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Book Review: Lost In Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World

Wabi-sabi - Japanese, noun

by Mike Favila, Editor

As a songwriter and English minor, language has always held a certain mystique for me.  The difference between one word and another word could mean a world of difference to your audience.  Consequently, I find myself drawn to any good dissection of the written word.  While this topic could easily remain a flat and dry subject, that doesn’t always have to be the case.

Tsundoko - Japanese, noun

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, or as we will call it here, Lost In Translation, immediately has that coffee table book feel.  When I say that, I don’t mean that it’s heavy and you want to put stuff on it on a Sunday afternoon, but that it just begs to be around and be browsed. I image that it would be perfect for somebody’s hipster friends to sit with while nursing their macchiatos.

Tretar - Swedish, noun

That being said, I enjoyed reading through Lost In Translation immediately, and just burrowing through the whole book.  I can already imagine myself referencing some of these obscure terms to my friends and going back and trying to find the page.  Even though there aren’t that many pages, it just begs to have sticky notes on it.

Mangata - Swedish, noun

Each word is dedicated two pages.  One contains the originating language and word type (noun, verb, etc), along with a short etmology of the word.  The facing page contains the artwork.  Ella Frances Sanders’ drawings, which vary between cartoons and doodles, are very colorful, but don’t detract from the intent of the book.  The color schemes are well put together and then illustrations are whimsical and light. Sometimes the chosen fonts are little hard to read, but I can understand that if the author wanted to provide a little visual variety.

Komorebi - Japanese, noun

There are a few that I recognize before. For example, saudade, which seems to means ‘to long for in a heartbreaking fashion’ in Portuguese sounds super familiar.  Maybe it was in a film I’ve seen a while back?  I was also interested to learn that Ubuntu was a South African word which related to finding worth in each other.  What a beautiful term for something I usually think of only in computer terms!  Embarrassingly enough, I’m Filipino and I had never heard of kilig, the Tagalog noun in Lost In Translation.

Kilig - Tagalog, noun

A part of me was hoping that there was going to be one or two words from continent represented but that endeavor might be too exhaustive.  It wouldn’t be unbelievable to make a second iteration of this book. I know I’d read a second serving.  Lost In Translation is a novel idea and is well executed.  Ella Frances Sanders obviously really cared about these quirky little beings, and it shows.  Lost In Translation would make a perfect gift for a friend, especially if you could identify any of the words.

Rating: ★★★★½
ComicsOnline.com gives Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World 4.5 out of 5 l’esprit d’escalier!

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About Mike Favila

I'm a Senior Editor at ComicsOnline.com. When I'm not here writing my opinions on entertaining things, I'm making electronic music with my band Atoms Apart.

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