Effect Measure


This isn’t a contest, exactly, but more a question to the huddled masses. Mrs. R., who is Italian, was asking me the other day what the Yiddish word Mitvah meant. It turns out it isn’t a Yiddish word (it’s Hebrew) and while it has some kind of religious meaning about fulfilling commandments, I’m not into religious meanings so I told her the colloquial meaning: doing a good deed or a kindness, or an act of kindness. Maybe it has a one word English equivalent, but it’s still a pretty good single word for an idea that usually takes more words in English. So we started talking about other words that have come into English that are of the same ilk. The word I thought of first was one I learned from Mrs. R.’s Italian-American culture and that I am now hearing quite a bit from teeny boppers and their immediate elders. The word is shkeeve, which is Italian-American slang for being disgusted by something, sort of like finding it “icky” or being repelled by it (“I wouldn’t use the toilet in his house. I shkeeved.”). Mrs. R. says there is an implication of germs but it has now been appropriated in all sorts of ways. The other day I heard two young women (19 or 20 years old), quite clearly not Italian American (and given the demographics of the neighborhood, probably Irish American), saying one to the other, “He shkeeves me out.” I use the word, too. It seems to express something I can’t find an equivalent for in English. Shkeeve is slang but apparently comes from the Italian word for disgust, schifo.

So here’s the question: what words with origins in languages other than English do you find expressing thoughts, ideas, things, emotions, reactions that don’t seem to have an English equivalent? I’m not talking about word origins. I’m talking about actual borrowed words. Like shkeeve.


  1. #1 Coturnix
    January 29, 2008

    My first horse was Meraklija – a Serbian name. I named my second horse (the half-brother of the first one) Kefli, which means roughly the same in Hebrew. It means “a person who really, truly knows how to enjoy every minute and all the good sides of life” and could never find a good English equivalent.

  2. #2 revere
    January 29, 2008

    “. . . could never find a good English equivalent.” The only people I know like that are horses. This isn’t a word that has infiltrated into English, though, is it?

  3. #3 Nat
    January 29, 2008

    I’m pretty sure there are millions of borrowed words and they come from many languages that English speakers have encountered.

  4. #4 BB
    January 29, 2008

    One of my favorites is the German word Zeitgiest. It means the spirit of the age, or more clearly the social moors and attitudes of the times.

    Unfortunately, that word has recently become attached to a sup-par conspiracy “documentary” in the English speaking world.

  5. #5 K
    January 29, 2008

    Copasetic – it has such a nice sound.




    It’s possible that this word has created more column inches of speculation in the USA than any other apart from OK. It’s rare to the point of invisibility outside North America. People mostly become aware of it in the sixties as a result of the US space program — it’s very much a Right Stuff kind of word. But even in the USA it doesn’t have the circulation it did thirty years ago. Dictionaries are cautious about attributing a source for it, reasonably so, as there are at least five competing explanations, with no very good evidence for any of them.

    One suggestion that’s commonly put forward is that it was originally a word of the African-American community in the USA. The name of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a famous black tap-dancer, singer and actor of the period round the turn of the twentieth century is commonly linked to this belief about its origin. Indeed, he claimed to have invented it as a shoeshine boy in Richmond. But other blacks, especially Southerners, said later that they had heard it earlier than Mr Robinson’s day. But he certainly did a lot to popularise the word.

    A more frequent explanation is that it derives from one of two Hebrew expressions, hakol b’seder, “all is in order”, or kol b’tzedek, “all with justice”, which it is suggested were introduced into the USA by Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants. Yet other accounts say it derives from a Chinook word copasenee, “everything is satisfactory”, once used on the waterways of Washington State, or from the French coupersetique, from couper, “to strike”, or from the French phrase copain(s) c’est épatant! (“buddy(s), that’s great!”), or, in a hugely strained derivation, from the cop is on the settee, supposedly a hoodlum term used to describe a policeman who was not actively watching out for crime, and so one who was OK.

