Art · Language

Untranslatable Words

My dad loves relating this story: Both my parents are voracious readers, and I, as a child, would clamber into bed with them, clutching my own book and determinedly studying its contents, upside-down. Words have been my constant companions before I knew how to decipher them with this magical art called “reading”. This year, I decided to read more literature from around the world instead of limiting myself to the Anglosphere. None of this has much to do with my post today except perhaps to view it through the lens of a love for words, for understanding the different cultures of the world and a great deal of respect for someone who can wield a pencil to draw rather than write.

The artist in question is Marija Tiurina. Check out her portfolio. “Untranslatable Words” is a project where she draws words from other languages that have no English equivalent. Isn’t it so frustrating when you know the perfect word but it doesn’t quite convey exactly what you want to say when translated?

These are some of my favourites:


You don’t need to be Spiderman to jump off a building. You need to be him to do it twice. Unless you’re Batman.


Or as I know it: breakfast. Has anyone tried achar on bread?


Since Muslims use a gufra of water five times a day for wuzu before the namaz, I think it makes sense that there would be a special word in Arabic for it.



The first time I visited the Museum of Modern Art and walked into this room that had only two paintings in it. They looked two ponds of flowers and made me feel unimaginably calm, elated, moved. When I got rushed forward to take a closer look, the paint blurred and I couldn’t see the images any more. I walked back to the door and felt that powerful emotion again. I didn’t know what it was and now I have a word for it.


How does English not have a word for lovingly stroking someone’s hair?! The Brazilians are such romantics.


Gets me every time. x)

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