8 Useful Foreign Words the English Language Needs to Steal
Despite the fact that dozens of new slang terms enter the English language on a weekly basis (did anyone use "selfie" three years ago?), there are still all sorts of things in our daily lives that just don't have words. But as we've demonstrated before (and before before), they fortunately do exist in other languages: terms that succinctly sum up a situation that would take an entire, often expletive-filled paragraph to describe in English.
Words such as ...
What It Means:
Something that was a little bit broken ... until you tried to fix it. Now it's totally screwed.
To demonstrate the usefulness of "farpotshket," look no further than that nightstand you picked up at your friendly neighborhood IKEA. You know, the one that sits completely cockeyed but, goddammit, still does its job so long as you don't hit the snooze on your alarm clock too hard and send everything sliding off onto the floor. Then one day you finally get ambitious and think, "Hell, all I need to do is shorten the other three legs and make it level again! I can do that!" Six hours and a pile of sawdust later, you now have an unusable 12-inch-tall table that, by the way, still wobbles. In Yiddish, you have a farpotshket on your hands.
It's also the word you least want to hear coming from a mohel.
Leave it to the Yiddish language to contain a word that can at once sound so innocent and so sinister. Just say it out loud: "farpotshket." Maybe wave your hands a little for emphasis. Now, say it louder. Louder. Feels pretty good, right? It's like some unholy amalgamation of every foul word you've ever wailed at that IKEA nightstand after stubbing your toe on it in the middle of the night.
The term has started to become associated with technology and software, probably due specifically to your mom's tendency to click on every "anti" virus program and bullshit "Make your computer run faster!" ad that pops up in her Web browser. Hey, that gives us an idea! Quick, someone who has way more software smarts than us: Dig into the Windows 8 code and see if the developers secretly referred to it as the Farpotshket Edition. We're going to assume so until somebody proves otherwise.
What It Means:
To sing along in nonsensical noises that vaguely resemble the lyrics of a song.
When we tell you that the French have a colloquial verb that literally means "to yogurt," odds are your imagination will instantaneously jump to one particular image. We know what you're picturing. It's not that. Hell, you couldn't possibly be more wrong -- it's not breakfast-related at all.
"Yum, extra nuts."
According to Lucy Wadham, a British novelist who lived in France for nearly a quarter century and wrote a nonfiction book in an attempt to decode Frenchness for her fellow Brits, the French are obsessed with English-language music. So much so that they feel an uncontrollable urge to sing along with it, even if they not only don't know the lyrics, but totally don't know the language that they're singing in. This peculiar pastime is known as "yogurting," and it can send music through such absurd transformations as turning Queen's "I Want to Break Free" into "I Want a Steak Frites." Conversely, it can actually transmogrify "Smells Like Teen Spirit" into the deep social commentary that people always thought it was.
"With the fights trout, I piss dangerous!
Hippy car cow, entertain us!"
It makes sense that a nation where most music is imported would have a name for such a phenomenon, but the term could come in handy anywhere. Hell, we all spent a year singing along to "Gangnam Style" -- to a fluent Korean speaker, it must have sounded like we were all having some kind of seizure. And while we could refer to this as "Whoppa Gangnam Style Syndrome," it's not like we know the words to English songs, either. When you try to rap T.I.'s verse in "Blurred Lines," would you ever have figured out the line "In a hundred years not dare would I/Pull a Pharcyde let you pass me by" without Googling it?
"Ima hunt them bears, Jamiroquai.
Poor Mufasa. Butt shoe, pay the Thai."
No, you just yaourt that shit.
What It Means:
A person who corners you to tell you long, meaningless stories, usually about his oh-so-miserable life.
Sometimes life is sad. We get it. If, for example, your beloved dog had to be put down because it contracted rabies and literally ripped the town sheriff a new asshole, it's completely understandable that you're feeling down, and nobody will accuse you of being a killjoy when you tell them about it. But then, well, there's that one guy. You know him: He's the one who shows up at every social event with the specific agenda of boring and depressing the absolute shit out of any- and everybody by perpetually babbling on about the unbroken chain of catastrophes that is his life.
