man red shirt face palm

Untranslatable words in English

Have you ever seen the film Serendipity?

It is obviously not our intention to spoil the ending of the film, even though it is now a cult of the Christmas period, but do you remember the title in Italian?

“When love is magic”.

How else would you translate it into one word? Think about it.

It would seem impossible!

Yes, there are words in English that are untranslatable into a single word in Italian, but we have to resort to a whole sentence. We have already come across two of them in the introduction:


This refers to a feeling of joy and fulfilment that you get when you discover something interesting or valuable by pure chance. A bit like in the meeting of the two main characters in the film!..and let’s not go any further!


Term now also recognised by the Accademia della Crusca, it takes the English verb “to spoil” and indicates the revealing of important details of the plot of a book, film or television series, thus ruining the surprise effect.

But the list can be long, so let’s see some others together!


Literally “palm on the face”, is an expression to indicate a situation of embarrassment, surprise, disappointment in front of a stupid or poorly thought-out action of someone, so you bring your hands to your face:

“She always does a facepalm when her mother starts asking her about boys.”


Doesn’t even sound like an English word, does it?

Perhaps for this very reason it clearly conveys the concept, which in Italian might come close to the term “abstruso”, indicating disapproval of a language filled with technicalities to the point of making it difficult or completely incomprehensible:

 “This medicine manual is gobbledygook”.

In this article we have presented just a few examples of the complexity of translating certain terms, can you think of others?