Category Archives: english fiction

Untranslatable Words and the art of the courtier

Ciao! yes happy readers the blog has turned back to Italian again! i’m as fickle and changeable as the weather (yes really snow blizzards, sun, rain, sleet all in one day here. please could it be primavera already?)
Today I have been thinking about untranslatable words which are truly one of the little marvels when you are learning a language. I’m not sure ‘untranslatable’ is the best word, but I struggled to find a different one. perhaps, words or expressions with no direct translation, words that require a whole sentence to describe them. I found one such Italian word whilst recently re-reading “Wolf Hall” :
Cromwell is discussing with King Henry VIII a book he has read recently – the book, written by an Italian named Baldassare Castiglione is called “The Courtier” in which he uses the word sprezzatura to define the art of doing everything gracefully and well, without the appearance of effort. Cromwell himself of course extols sprezzatura, which is the reason he manages to rise from black-smith’s son to the most powerful courtier. (He is also very skilled with languages which he often uses to his advantage -another thing I love about the book!). Nowadays in English this word seems to be used in the world of fashion, to describe people with great style who manage to look fashionable at the same time as looking like they threw their outfit on without trying to look good.
Untranslatable words are great fun in any language – the best one I found today is Finnish, the word “poronkusema” which means ‘reindeers piss’and is the distance a reindeer can travel before it has to stop and pee (around 5 miles FYI) -this word was actually used as a unit of distance in the country. Or so I read – it seems too random to be true!!!


Meanwhile, I have not forgotten my New Year’s pledge to learn new words and how they are pronounced! Here we go, my word of the day:

Parola del giorno:
il lessico, VOCABULARY (il LESS-i-co). ampliare il Vostro lessico = to extend your vocabulary.
un’ampia gamma di parole (a wide range of words).
Hopefully I will remember this word because in English the word ‘lexicon’ means a dictionary or a list of words relating to a particular subject!