"And then my cat spilled his water, and it got my socks all wet. I mean I just put them on. And then-"
That cute waitress from your local cafe didn't respond to this guy's texts? He'll make a five-hour Shakespearean play out of it, and you'll be his sole audience. Did it rain this afternoon, and he was planning a round of golf? For you, that's a minor inconvenience; for him, it's a reason to describe every single bad thing that's ever happened to him during his crestfallen clusterfuck of a life in details so colorful, they'd make James Joyce chub up.
"How you doin'?"
In America, we'd probably call this guy an asshole and leave it at that, but that wouldn't exactly serve as fair warning to others in regard to just what they're in for should they ever encounter him. In Italy, though, they make it quite clear with one simple word -- this guy is an attaccabottoni. It doesn't matter if the amount of fucks you have to give add up to precisely zero -- an attaccabottoni is telling you all about that shit anyway. And because his tale is so tragic, you look like the asshole for trying to get away.
What It Means:
Pretending that you're doing something super important, while in reality you're being super lazy.
This Dutch word perfectly describes that particular flavor of procrastination that anyone who's ever done hard time in a cubicle will perfectly understand. You know how it goes: You're staring at your computer monitor filled with 36 open tabs of cat gifs (but only three with porn! We're proud of you!) when a co-worker walks up and asks for your help on an important project. You'll be damned if you're going to do actual work, so you quickly open an Excel spreadsheet and start typing random numbers, looking harried and busy. "So sorry, bro, I've got to get this, uh, meta-inventory report out by five."
"Yeah, man. These sheets aren't going to spread themselves."
In Holland, this is called "epibreren." Unlike most of the words on this list, "epibreren" is complete nonsense. Originally made up by a Dutch civil servant to get people to leave his line faster, it's designed to sound really opulent and complicated so that others will assume you're working on something they don't understand and simply leave you alone. In Dutch, words ending in "-eren" tend to be related to fancy things requiring lots of brain learnin' to understand, and since people generally don't like to admit that they haven't the slightest idea what the hell you're talking about, chances are they'll just shrug and assume your work is far too important for the likes of them to grasp.
"Shit, I'm so sorry I interrupted. Good luck with the Netflixeren project."
Of course, we're not sure how well it works now that everyone's in on the joke, but that's why it's perfect to import to the USA. "I'd totally help you out, but I've got a whole day of coding epibreren ahead of me."
"Soare cu Dinti" (Romanian)
What It Means:
Weather that looks great until you actually step out in it. Specifically, a beautiful sunny but frigid day.
You wake up and look out the window at a splendidly sunny day, so you forgo the jacket and gleefully stroll out the front door like a character in the opening credits of an '80s sitcom, only to have Mother Nature bite you straight in the left ass cheek with her prickly fangs, which in this case are also icicles. We didn't pull that toothy image out of thin air, by the way. The phrase "soare cu dinti" originates in the homeland of Pimp Dracula himself, Romania, and literally translates to "sun with teeth."
"You can run, but you won't escape."
And apparently Mother Nature just can't get enough of pulling this "psych!" on the Romanian folk, judging by the fact that the term appears in their weather forecasts again and again and again and again. If that doesn't convince you of the phenomenon's ubiquitousness, it's also the name of a Romanian pop song by a band called Robin and the Backstabbers, which is featured in an uber appropriate music video consisting of a full three minutes of what appears to be one of the band members taking video of the snowy (yet sunny!) Romanian countryside through a car window:
If that's their answer to "Walking on Sunshine," color us unsurprised that Romanians are so obsessed with how much everything bites.
And speaking of helpful seasonal slang ...
What It Means:
That first beer you drink outside when the weather finally turns warm.
It's more than a little surprising that, in a culture where the spring is so closely associated with a weeklong holiday celebrated by getting precariously shitfaced, no American has ever come up with a term for a celebratory beer enjoyed in the faint spring breeze under the newly warm rays of our good friend Mr. Golden Sun. The Norwegians, on the other hand, having no such linguistic shortcomings and apparently enjoying the outdoors in much the same way we Americans do (i.e., drunk), have a word for it, and that word is "utepils."
"Eat a dick, soare cu dinti."