    In the absence of further evidence, which may now never be forthcoming, none of these suggestions can be definitely disregarded, though most are extremely implausible.

  6. #6 oljb
    January 29, 2008

    I’ve never heard the exact word “shkeeve”. However, I am quite familiar with the “Skeeve” version of the word. It can be used as an adjective (skeevey), a verb (that skeeves me out). I’m not exactly sure where I know this word from, but I’ve never heard it with a “sh” sound.

  7. #7 Barks
    January 29, 2008

    Zeitgeist notwithstanding, my absolute German favorite is the chess term “Sitzfleisch”.

  8. #8 chezjake
    January 29, 2008

    This may not be quite what you’re looking for, since many of these words have made it into established English, but the English language is remarkably devoid of native terms that describe specific flavors and tastes other than the basic sweet, sour, salt, and bitter.

    Many, like piquant and the more recently arrived osmazome come directly from French. The latter being that “meat has been here” sense one gets even from a clear broth.

    Related to osmazome is the word that some now include as our fifth basic taste, umami. It’s from Japanese and refers to the sensation derived from certain amino acids and nulceotides (notably glutamate, aspartate, and inosinate) which we often tend to refer to as “full-bodied.” This can be found in meats, but also in aged cheeses, mushrooms, cooked tomatoes, and (IMHO) good wines and beers.

  9. #9 gjuerne
    January 29, 2008

    in the upper midwest uff da is used a lot. In Wikipedia “”Uff da” is often used in the Upper Midwest as a term for sensory overload. It can be used as an expression of surprise, astonishment, exhaustion, relief and sometimes dismay.”

  10. #10 Shannon
    January 29, 2008


    I like the word zaftig. It sounds voluptuous.

    Main Entry: zaf·tig
    Pronunciation: \?zäf-tig, ?zo?f-\
    Variant(s): also zof·tig \?zo?f-\
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Yiddish zaftik juicy, succulent, from zaft juice, sap, from Middle High German saf, saft, from Old High German saf — more at sap
    Date: circa 1936
    of a woman : having a full rounded figure : pleasingly plump

  11. #11 Coturnix
    January 29, 2008

    LOL! I love Sitzfleisch! My Mom uses it all the time….

  12. #12 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    Thought of another one. I know someone like this-we all do. I think of nasty old Mr. Slimy every time this word is used. I always understood it to mean someone who takes particular enjoyment over another persons suffering. But, now that I look it up it has other meanings as well.

    Schadenfreude (IPA: [??a?d?n?f????d?] Audio (German) (help·info)) is a German word meaning ‘pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune’. It has been borrowed by the English language[1] and is sometimes also used as a loanword by other languages.

    It derives from Schaden (damage, harm) and Freude (joy); Schaden derives from the Middle High German schade, from the Old High German scado, and freude comes from the Middle High German vreude, from the Old High German frewida, from fr?, (happy). In German, the word always carries a negative connotation. A distinction exists between “secret schadenfreude” (a private feeling) and “open schadenfreude” (Hohn, a German word roughly translated as “scorn”) which is outright public derision.

    Usually, it is stated that Schadenfreude has no direct English equivalent. For example, Harper Collins German-English Dictionary translates schadenfreude as “malicious glee or gloating.” However, an apparent English equivalent is epicaricacy, derived from the Greek word ?????????????, epichaerecacia. This word does not appear in most modern dictionaries, but does appear in Nathaniel Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1727) under a slightly different spelling (epicharikaky), which gives its etymology as a compound of epi (upon), chara (joy), and kakon (evil). A more common English equivalent than ‘epicaricacy’ might be the expression ‘Roman holiday’, which means pleasure derived from watching someone else’s suffering, and is derived from the delight of Roman citizens’ at the gladiatorial spectacles in the Colosseum.

