Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon

Written by Barbara Cassin, Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood (editors)
Dictionary of Untranslatables
by Barbara Cassin, Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood (editors)
(Princeton University Press, 2014)

This is an encyclopedic dictionary of close to 400 important philosophical, literary, and political terms and concepts that defy easy--or any--translation from one language and culture to another. Drawn from more than a dozen languages, terms such as Dasein (German), pravda (Russian), saudade (Portuguese), and stato (Italian) are thoroughly examined in all their cross-linguistic and cross-cultural complexities. Spanning the classical, medieval, early modern, modern, and contemporary periods, these are terms that influence thinking across the humanities. The entries, written by more than 150 distinguished scholars, describe the origins and meanings of each term, the history and context of its usage, its translations into other languages, and its use in notable texts. The dictionary also includes essays on the special characteristics of particular languages--English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Originally published in French, this one-of-a-kind reference work is now available in English for the first time, with new contributions from Judith Butler, Daniel Heller-Roazen, Ben Kafka, Kevin McLaughlin, Kenneth Reinhard, Stella Sandford, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jane Tylus, Anthony Vidler, Susan Wolfson, Robert J. C. Young, and many more.The result is an invaluable reference for students, scholars, and general readers interested in the multilingual lives of some of our most influential words and ideas.

Available in English for the first time, with new contributions by Judith Butler, Daniel Heller-Roazen, Ben Kafka, Kevin McLaughlin, Kenneth Reinhard, Stella Sandford, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jane Tylus, Anthony Vidler, Susan Wolfson, Robert J. C. Young, and many more

Barbara Cassin is director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Emily Apter is professor of comparative literature and French at New York University. Jacques Lezra is professor of Spanish, Portuguese and comparative literature at NYU. Michael Wood is the Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

More info


Review:

Praise for the French edition: "This dictionary's great idea is to address European philosophy from the point of view of translation. . . . [It] attains its goal by putting this principle to work: one cannot always translate a foreign concept in one word, but one can always explain it. And when one has grasped the explanation, one has acquired the concept."--Le Figaro Littéraire

Praise from the French edition: "A dictionary cannot be summarized. One great lesson, nevertheless, which can be distilled from this one (it can be gathered in the masterworks of the entries 'Traduire' ['Translate'] and 'Langues et traditions' ['Languages and traditions']), is that no language is born a philosophical one. It becomes philosophical, as it engages in exchanges with other languages. Philosophical language is impure language, and a national philosophy cannot, therefore, exist. This conviction can perhaps be one of the meanings of the unity of Europe, to which the Vocabulaire renders homage, and service."—Vincent Aubin, Le Figaro (review translated by Mark Jensen)

"[I]nteresting reading. The Dictionary of Untranslatables is a wonderful addition to my language library. . . . [A] book to savor and think about and to learn in the broader sense of learning. For anyone interested in language, in words, and the scope of meaning that a word can encompass, I recommend the Dictionary of Untranslatables."—Rich Adin, American Editor

"[G]reat success. . . . By preserving the specificity of words in their source languages, but then proceeding though so many near-synonyms in other tongues, the Dictionary bridges this ideological divide, providing a different way of understanding what it is to be in, and between, languages."—Tom Bunstead, Independent on Sunday

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
Sign in or register to post comments.

More new titles

new titles

Paris, Line by Line

After the success of New York, Line by Line, Universe reissue another fabulous volume of Robinson’s work: Paris, Line by Line. Following the style of its predecessor, Paris, Line by Line is filled, not with words, but with wildly intricate drawings of Paris from practically every angle. Within its large-scale pages are images of modern flâneurs taking in the Rue de Rivoli, artists replicating Cézannes at the Louvre and tourists dining atop the Eiffel Tower. Through Robinson’s dazzling line work, The City of Light comes to life.
new titles

Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays

Existential Monday, the first selection of Benjamin Fondane's philosophical work to appear in English, includes four of his most thought-provoking and important texts, “Existential Monday and the Sunday of History,” “Preface for the Present Moment,” “Man Before History,” and “Boredom.” Here Fondane, until now little-known except to specialists, emerges as one of the enduring French philosophers of the twentieth century.
new titles

The Bottom of the Jar

By Abdellatif Laâbi, who won the Prix Goncourt for his oeuvre complète, The Bottom of the Jar is an exploration of Laâbi's childhood city in Fez, undertaken through Namoussa, his semi-fictional kindred spirit.