In trying to decipher the possible origin of such a term, our imagination conjures images of countless Norwegians bundled up in thick animal hides to fend off the icy effects of a winter straight out of Game of Thrones, endlessly polishing their horned helmets with lutefisk oil and vigorously air guitaring/moshing to death metal in a feeble attempt to fend off the merciless, omnipresent cold (and that exhausts all of our Norwegian stereotypes, thank you). In a culture like that, it's no wonder that utepils would be regarded as an almost sacred icon.
Of course, according to Google Translate, "utepils" simply translates to "outdoor beer." So, you know, it's probably that.
What It Means:
A gift a man gives to his wife to apologize when he's done something stupid (typically staying out way too late).
Hey, guys: Raise your hand if you've ever bought your wife or girlfriend a gift in order to make up for some terrible thing you did. You never said that was why you were buying it; it's one of those unspoken truths that make a relationship function. Well, now raise your hand if one night, while staying out too late, you decided to stop somewhere and pick up a peace offering along the way -- which, since the only stores open at 3 a.m. are those of the shady convenience variety, ended up being a pair of red panties folded into the shape of a rose (on a stick).
"And just like the noble boy shorts, I will always support you, while not getting all up in your shit."
Yeah, that didn't work out so well for you, did it? But apparently you just need to step up your gift-giving prowess and do a bit more planning, because in Germany they have a term for averting your spouse's fury by way of a wee bit of good old-fashioned bribery: "drachenfutter." The situation is seemingly so common in Germany that, on Saturday night (or Biernacht, as it's known in German), scores of soon-to-be-plastered guys show up at bars with wrapped gifts tucked under their arms to be used as peace offerings should they actually manage to stumble into the right house at the end of the night. And if they don't, well ... mugger deterrent, we guess?
"Oh, God, lilies are my favorite! My horoscope said this would happen."
If you happen to be some type of linguistic savant, you've probably already figured out that the term literally translates to "dragon fodder." We're not sure if the "dragon" is in reference to the wife herself or is more figuratively referring to her wrath, or for that matter whether the "fodder" is in reference to actual food (the term is sometimes said to specifically refer to chocolates) or to what the husband's dick is going to end up as if he doesn't have something real nice in his hand when he shows up looking like Pig-Pen from Peanuts (except surrounded by a cloud of alcohol vapor instead of filth).
What It Means:
The momentary consternation you feel when you go to introduce someone and realize that you've forgotten his or her name. Can also function as a verb.
It's happened to the best of us. You're at a party (you social butterfly, you) when an old buddy from high school approaches you. "Hey, Steve, you old bastard!" he says vociferously, because for the purposes of this illustration your name is Steve. "Who's this with you?" And that's when, as you turn to introduce him to your date, you realize that you've completely forgotten this guy's name. Did it start with J? Or K? Why is "Aloysius" ringing a bell? You really should remember, because you spent not-insignificant chunks of your adolescence trying to score cheap convenience store beer by his side and holy shit, what kind of an astronomical asshole is he going to think you are for forgetting his freaking name?
"Dude, seriously? We have the same name."
You, dear friend, have just tartled all over yourself. And apparently the Scottish know this feeling better than anyone, because they've coined a one-word term for it (we have to assume this is somehow related to the fact that they also have a variety of whiskey named after them).
To wrap things up with a continuation of our theme of partying and alcohol, here's a little word-association trick for you: Imagine you're throwing a soiree at your place, when Sean Connery unexpectedly shows up. He saunters up to you as only a former 007 can saunter, glances toward his date, and then says, in his big-ass Scottish brogue, "Pardon my tartle." Now, imagine you misunderstood him and he's actually apologizing because his date is an anthropomorphic shelled reptile who just dropped a long, slow deuce on your brand-new carpet.
"Did you have to yell 'Cowabunga!' while you did it?"
You may still forget people's names left and right, but we can now guarantee that "tartle" is one word you'll never forget.
Related Reading: Did you know there's a Japanese word for a beautiful girl, if only viewed from behind. There's also a German word for the excess weight from emotional overeating. Prefer filthy foreign phrases? We've got those too.