    Another phrase with a meaning similar to Schadenfreude is “morose delectation” (“delectatio morosa” in Latin), meaning “the habit of dwelling with enjoyment on evil thoughts”.[2] The medieval church taught morose delectation is a sin.[3][4] French writer Pierre Klossowski (1905-2001) maintained that the appeal of sadism is morose delectation.[5][6]

  13. #13 Aaron
    January 29, 2008

    “Rutch” is a good example of a word (from the Pennsylvanische Deutsch, I believe) with no easy English equivalent. (Pronunciation: “rutch” rhymes with “butch,” not “Dutch.”) It basically means to shuffle to a new location while remaining seated. So if you’re sitting on the floor watching TV, and you want to get closer to the set but you don’t want to get up, you rutch forward.

  14. #14 jen_m
    January 29, 2008

    Shannon, “schadenfreude” was the one I thought of first, too!

    “Schmaltzy” is another good Yiddish term – literally, rendered poultry fat – used to describe something maudlin, but with a little less aristocratic distaste and a little more implication of unfashionable enjoyment than “maudlin” connotes.

    “Uber” as an intensifying prefix to an English word is borrowed from German, of course. (I have never gotten the hang of typing diacriticals, so I hope you forgive my umlautlessness.)

    I guess I shouldn’t wonder why so many of the examples I can think of are German, Yiddish, or Hebrew. The modern diaspora probably led to a lot of word-lending.

  15. #15 caia
    January 29, 2008

    Shkeeve? Here I’d always said skeeve. And only in the “skeeves me out” construction, never “I skeeved.” (Also skeezy which may be a combination of skeeve and sleaze?) I had no idea it was even a real (borrowed) word, I thought it might be made up, like snark or snarky. (Snark is a noun or verb you may have seen around on the tubes meaning saying something sarcastic/mocking/ironic. Also sometimes snerk, which to me implies more being amused at snark.)

    I’ve read in essay re: South African history, the opinion that sometimes words are taken whole instead of translated because they are, as ideas, inherently toxic. Like apartheid. You could easily translate it “apartness”, but it’s such a poisonous word, used to mean raising the separation of races to a reified ideal, that no one translates it. Or schadenfreude.

    But some are just good words to say, like mensch, or something said phonetically ehkahpuhtzah (corner-cleaner) which I have no idea how to spell.

    Not a word, but a phrase I like that has no good equivalent in English is l’esprit de l’escalier. It’s the phenomenon where you think of the perfect comeback too late; literally, “the spirit of the staircase.”

  16. #16 Jon Herington
    January 29, 2008

    There are a plethora of words that come from Indigenous Australian languages that are now used widely in Australian English. Most of them are place names or fauna (see koala, emu, kangaroo, kookaburra, woomera) but some are genuine crossovers:

    yakka – ‘work’ (‘hard yakka’ is the name of a workwear brand)
    yabber – ‘to talk’ (‘stop your yabbering’ is a common way to tell someone to shut-up)
    cooee – a call made in when lost or trying to find someone (pretty old-hat these days)
    kylie – a common non-Indigenous girls name (see kylie minogue) which comes from the word ‘karli’ which is a boomerang-esque weapon.

    Admittedly, these are probably not au fait with the younger set…but they are still used pretty liberally.

  17. #17 Ethylene
    January 29, 2008

    That word is “mitzvah”.

    It means commandment, and is used also to mean a good dead.

    A Bar Mitzvah is a Son of the Law.

    The plural is “mitzvot”.

  18. #18 Caledonian
    January 29, 2008

    Good deed, I think.

    Quite a lot of modern English comes from Norman hybridization. Just how far back are you willing to consider something a ‘loan word’, revere?

  19. #19 Dylan
    January 29, 2008


  20. #20 revere
    January 29, 2008

    Caledonian: I’m looking not just for loan words but words from non English languages expressing things English can’t. Schadenfreude is a great example. Zaftig works, too. So does Zeitgeist. So do some of the others. What else?

  21. #21 Caledonian
    January 29, 2008

    I’m told ‘levendis’ is Greek for “one filled with the joy of living”.

