As someone who moves between two languages all day, I know the feeling of sometimes not being able to express exactly what I mean. There are plenty of words and concepts that simply don’t translate, and so I’ve learned my way around those words, adding extra description or settling with a loose equivalent in order to press on with what I was saying.
I came across a fun internet read called “10 Untranslatable Words (And When You’ll Want to Use Them).” It explains each of the 10 untranslatable words, then pairs each with an example from a science fiction or fantasy classic (i.e. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars).
One term I particularly liked from the article is bricoleur (French):
The Meaning: A bricoleur is someone who starts building something with no clear plan, adding bits here and there, cobbling together a whole while flying by the seat of their pants.
I looked this up on wordreference.com, and one translation given was “DIY enthusiast” or “do-it-yourselfer.” Others included “handyman,” “tinkerer,” and “fiddler.” I think everyone knows someone who is a bit of a bricoleur, which is why I liked this word. The article points out that bricoleurs don’t always make a shamble of things. Someone’s improvisational style may lead to an inventive and engaging whole.
How about verschlimmbesserung (German), a supposed improvement that just makes things worse? I would use verschlimmbesserung to describe many a haircut. And what would romantic comedies do without the elemental verschlimmbesserung plot point?
Another curious one is wei-wu-wei (Chinese) means a conscious non-action: “a deliberate, and principled, decision to do nothing whatsoever, and to do it for a particular reason.” To bring this concept cross-continent, in recent Mexican elections, “voiding” a voting ballot has become a popular way to show one’s disgruntlement with a corrupt political system. The method: you cast your vote, but you cross out all choices. It’s a “non-action” that means something — a wei-wu-wei, if you will.