Lithuanian words that cannot be translated into other languages

As strange as this might sound there are words that can’t be translated into other languages.

  • Knygnešiai – this word mean something like book smugglers, but to you it probably doesn’t make any sense. Why would you have a word for a book smuggler, you may ask. The word comes from the 19th century, when Lithuania was occupied by the Russian empire. The tsar tried to get the Lithuanians away from their root and he forbid printing Lithuanian books in the Latin alphabet. The only way out was to print them in the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet, but people didn’t want to do that, they wanted to read books in their own language and alphabet. People would print Lithuanian books outside of Lithuania  and then the book smugglers would smuggle them trough the border and give the books to people. The smugglers were on a look out by the officers. They would fine the smugglers or even deport them to Siberia. But the smart book smugglers came up with good ways of transporting the books, for example hiding them in a pile of hay from where people could collect he books, and so the Lithuanian language survived.
  • Some synonyms – many Lithuanian words have a lot of synonyms. Let’s the word eiti (to go, walk) as an example. This word has a huge amount of synonyms, probably more than 100. But these synonyms would probably all be translated as ‘to walk’, maybe with some extra information. For example, typenti – to walk in small steps; sliūkinti – walk slowly. But to a Lithuanian this word would mean more. It would create an image in their heads. Because of the huge amount of synonyms a picture of the walk can be created just by using the word itself.
  • Food names – this is an obvious one, because most of food names are not translated if there’s nothing like that in the two cultures, they would just get a description in the other language. For example, a traditional Lithuanian dish skilandis would be called either skilandis or pig stomach stuffed with meat and garlic and cold-smoked. Some dish names can be translated, but they would have no real meaning to a non-Lithuanian. For example: Žemaičių blynai – Somagitian (a region of Lithuania) pancakes, but it would be more sensible to call them potato pancakes with meat filling.

These are a few Lithuanian words that can’t be translated into other languages. We would like to learn about your language and words.


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