    Can’t really think of many. English is pretty good at appropriating new vocabulary – all of the words you mentioned have been absorbed and are considered to be part of the language now.

  22. #22 Caledonian
    January 29, 2008

    Wait, here’s one: ‘sovok’. It’s Russian. Seems to mean something along the lines of ‘behaving in a dysfunctional social manner due to living in Soviet Russia’.

    There’s a funny article attempting to explain its meaning here – seems to be some guy’s travelog.

  23. #23 Natalie
    January 29, 2008

    What, no one mentions Fahrfegneugen? (Is that even how you spell it?)

  24. #24 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    There must be a lot of latin words or phrases we use all the time. Would those meet your criteria? How about deus ex machina, or angst?
    Angst or anguish is a Germanic word for fear or anxiety. It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of emotional strife. In German, it is the fear of possible suffering and a behavior resulting from uncertainty and strain which is caused by pain, loss, and death. The term Angst distinguishes itself from the word Furcht (German for “fear”) in that Furcht usually refers to a material threat (arranged fear), while Angst is usually a nondirectional emotion.

    In other languages having the meaning of the Latin word anxietas and pavor, the derived words differ in meaning, e.g as in the French anxieté and peur.

    The word Angst has existed since the 8th century, coming from the base-Indoeuropean *anghu-, “restraint” from which Old High German angust develops. It is pre-cognate with the Latin angustia, “tensity, tightness” and angor, “choking, clogging”; compare to the Greek “?????” (ankhos): stress.

  25. #25 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    je ne sais quoi
    Je ne sais quoi
    PRONUNCIATION: zh n s kwä, s
    NOUN: A quality or attribute that is difficult to describe or express: “Fishing has lacked a certain je ne sais quoi in terms of its public image, as all activities must that involve beer, worms and one-size-fits-all gimme caps” (Charles Leerhsen).
    ETYMOLOGY: French : je, I + ne, not + sais, first person present indicative of savoir, to know + quoi, what.

  26. #26 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    You do realize my brain is constantly filtering words through my brain to see if I can up with any new words. Rather like trying to not think of one persistent song clogging up your neurons.
    A doppelgänger (pronunciation (help·info)) or fetch is the ghostly double of a living person, a sinister form of bilocation.

    In the vernacular, “Doppelgänger” has come to refer (as in German) to any double or look-alike of a person—most commonly an “evil twin”. The literal translation of the German word is “doublewalker”, meaning someone who is acting (e.g. walking) the same way as another person. The word is also used to describe the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection. They are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person’s friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one’s own doppelgänger is an omen of death. In Norse mythology, a vardøger is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance.

  27. #27 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    Got another phrase. Evey good cook will eventually think of this one. There is no English equivalent I know of.

    Mise en place (pronounced [miz???plas], literally “set in place”) is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as “everything in place”. It is used in U.S. kitchens to refer to the ingredients, such as cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components that a cook requires for the menu items that they expect to prepare during their shift.[1]

    Recipes are reviewed, to check for necessary ingredients and equipment. Ingredients are measured out, washed, chopped and placed in individual bowls. Equipment such as spatulas and blenders are prepared for use, while ovens are preheated. Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints. Also refers to the preparation and layouts that are set up and used by line cooks at their stations in a commercial or restaurant kitchen.

    The concept of having everything in its place as applied to the work in a kitchen likely became a staple around the time of Auguste Escoffier[citation needed], who is well known for his development of the brigade system of running a kitchen.

  28. #28 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    Kowtow. I can think of a couple of rather crude terms that come close to this. Brown nose being one.

    Kowtow came into English in the early 19th century to describe the bow itself, but its meaning soon shifted to describe any abject submission or grovelling. Many Westerners who first encountered the practice believed it was a sign of worship, but kowtowing does not necessarily have religious overtones in traditional Chinese culture.

  29. #29 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    I hope your eyes are getting tired. I can’t shut my brain off.

