This blog post was written in honor of Nelson Mandela, fondly known as “Madiba,” who died yesterday. He once famously said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I heard this quote at a very young age, and it made a huge and lasting impression on me.
Also, I know this list would be way better and more visually digestible if I put it into an excel chart…I don’t really know how to do that, so the re-formatting will have to wait until some clever, technologically wily friend of mine walks me through the process. Also please send me your favorite colloquial phrases/words in any language and I’ll add them!
N.B. I reserve the right to leave ambiguous whether “used like” means A) “Georgia uses it in this way” or B) “native speakers of this language use it in this way,” primarily because, for obvious reasons, I am ill-suited (and sometimes unable) to distinguish between these two categories. (Not that I am a native speaker of any of these languages, but rather that I can be reluctant to admit when Georgia-isms are actually not part of the standard vernacular.)
Ahmesehgahnalu → thank you (the only word I have so far in Amharic, I’m embarrassed to confess)
‘afuan → pardon me/you’re welcome
akeed → yes, I agree, used like “word”
(al)hamdulilleh → literally “praise be to God,” used like “thank God” or “luckily”
anjad? → seriously?
asif(a) → sorry (male/female)
batl → literally “hero” or “protagonist,” used to mean “mensch,” “champ” or “the man”
ba’ad shway → after awhile (deliberately evasive)
fema ba’ad → later on (in an indefinite period of time)
haram → literally “forbidden,” used like “deep tapioca” as in “that is so haram”
in shaa Allah → literally “God willing,” used in place of an Arabic word for “hopefully”
iza bidak/ik → if you want (male/female), especially effective when accompanied by a shrug
la ‘arif (aye shay)→ I dunno (any thing)
mabrook → congratulations
ma fee “X” → means there is no “X” or you don’t find “X,” this is Lebanese, used for basically anything that is missing or inadequate. The Omani equivalent is the (less fun) “laysa moojood“
ma shaa Allah → literally “what God wills,” used like “wow” or frequently “how beautiful”
methilan → for example/instance
min fadhlak/ik → please (m/f)
mish mush(kilah) → no problem (Lebanese)
mumkin or mumkin la → maybe or maybe not
mumtaz → perfect, excellent, great
shoo hayda? → what is this?
shukran → thank you
shway shway → literally “just a little,” also used like “little by little,” “slowly slowly,” “kidogu kidogu” (Swahili), “doucement” (French)
tafadhal(i) → please, go ahead (m/f)
yuh Allah → Jeez!
yalla → let’s go/hurry up, often used in the hilarious Lebanese expression “yalla bye,” used to accelerate extended social goodbyes that seem like they will never end
ya’nee → it means, that is to say, like (as in the English vocalized pause). Ex: “We’re frenemies, ya’nee, fake “friends” who actually hate each other .”
French (this is mostly spoken slang)
à plus → see you later
bah voilà! → well there you go!
balancer → to toss, throw away
bavarder → to chat
bouffer, la bouffe → to eat, food (alternative to manger)
mon boulot → my job
un bouquin → a book
bourré → literally “overfilled,” means drunk
ca va → this means everything, but literally translates to “it goes” and is most commonly invoked with a sense of “it’s all good” or “life goes on” or “all is well.” I like to expand its use (unconventionally) to the future tense in English. Ex: “Don’t worry, ca will va.”
c’est nul → it’s awful/useless/stupid, also fuhgeddaboudit
dégueulasse → disgusting
mon dieu → literally “My God,” for fun pronounced by me like a sneezing sound (as in heh-choo)
dis donc → by the way
en tout cas → anyways, used sometimes à la Granmumsie’s famous “moving right along”
fauché → broke
les flics→ the cops
un gars → a guy
un(e) gosse → a kid
il m’a pas l’air très malin → he doesn’t seem particularly bright
je m’en raffole vraiment pas → I’m not really feeling it
oh madame → basically just “wow, you (female)”
mais laisse tomber! → (pronounced “may less tawm-bay”) literally “but let it go” used like “fuhgeddaboudit”
manger les pissenlits par la racine → literally “to eat dandelions starting from the root,” means to be dead, to kick the bucket
louper → to miss, as in a bus (instead of rater)
marrant → funny
mater → to look at, esp. check out (as in a meuf [woman])
un mec → dude
un meuf → a woman
occupe-toi de tes oignons → mind your own business (literally “mind your own onions”)
paumer → to lose (instead of perdre), esp. money (called fric, not argent); interestingly “je suis paumé” means “I’m lost” in France but “I’m broke” in Québec. Confusing.
mon/ma pote → my homie (m/f)
un rencard → a date
rigolo → fun
le type → the guy (pronounced “teep”)
aww-lee → excellent
aww-ré → yeah
balé/nah → yes/no
badan ba ham sohbat mikonim → talk to you later
bar migardam → I’ll be right back
bé omidé khoda → in shaa allah in Persian
bebakshid → pardon me/please go ahead
chaikkeram daadaash/abjee → super friendly greeting to a BFF (m/f)
chi é? → what is it?
ché khabr? → what’s new/what’s up?
delam barat tang shodé → I miss you
é daad-é bi daad → literally “when I try to speak I swallow my words” used despondently, as in “Woe is me.”
fardaw mibinamet → see you tomorrow
khaak bar saram → literally “dust on my head,” used like “why does this always happen to me,” or (more generally) “FML”
khabayet ghashang bebibini → literally “have beautiful dreams”
(kheili) mamnoon → thank you (very much)
khoob bekhabi → sleep well
khoda hafez → literally “God preserve you,” simply means goodbye
messilan → for example (methilan in Arabic)
motchakkeram/ khawhesh → thank you/you’re welcome
movasebeh khodet baash → take care of yourself
negaran nabashid! → don’t worry!
nemidawnam → I dunno
shab bekheyr → goodnight
to ham hamintor → you too
adios → goodbye, same literal meaning as “khoda hafez”
buenos noches → good night
qué chorrada! → what nonsense/malarky
gracias/de nada → thank you/you’re welcome
hasta luego → see you later
lo siento → I’m sorry
mamacita → beautiful girl/babe
qué tal? → wassup?
toda la banda → all together /everybody
asante sana → thank you so much
habari (gani)? Moosuri sana, niwéwé? → how are you? Very good, and you?
hakuna shida → no problem
hakuna matata → no worries
jambo! → hello!
kidogu kidogu → see Arabic “shway shway”
kwa kesho → see you tomorrow
mambo vipi → how are you?
mremboyangu/rafikiyangu/jamayangu → my beautiful woman, my friend, my homeboy, to say “your” instead of “my,” replace yangu with yako
muzungu wa ungu → drug dealer (literally “white person with flour”)
nimechanganikiwa → I am confused
ndiyo → yes
sijuii → I dunno
tuta o nana badaaye → see you later
twende zetu –> let’s go
usiku mwema → good night
wapi? → where?