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  • Alex McCord

Untranslatable words you can drop in the workplace

Ever lived through that excruciating moment when you have to introduce two people and their names appear to have vanished from your memory?

That common social faux pas is called a ‘tartle’. This Scots word has no literal translation in English but probably should. In fact, there are many wonderful untranslatable words we can borrow from other languages that perfectly summarise ideas and concepts we’re all familiar with.

At Tartle Media, we’re ghostwriters and copywriters, not just PR people. We have to simplify what business folk have been struggling to encapsulate in one company strapline.

As connoisseurs of the seemingly untranslatable, we’ve collated some of our favourites, and all are applicable to the workplace setting. Deploy with caution:

Dustsceawung (Old English): When you contemplate the dust around you and realise, at one point, that dust could have been great buildings or heroic people. Gives the person contemplating a deeper sense the world around them is fleeting and transient, and perhaps that things aren’t as big a deal as they might seem.

Erklärungsnot (German): A kind of explanation emergency where you are rapidly put on the spot to answer for all the shenanigans you’ve been up to.

Fachidiot (German): A special kind of ‘subject idiot’ who is a total master in one specific area but either totally useless at everything else or just tries to solve everything through the one thing they are good at.

Fargin (Yiddish): The opposite of the infamous schadenfreude, this is to be joyous with and for the joy of others.

Fika (Swedish): The idea that no matter how busy you are or what you are doing, you need to make time for a coffee and a bite to eat with colleagues and friends. Everyone needs to stop, take a moment and make time to chat and relax. If all offices did this, they’d be happier places.

Fisselig (German): When you’ve been constantly nagged to do something and end up botching the job due to the stress put on you.

Ilunga (Bantu): A more nuanced version of the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule: a person who can forgive once, tolerate it a second time but never a third time. i.e. tolerant, to a point.

L’esprit de l’escalier (French): Literally translates as “staircase wit”, this is when you come up with the perfect comeback only after the moment has passed. Sacré bleu.

Litost (Czech): The misery and despair you can feel when suddenly confronted with your own failures through someone else’s success.

Nenna (Icelandic): Pretty much ‘I can be bothered’. Nenna is a not-super-enthusiastic agreement to do a task for when ‘yes’ is too enthusiastic and ‘I guess’ is a bit too passive-aggressive.

Seigneur-terrasse (French): Someone who spends far too much time sitting around in cafes, but spends too little money for the privilege. As a remote worker, I feel personally targeted by this one.

Torschlusspanik (German): Rather like FOMO (fear of missing out), but it translates as “gate closing panic”. It is the suffocating feeling of missed opportunities as you get older, and gates shut behind you.

Uitwaaien (Dutch): Going out for a walk or getting out into the countryside to clear your mind. A literal translation is “to walk in the wind”. Flexible workers are probably doing this while you’re having fisticuffs over the last seat on the train.

Verschlimmbessern (German): Trying to improve or repair something just a little and making it much, much worse in the process. Will resonate with anyone who writes copy for a living.

Wabi-sabi (Japanese): An appreciation and discovery of the beauty in imperfections and mistakes. Try explaining this to your boss next time you hand over sub-standard work.

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