    Noun 1. shmooze – (Yiddish) a warm heart-to-heart talk
    Yiddish – a dialect of High German including some Hebrew and other words; spoken in Europe as a vernacular by many Jews; written in the Hebrew script
    talk, talking – an exchange of ideas via conversation; “let’s have more work and less talk around here”
    Verb 1. shmooze – talk idly or casually and in a friendly way
    jawbone, schmoose, schmooze, shmoose
    chew the fat, chit-chat, chitchat, claver, confab, jaw, natter, shoot the breeze, chat, chaffer, confabulate, gossip, chatter, visit – talk socially without exchanging too much information; “the men were sitting in the cafe and shooting the breeze”

  30. #30 Shannon
    January 29, 2008

    I had a dear friend who used to say plonk for cheap wine.
    Gone now but not forgotten. She was an army nurse and was stationed in Europe during WWII. Now I am glad you brought her to mind…..you are forgiven. LOL

    plonk: excl.,vt.
    [Usenet: possibly influenced by British slang ‘plonk’ for cheap booze, or ‘plonker’ for someone behaving stupidly (latter is lit. equivalent to Yiddish schmuck)] The sound a newbie makes as he falls to the bottom of a kill file. While it originated in the newsgroup talk.bizarre, this term (usually written “*plonk*”) is now (1994) widespread on Usenet as a form of public ridicule.

  31. #31 Shannon
    January 30, 2008

    dé·clas·sé (dklä-s)
    1. Lowered in class, rank, or social position.
    2. Lacking high station or birth; of inferior social status.


    [French, past participle of déclasser, to lower in class : dé-, down (from Latin d-; see de-) + classe, class; see class.]

  32. #32 Christine
    January 30, 2008

    Chez, From French meaning “at the house of…”
    A raconteur, French again meaning a story teller.
    A voyeur or voyeurism , The idea that you are looking at something private that you shouldn’t be looking at.
    Triage is directly from French. I saw that used alot around the events of Katrina I think. It means “to sort through” in the verb form, Trier, Triage being the noun form.
    Going the other way, English is loaded with phrasal verbs that can be translated by one word in other languages.
    EX; to get up, to wake up, to get dressed…

  33. #33 Peter Lund
    January 30, 2008

    “Millimeterretfærdighed” and “millimeterdemokrati”, two Danish words, the first of which describes a too precise and measured justice and the second of which describes a too precise and measured influence of several (too many) participants who all want to have their say, in both cases usually leading to a worse result and taking much longer to reach than a less perfect balance would.

    PS: It would be nice of scienceblogs.com knew how to treat UTF-8 properly 🙁

  34. #34 Luna_the_cat
    January 30, 2008

    Yiddish again: kibitz, to give meddlesome and unwanted advice, as someone not directly involved in something. I tend to use it in a broader sense, looking over the shoulder of someone doing something and annoying them with comments.

    And schmuck — originally Polish smok for snake, migrated into Yiddish as schmok, “penis”, and is now used colloquially as something like “obnxious, contemptible, clumsy idiot”. Heh.

    A couple of people have already mentioned “schmooze” — but what about kvetch? To complain constantly, to be whiny.

    And best of all, chutzpah — sheer audacity, unmitigated gall, but it carries such wonderful simultaneous connotations of outraged anger at and some admiration for the person who has demonstrated it….From the online Etymology Dictionary, “The classic definition is that given by Leo Rosten: ‘that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.'”

  35. #35 K
    January 30, 2008

    Luna – I forgot chutzpah – truly a great work

  36. #36 HP
    January 30, 2008

    I’m looking not just for loan words but words from non English languages expressing things English can’t.

    I think that’s a distinction without a difference. Once a word starts being used by English speakers, it becomes part of English, and therefore English is perfectly capable of expressing whatever that word describes.

    After all, there’s no Anglo-Saxon way to say “kangaroo” or “raccoon,” but we don’t marvel at words like those — a kangaroo is called a kangaroo because that’s what it’s called.

