The 16 Most Difficult English Words to Translate

Many English words don’t have neat, single-word equivalents in other languages. Translating “serendipity,” for instance, often requires some explanation to fully express the concept. Learn which English words are surprisingly tough to translate.

The 16 Most Difficult English Words to Translate
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-ish

Is the adjective you're using too strong? Soften its precision with this handy suffix.

Auto-tuned

If a singer is auto-tuned, some people might not call them a singer--all their off-key wailing has been digitally corrected.

Bromance

A bromance is a close but non-sexual relationship between men. Although men have friends in other cultures too, few have coined a term for it.

Cheesy

The awkwardness of a cheesy situation is known around the world, but no foreign word captures it as well as English's "cheesy."

Facepalm

Show your exasperation in English by facepalming--slapping your palm to your face.

Fair / Fairness

This concept is not unique--it's common to all cultures. But non-English words just don't seem to convey the same nuance.

Free

"Free" is too versatile to be easily translatable. From "at no cost" to "available" to "lacking" (when a suffix), it is highly contextual.

Gobbledygook

If you're confronted with a text convoluted to the point of incomprehensibility, this wacky-looking word is perfect to describe it.

Kitsch

Only English speakers and Germans, from whom the word originated, can so concisely describe pretentious, outdated, tacky, or inferior art.

Multitasking

Though this word may not seem special, most languages just translate it as "doing multiple things at once."

Pimp

Need a handy slang verb to describe decorating something or prettying yourself up? English has you covered.

Serendipity

A lucky find, a happy accident, a fortunate coincidence--there are many ways to express this idea, but "serendipity" covers it all in one simple word.

Spam

Unwanted, unsolicited emails are spam. The word has even evolved to describe repeatedly posting the same text to an online forum.

Tough

Since "tough" incorporates the meaning of both "difficult" and "physically hard," finding an equivalent in another language is, well, tough.

Trade-off

If you have to give something up to receive something, it's a trade-off. You've weighed the pros and cons and have made this decision. Other languages can't describe this so precisely.

Y'all'd've

In casual English, the four-word phrase "you all would have" can be shortened to the two syllable "y'all'd've." "You all would have" is translatable, but "y'all'd've" is special.