is a particularly common problem in Easter Island.

Shlimazl is Yiddish for “a chronically unlucky person”.

Naa: used in the Kansai area of Japan to emphasise statements or agree with someone. Although the definitions seem fairly precise, the problem is trying to convey the local references associated with such words, says Jurga Zilinskiene, head of Today Translations, which carried out the survey.

Source: BBC News

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