    Why should we think of words like mitzvah or shadenfreude any differently than we think of kangaroo or raccoon?

    It’s not quite pertinent to this discussion, but I’m reminded of this quote from James Nicoll:

    “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

  37. #37 revere
    January 30, 2008

    HP: A point of view. But it is a distinction, even if you don’t recognize the difference.

  38. #38 irvin
    January 30, 2008

    There are several Japanese words and phrases that are like this for me. In certain settings, they fit so perfectly, while English fails to offer any substantial competition.

    “otsukaresama,” for instance — said when one wants to express acknowledgment of someone else’s hard work or tribulations. Literally, its meaning is in the neighborhood of “you are/were/must be beat”.

    also “natsukashii” — structurally, it’s an adjective. In terms of usage, it’s said (frequently sighed) when expressing a sense of nostalgia or fondness for times gone by.

    or “shimatta” — a relatively benign expletive of sorts that can suitably express chagrin and frustration in a beautifully wide range of situations.

    None are in common use in English. But I am confident that Japanese speakers will relate!

  39. #39 Bill Snedden
    January 30, 2008

    It’s not a word that has crept into the mainstream lexicon, but Eudaimonia is a Greek work that one finds in philosophical usage because the concept is essential to many ethical theories and yet there seems to be no simple English translation.

    From the roots Eu meaning “good” or “well-being” and daimon meaning “spirit”, it’s most often translated as “happiness”, but that fails to capture the teleological implications. “Human flourishing” perhaps comes closest as an English translation, but given the Aristotelian account, that would seem to fall somewhat short…

  40. #40 Interrobang
    January 30, 2008

    I have been known to use the word hiraeth, which is Welsh, and refers to being homesick for a place you’ve never been, although not in a sort of “nostalgia for an age that never existed” sort of way.

    I also like the word peelie-wallie, which is either Scots Gaelic or Broad Scots, and I got it from my mother, who uses it as part of her normal idiolect. (She also says “it gars me grue,” which means “it disgusts me,” “it grosses me out,” more or less.) Peelie-wallie means “green around the gills,” approximately.

    I have a couple of Hebrew terms in my idiolect that I got from my Israeli friend. One is rigshi, which means high-strung and overemotional in a neurotic kind of way, and the other is protektziya (which comes from Russian, although I gather it doesn’t have quite the same meaning there), which has the same basic meaning as “protection” (in the “racket” sense of the term), but more refers to a person whom you know who can get things done for you, up to and including moderately shady things. It’s sort of like nepotism, without the insinuation of familial connection. I told my friend that when I come to visit him, he has to be my protektziya and take care of me to make sure I don’t get in any trouble unwittingly…

  41. #41 Luna_the_cat
    January 30, 2008

    Huh, now that’s an interesting usage of peelie-wallie, Interrobang. I live near Aberdeen, and here peelie-wallie means weak or substance-less; as in “the coffee’s a bit peelie-wallie today; it’s like brown water. Did whoever made it actually put any coffee in the filter, or did they just rely on the flavor in the coffee maker?”

  42. #42 Martijn ter Haar
    January 30, 2008

    ‘Gedogen’ is a Dutch word that’s hard to translate to English. It’s a verb that means ‘to allow something which is technically forbidden’. Like our well known coffeeshops 😉

    English has a few more that I can think of that have no good equivalent in Dutch. E.g. there’s no word for ‘siblings’, so on forms it becomes the rather cumbersome ‘broers en/of zussen’. ‘Mind’ is another one. It can be translated with ‘geest’, but that also can mean ‘soul’. A ‘neef’ is either a ‘nephew’ or a ‘coursin’ and and ‘if’ and ‘when’ are both ‘als’.

