No sensation compares to the satisfaction of identifying a word that perfectly articulates a thought. At times, that word already exists in one’s vocabulary, and other times it’s discovered through someone or something else. The amount of variety that exists in just one language is boundless. As language and culture are so closely intertwined, the range and attributes of each language are as unique as the culture from which they originate. Out of these differences emerge words that are difficult to accurately translate from one language to another. Such words have the capacity to express an experience, feeling, memory, and all things that may have once seemed indescribable. This has been my experience with speaking Korean and English with similar frequency throughout my life.
The following Korean words/phrases are ones that I don’t dare attempt to translate in daily conversation because a sloppy English interpretation just does not stand up to the Korean expression.
In these examples, the direct translation was taken from google translate, and the meaning is my interpretation of the word/phrase.
Direct translation: “OMG”
What it means: Can’t believe it, wow, that’s crazy, that’s unfair, that’s absurd, no way.
2. 당황스럽다 (Dahng-hwahng-seu-lop-dah)
Direct translation: “Am embarrassed”
What it means: I am embarrassed/panicked. That was unexpected/surprising/burdensome. I don’t know what to do.
3. 어이없다 (Eo-ee-eob-dda)
Direct translation: “No way.”
What it means: [Something/Someone is] ridiculous, rude, unbelievable.
4. 답답해 (Dahb-dahb-hae)
Direct translation: “Stuffy”
What it means: Agitating, suffocating, stuffy, frustrating.
5. 눈치 (Noonchi)
Direct translation: “Tact”
What it means: The quality of having or not having awareness of self and others.
6. 눈치 빠르다 (Noonchi bbaluda)
Direct translation: “Notice quickly”
What it means: Observant, having good sense, receptive.
7. 눈치 없다 (Noonchi obda)
Direct translation: “Without notice”
What it means: Ignorant, childish, immature, senseless.
Whether someone speaks a native language at home or they’re currently learning one, they’re likely to come across distinctive words like the ones aforementioned. Future personal discoveries in language will serve to expand one’s ability to identify and express their experiences as they encounter them.