As you probably read on our article “15 words in Spanish that don’t exist in English”, learning languages – and specially learning to translate – shows us the infinite singularities and differences between languages. One of the main obstacles we face when translating texts is that each language has specific terms that symbolize concepts. So, translations will always be nothing more than conceptual “approximations” that represent – in another language – certain ideas, actions and objects.
Because of these singularities, a translation from English into Spanish, for example will never be literal. Even more, there are words that are commonly used in one language and have no real equivalent in others. This is one of the many reasons why it is not enough to know a language in order to be qualified to translate. With more than 10 years of experience in the translation of texts and documents, the professional translators of Worldly Translations have the qualifications and proper tools needed to overcomes these obstacles.
As language scholars and aficionados, we always find it interesting to learn curious facts of each language, like those impossible-to-translate words.
Next, we present 10 words in English that don’t exist in Spanish:
The English word “struggle” is very peculiar. Even though it is usually translated as “lucha”, the truth is this Spanish word’s meaning is closer to “fight” or “combat” than to the actual meaning of the word “struggle” : it can be a noun (“the struggle is real”) when used to refer an effort done, a dare or test in order to achieve something; or a verb (“he is struggling with his boss”) for which the word “lucha” (fight) might be the most accurate even though the physical aspect of a fight is not involved.
All those who have learned English as a second language while in school, probably remember the song “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”, however in order to translate the word “toe” into Spanish we need to use at least three words: “Dedo del pie” (finger of the foot). The most curious fact about this word is that in Spanish the word “dedo” (finger) is not only associated to fingers, but also to toes. So, “big toe” is translated into Spanish as “dedo gordo del pie” (the big finger of the foot).
This word doesn’t have an exact equivalent in Spanish either, since it describes a very specific feeling: to miss home. As such, even though it might be usually translated as “nostalgia”, the truth is “homesick” is much more specific than that: “I’m homesick” (“Extraño mi casa” / “Siento nostalgia de mi lugar de origen”).
An expression that is never absent in suspense movies is “Lock the door!”. However, even though it is usually translated as “¡Cierra la puerta!” (Close the door), this English word has at least two connotations that imply the use of a lock or key. As a noun, “a lock” can be “un candado” (a lock) or “una llave” (a key), but when it used used as a verb, a minimum of three words need to be used in order to translate it: “cerrar con candado / con llave” (to close with a lock/key) or “asegurar la puerta del auto” (to secure the car door).
Belonging to the romance universe, the word “crush” doesn’t have an exact equivalent in Spanish either. A “crush” is a juvenile romantic obsession or an intense feeling of love. It can describe a connection: “I have a crush on him” (“Estoy intensamente enamorada de él”) or a person: “He is my crush” (“Él es la persona que me gusta”), so many words to translate just one!
This word symbolizes the action of stealing a car while someone is in it by using physical force or threats. Something that does not have an exact translation into Spanish either, we would need to use nine words! In order to explain its meaning.
Spanish speakers over the world borrow this word from the English language regularly, probably because there is no equivalent in Spanish. We can translate this word as “odiador”, an expression that is not even close to being used as much as its English counterpart. Why is this? To be honest, it’s mainly because the word “odiador” sounds awful to a native Spanish speaker.
This is probably one of the first words that babies from English-speaking parents learn: “wave bye bye to grandma” (“saluda a la abuela”). However, the literal translation of the word “wave” es “to greet with your hand”. So we are, once again, having to use four Spanish words in order to explain the meaning of a very commonly used word for English speakers.
This word has different connotations in English. Even though it does have a literal translation into Spanish when used as a verb (“to mean” is “significar”) and as a noun (“meaning” is “significado”), when used as an adjective it doesn’t. “Mean” is much more than “malo” (bad): it means to be cruel to others, unkind or unpleasant, even try to hurt others. So, “she is being mean to me” means much more than just “está siendo mala conmigo”.
The huge spread of streaming platforms and the TV series boom, this word has become popular in Spanish-speaking countries. As a verb, according to its context “to spoil” it could mean “arruinar” (to ruin) or “mimar” (to pamper), whilst as an adjective “spoiled” is a person that is or was treated too well. However, the noun “spoiler” means to tell another person the details of a movie or TV show that they haven’t watched before, ruining it for them; this word does not have an equivalent in Spanish, that is why most Spanish speakers just use the English version.
We hope you enjoyed this article and learning these 10 words that, even though they are commonly used in English, don’t have an exact translation into Spanish. Until our next post!