  43. #43 tendrel
    January 30, 2008

    I love the book “They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words & Phrases” by Howard Rheingold. It is a whole book of what you seek. I don’t have it on hand, or I would share some of it. In fact, I think I loaned it out. OOPs! anyway, it is a fun book to have around with groups.
    Oh, I do recall my favorite from it, Mokita = “truth we all know but agree not to talk about.” in Kivila language from Papua New Guinea. that’s a great one for our times, don’t you think?

    jen aka tendrel

  44. #44 Shannon
    January 30, 2008

    Mokita = “truth we all know but agree not to talk about.”

    I like it, concise! The elephant in the living room. I have a new word for my lexicon.

  45. #45 attack rate
    January 30, 2008

    Since moving to New Zealand I have learned several Maori words that relate to concepts I find useful, but don’t have an english equivalent.

    Whanau (pronounced approximately “far-noe”) – refers to a concept of the extended family and community that support a person

    Mana – this is a very difficult concept for me to explain… kind of like inherent prestige and personal power or worth – you inherit it at birth, and it is influenced by your deeds and those of your whanau.

    Many others but I am limited for time at present

  46. #46 luis
    January 30, 2008

    The word sounds and means as spanish verb ESQUIVAR (to elude )
    ESQUIVA (elusive) The U after a Q is not pronounced maybe Ladino variant of that word
    All the best,Luis

  47. #47 caia
    January 30, 2008

    HP — That’s a funny quote. Two questions, though. 1) What’s a cribhouse? (dictionary.com doesn’t know), and 2) People try to defend the purity of the English language?!

    Interrobang, hiraeth is a great word. It’s a feeling I well relate to. I’ll try to remember it. As is mokita, tendrel.

    Tangentially related: a book called The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams. It takes real but underused words, and assigns them to things we don’t have words for. So now there’s a word for the feeling of sitting down on a warm toilet seat (though I don’t remember it at the moment). My only dispute with the book is that some of the words are only underused in England; IIRC, he gives Massachusetts some other meaning, but that’s like giving another meaning to Suffolk or something. :p

  48. #48 Alistair Wall
    January 30, 2008

    Caia – All the words in The Meaning of Liff are place names, including Liff.

    Woking – standing in the kitchen wondering what you came in for

  49. #49 Luna_the_cat
    January 30, 2008

    Caia — A “cribhouse” is the cheapest, nastiest kind of brothel; the girls don’t have rooms, they have only a sort of hole-in-the-wall bed, that’s the “crib”. (Actually, “crib” started out meaning brothel in Old English.) And the people who try to defend the purity of the English language — the Grammar Nazis, like copyeditors on steroids. Are you telling me you’ve never run across one of these????

  50. #50 caia
    January 30, 2008

    Alistair — are they? Whoops, my face is red.

    Luna — Thanks! And, sure, I’ve run across “grammar Nazis” (I dislike the term), but there’s a difference between correct usage and being opposed to adopting foreign words. I’m not excruciatingly correct, but I do get annoyed at people who seem to think all similar-sounding polysyllabic words are interchangeable. Still, I have no problem adopting foreign words. So I will complain that a coup d’etat is not the same thing a coup de grace. (And please excuse the lack of accents.)

  51. #51 Van
    January 30, 2008

    Gesundheit. Many people expect you to say something when they sneeze, but I dislike the superstitious origin of “Bless you!”, i.e. the notion that a sneeze means an evil spirit is trying to inhabit the body. The German courtesy, Gesundheit, simply means “Good health”, and practically everyone recognizes it as a rough equivalent, so I can use it without feeling like a moron, and don’t need to explain myself.

  52. #52 Shannon
    January 31, 2008

    A diva is a great female opera singer, a prima donna, such as Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Maria Callas or Kiri te Kanawa.

    However, the term is now also used to refer to an outstanding popular female performer of non-operatic works, such as Whitney Houston, Madonna, Patti Labelle, Cher, Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, and Aretha Franklin, who are often referred to as divas due to their success and talent.

    Also, some prominent women adored in gay male pop culture are referred to as divas, such as Kathy Griffin, Joy Behar, and Joan Rivers.

