Does anyone experienced a situation where expressions just can’t be translated?

Experiential report: Dutch to English transliterate expressions:

I have some difficulties to explain the normal Dutch expressions to English, and making them effectively translate the meaning of the expression. Overall these expressions are mostly meant as funny, cynical and dry insinuations, which means in a thrusting friend circle this can be said with ease, without too much offensiveness, because there’s understanding of each other characters.

There’s an expression that goes like: (lit. transl.) “Nice than!” EN = “Lekker dan” NL. While this expression is sarcastic to say the least, it’s in some way meant as an expression to say something isn’t nice for you or me and insinuates in most cases sympathy for something unfortunate that happened to someone. I think it’s logical that such expressions is said to people you know, or can tell from your body language.

Which leads me to mention a close expression in the order of words. “Lekker” means “Nice” in general, but “Nice for you!” doesn’t mean so much than what it literally implies or quite the opposite as “Lekker voor je!” even when the same intonations is being used. As an expression it doesn’t mean anything ‘nice’, hehe. It relates to someone quite negative and is being used to bully someone in his misfortunate situation.

Does anyone experienced a situation where expressions just can’t be translated?


Jun 25, 2014 2:36 PM
Comments · 6

This may not be exactly what you were referring to Jonathan, and fortunately for me it isn't necessary for me to translate, but here 3 words/terms that may not be translatable:


wexting: the act of walking while texting


car pool: the act of having several people drive in one car as opposed to each of them driving in their own cars. I could imagine this being translated into "a swimming pool for cars".


irregardles: defined as a word, but should not be used because of the double negative. 

April 27, 2016

I would have to say, not every word can correspond to the one in your primary language, in a sense, you have to make a long statement to acocmplish a simple term in your primary language. 

April 27, 2016
Jonathan, you are not the only one who has such problems in his translations process.  We already miss some thing important during translating from source language into target language.  I myself have this problem when I want to translate some words from Azeri into Turkish, Arabic or English.  Somebody use word by word translation and some used to interpret their words to convey the meaning.
April 26, 2016

That's why I don't translate when I learn nor when I help others with a language. I use the context method. Simply put, I try to invent contexts in which idioms and/or expressions are really used, rather than trying to translate it.

June 25, 2014

I know what you mean Jonathan. My native language (Marathi) contains many such untranslatable phrases. Two phrases which go hand in hand are - असा का? (asa ka?) and बास का राव! (bas ka rao!). Generally, they're only used amongst friends/family. They're very versatile and can be used to express ideas like "Hey! Don't underestimate me!", "So you don't want to share, huh?", "Oh really? THAT's what you're going to do?!"(sarcastic), "Oh, is it so?!" (sarcastic).


I guess most languages have unique ways to express certain ideas. English sentence initials like "Well..." or slang terms like "Whatever" are also difficult to directly translate into other languages.

June 25, 2014
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Language Skills
Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish
Learning Language
English, French, German, Spanish