An ‘as-if’ that feels like reality

lostintranslation-coverLost in Translation: a Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
by Ella Frances Sanders

This is essentially a coffee table book, albeit a small one. It takes a simple idea and creates a beautiful object from it.

Sanders takes a small collection of supposedly untranslatable words from all over the world. Each word is given a double-page spread with a rough translation, some information about its origin and a fun but elegant illustration. Some of the words chosen really hit a nerve, while others simply amused me. Some are effectively putting words together in a “phrase in a word” and therefore their literal translation does make sense. But the book as a whole works well because it is so well executed.

I learned some fascinating new words. For instance, Goya is an Urdu noun that means “A transporting suspension of disbelief – an ‘as-if’ that feels like reality – such as in good storytelling.” And one of the few words in this selection I’d heard before turns out to come from a language I’d never heard of: Ubuntu is a noun from Nguni Bantu (a South African language) described as “Essentially meaning ‘I find my worth in you, and you find your worth in me.’ Can be (very) roughly translated as human kindness.”

But my personal favourite – and I think my fellow book lovers/hoarders will agree – is the Japanese word Tsundoku, which means “Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.” Sounds familiar, and much nicer than “TBR”. I’m sorely tempted to rename that page of my blog!


This is such a lovely idea, I’m really glad it was thought of by someone able to do a great job with it. Definitely a good gift idea for your beloved book/word fans.

Published June 2015 by Square Peg.

Source: A copy was kindly sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.