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The Rebellious and Wondrous Nature Of Untranslatable Words Captured by Female Creators

A Collection Of Untranslatable Words From Around The World

Myra here.

I thought it would be good to stretch our reading theme to also include the unwieldy, rebellious nature of words that simply refuse to be translated in English in just a single word. Add the fact that these wild words have been pinned down and captured by female creators – then voila, there you have it.


What A Wonderful Word: A Collection Of Untranslatable Words From Around The World

Written by Nicola Edwards Illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Published by Little Tiger Press (2018).
ISBN: 1848576455 (ISBN13: 9781848576452). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I have always been fascinated with language: its power, its intricacies, its capacity to signify a nuance of thought, a shade of meaning. As a university student, I was fascinated to learn about the Sapir Whorf Hypotheses which contends that language determines thought, with the implication that if a word does not exist in a culture’s vocabulary, then perhaps it may not be common or prevalent in one’s cultural reality. However, in light of globalization and the increasingly multi-lingual and multi-racial communities we now have, one wonders whether there are still these kinds of distinctions.

Take for instance, the act of hesitation one has in forgetting someone’s name – apparently, the Scots have a name for that: Tartle! I especially liked how the author also included something specific about the country that may potentially explain or provide some kind of context to the untranslatable word.

Another favourite word that I have learned through this book is the German word verschlimmbesserungPretty long, right? It means: “a supposed improvement that makes things worse.” Perfect description for most politicians, these days.

Another favourite word is Ishq, which is Arabic for “a perfect love without jealousy or inconsistency that holds two people together.” How awesome is that. I also invite you to pause for a moment here and just look at the details in Colombian artist Luisa Uribe’s artwork. What made the book even more exceptional is the art and the quality of the paper in which it was printed.

Now if you are able to see the gleam of the last light on a river’s surface at dusk and would like to wax poetic, remember that the Japanese have a word for that. This is like a coffee table book for lovers of words everywhere. Make sure that you get it for yourself.


#WomenReadWomen2019: 10 of 25 – Colombia (Luisa Uribe is from Colombia while Nicola Edwards is from the UK)

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “The Rebellious and Wondrous Nature Of Untranslatable Words Captured by Female Creators

  1. That’s looks like a very interesting book!

    Liked by 1 person

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