Yesterday at a social meeting of translators and language teachers a couple of untranslatable English terms came up: doggy bags and mince pies. It is possible to give an explanatory description of these things and the dictionaries try to do so but because of their specific cultural meanings it is impossible to convey the entire meaning. While we find it acceptable, even desirable, not to waste food but to take away the left overs to eat later, or indeed give to our dogs, other cultures find it a bizarre, if not repellent idea. With mince pies the problem partly lies in the fact that the mince meat concerned is not meat at all but fruit. Finally that particular English Christmas custom of the pantomime not only defies translation but explaining the line up of the traditional characters is one of those comedy items that must make those not brought up on the spectacle regard us very curiously indeed.
Doggy bags, mince pies and pantomime