    The term was originally used to describe a woman of rare, outstanding talent. It derives from the Italian word ‘divina’, meaning “divine” (feminine form), which, in turn, derives from the feminine form of the Latin word divus/diva, meaning “divine one.” TIME magazine observed in its October 21, 2002 issue: “By definition, a diva was originally used for great female opera singers, almost always sopranos.”

  53. #53 marquer
    January 31, 2008

    Three words from Russian of the Soviet era which I find having come increasingly into my own lexicon to describe contemporary American affairs:





    I don’t expect to be reducing my reliance upon any of these three words any time soon.

  54. #54 marquer
    January 31, 2008

    I should append to the comments above this note.

    While travelling abroad recently, I found myself in a discussion with a European citizen about the combined lack of humor and lack of competence displayed by contemporary American federal officialdom.

    I said, “You realize the tremendous historical irony here, of America having triumphed in the Cold War over the Soviet Union, only in the end to become it.”

    He laughed. But not very much.

  55. #55 Luna_the_cat
    January 31, 2008

    Caia — fair point about the difference between defending usage and resisting the importation of words. I think that the line gets blurred, though, in English — we don’t just acquire words from other languages, we change our original words to unholy hybrids of usage sometimes, too. Consider the now-innocuous Spanglish “No problemo!” or the more jarring Spanglish “No hangear!” (“Don’t hang out here!”) Then there is the legitimisation of Ebonics, and seriously, no, I do NOT think that it is a legitimate dialect in which to teach kids, and I admit that my own uptight-defend-the-purity-of-English instincts come roaring to the fore, there. And then of course there is the somewhat problematic evolution of words within the language itself so that incorrect words or word usage become correct and accepted (cf. “orientate” for orient, e.g. “She needs to get orientated before she can settle into her office,”; or “pressurize” for pressure, e.g. “He feels he’s been pressurized into making that decision.”). It’s not so clear cut as just adopting words from different languages, it’s about usage and the adoption of false cognates as well.

    The two camps seem to be the “keep English correct!” camp and the “let language evolve naturally!” camp.

  56. #56 Natalie
    January 31, 2008

    I know that it doesn’t quite fit because it doesn’t come from a real language, but what about “grok”?

  57. #57 Shannon
    February 1, 2008

    An agent provocateur (plural: agents provocateur, French for “inciting agent”) is a person who secretly disrupts a group’s activities from within the group. Agents provocateurs typically represent the interests of another group, or are agents directly assigned to provoke unrest, violence, debate, or argument by or within a group while acting as a member of the group.

  58. #58 Shannon
    February 1, 2008

    Détente is a French term, meaning a relaxing or easing; the term has been used in international politics since the early 1970s. Generally, it may be applied to any international situation where previously hostile nations not involved in an open war de-escalate tensions through diplomacy and confidence building measures. However, it is primarily used in reference to the general reduction in the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and a thawing of the Cold War, occurring from the late 1960s until the start of the 1980s. In the Soviet Union, détente was known as “razryadka” (????????).

  59. #59 Shannon
    February 1, 2008

    dilettante 1. a person who takes up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, esp. in a desultory or superficial way; dabbler.
    2. a lover of an art or science, esp. of a fine art.
    –adjective 3. of or pertaining to dilettantes.

  60. #60 Victoria
    March 12, 2010

    Darling, mitzvah is Hebrew – mitzvot is plural – it’s the Law proscribed in the Hebrew Scriptures – bar mitzvah means “son of the Law.” MitzVEH is Yiddish for good deed, derived from mitzvah, obviously.

  61. #61 Joanie
    May 23, 2011

    When I was a little kid (now I am 74)I always wanted to go outside and play with the other kids, My aunt would not let me, she always said I would be a “street rutch” like them. I always thought it meant rowdy and no good for nothing? What does it mean? I am from Pa. dutch country

  62. #62 Leora
    July 2, 2013

    Saudade – “the love that remains after someone is gone” – a deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return (Brazilian Portuguese)

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