Untranslatable Words, Explained with Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels

Anyone who speaks a second language can tell you that there are foreign words that do not have exact translation in English (and vice versa).

Sometimes it's hard work to explain the words, but it can be fun ... especially if you use science fiction and fantasy novels to explain them, like Esther Inglis-Arkell did for io9.

Take, for example, the Sanskrit word "maya" and how it relates to V for Vendetta:

The Meaning: This word is one that could be applied to a lot of protest movements and many political speeches. It refers to belief — the often unfortunate belief — that the symbol of a thing is the same as the thing itself. It's the, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," of the literary world.

The Work: V for Vendetta is a work that plays with symbolism and how symbolism becomes real in the eyes of the populace. The eponymous V is armed with a mountain of symbols, from the letter and roman numeral of his name to a particular kind of rose to London buildings to the Guy Fawkes mask that he always wears. Whether this mistaken belief — that a guy playing around with cops and bombs can free a whole country — would actually lead to the kind of sweeping social change depicted in the book is up to you to decide.


Previously on Neatorama: More on untranslatable words

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And more of course... "Maya" means much more than belief in the reality of abstractions. In it's Buddhist/Hindu use it refers to a character similar in pscyhology to Satan in the Bible or Milton's Paradise Lost.

Here is a case:

A: There is no such thing as free-will
B: If there is no such thing as free-will, then we could not be held responsible for anything and murderers would run wild.

Note that person B is not so much interested in whether or not A's statement is true and free-will is false, as they are with their own narrow-minded desires and fears.

A might respond by saying "let's worry about how to deal with the facts once we know what the facts are."
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