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Our Ten Favorite Foreign Words

As someone who holds a degree in Linguistics, I’m often asked if I speak any other languages. Unfortunately that answer is no. The more we travel, the more I really wish I did. There are certain words and phrases we try to learn before we leave, but we find that we tend to use certain ones in our daily lives even after we’ve returned home. Sometimes we are better able to express ourselves using these words, and other times they are just more fun to say. Here are ten of our favorites:

Fika (Swedish) – I actually own two cookbooks with this title, which is not a surprise because in Sweden, a “fika” is a coffee break. This break time is complete with something sweet and enough time to actually enjoy your beverage and your company. There’s not much time for fika in the US, so I can usually only say “Ska vi fika?” when we’re at home on the weekend or traveling.

Homemade Swedish cinnamon buns (“kanelbullar”) – Essential for fika!

Tak (Danish)/Takk (Norwegian)/Tack (Swedish)/Merci (French)/Gracias (Spanish)/Grazie (Italian) – We probably use these in combination more than we actually use the English “thank you” at home because it’s more fun to say. You also know we’re extra grateful when we drop a “tusind tak,” “mille mercis,” or “grazie mille,” which means “a thousand thanks.”

Pas mal (French) – Literally this means “not bad,” but as far as I can tell, this is how you express something is actually really good in France (as opposed to “très bon,” which literally means “very good”). We use it in both contexts at home.

Hygge (Danish) – By now you’ve probably heard this one, as proven by the fact that my local library has no fewer than six books with “hygge” in the title. They say it has no literal translation in to English, though cozy is the most closely associated term. We use this one a lot at home; since we are gone so much, we love to light candles, curl up together on the sofa, and enjoy a nice sweet treat together when we get back. We even have a “hygge basket” where we store our hygge woolen blanket.

| Chair – Target | Basket – old from Target (link to similar) | Blanket – Pendleton (link to similar) |

On line (US Northeast) – Okay, not really a foreign word (though sometimes NYC feels like another country). We are accustomed to using the phrase “in line,” as in “I am currently in line waiting to check out at the grocery store.” In New York, we’ve noticed that we are more likely to hear “on line,” as in, “next on line (please).” The please is apparently optional.

Caso cerrado (Spanish) – This translates to “case closed.” We use this mostly when solving a very minor problem, such as looking for a spare sock or trying to decide what to eat for dinner.

Je suis desole (French) – This is how we learned to say “I am sorry” in French, but this phrase gets used most at home when we’re actually not sorry, but feel obligated to say it anyway.

Basta (Italian) – Last summer we took the train from Nice, France, into Ventimiglia, Italy, just to say we’d “been to Italy” and have pizza. Michael wanted to go to a place called “Pasta e Basta,” but we ultimately ended up at a similarly-named place called “Pizza and Pasta” (to add to the confusion, by the time we got there, they had changed their name to “La Musa”). This didn’t stop us from constantly adding the phrase “…e basta” any time one of us suggested pasta for dinner once we got back. It wasn’t until later that we learned “basta” means “enough,” so we now also use the true meaning as well.

“…e Basta”

Fatigué (French) – Before we went to France for the first time, we tried a selection of free videos from the internet and public library for learning French (yes, despite learning in my courses that this is an unhelpful method for true language-learning). One video was quite corny, and it went too fast, except for teaching the phrase “Je suis fatigue,” which means “I am tired.” We didn’t ever have the need to let any French people know we were tired on our trip, but we use this one a lot at home.

Allora (Italian) – We can actually thank Aziz Ansari in Master of None for this one. We learned this one after we got back from Italy, but apparently you use it as “well, …” Like in, “Allora, I guess that’s the end of this post.”


Do you have any favorite foreign words or phrases?

2 Comments on “Our Ten Favorite Foreign Words

  1. Fun to see that you studied linguistics. My MA is in linguistics, and it’s not very often that I meet others who have studied it. I can hear Aziz Ansari saying “allora”right now! It was such a cute part of that season. 🙂

    1. Hooray for fellow linguists! Except I’m not actually using my degree at this moment (and that’s okay!). How about you?

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