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Exclusive/Untranslatable words in Scots Gaelic (Machair?)

I love to discover elements of a language that, far from translating word for word, have to be described or expressed more artfully into English.

On my first visit to Lewis, I was intrigued by the "Machair" I was hearing and seeing so much about and even more so by the beautiful (and patient!) descriptions given to me by Islanders.

What other untranslatable words are common place in Gaelic (if not on the Duolingo course) that spark the imagination?

(And if discussions on the Chuisil-ì chuisil-ò, Tuil-bheum agus Frìth actually take place outside Instagram posts, I'd love to know haha!)

January 26, 2020



You get a similar thing in Scots. Architectural terms are a biggie! When I bought my first flat in England I was seriously hampered by nobody else knowing what a rone pipe was, or a pend close and not having English words for these things!


There are hundreds. Lots of geographical words. Machair being one of them, but I guess tòrr as well. A tòrr is used in geography to refer to a rocky mountain. What a tòrr actually is is a heap or pile of things.

You could also argue words like 'S e or tha don't really translate.

Then there are emotions. For example . toilichte and sona both mean "happy", but they are different sorts of happiness. There are similar issues with translating terms of endearment. A' graidh, m' eudail, and so forth.


I particularly like cianalas. Like homesickness, but worse.

It also reminds me of the word cianail, which kind of means 'really awful/terrible'. I don't know if the words are related but I wouldn't be surprised if they were.

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