Glossary

Introduction

I learned a bit of Mandarin before taking my first trip to Taiwan, and have been studying Persian and Spanish more recently. Learning a new language can give a deeper understanding and appreciation for cultural nuances… and it’s also an excellent lesson in humility! Far be it from this beginner to teach you much of anything about these rich and beautiful languages, but the glossary below includes some of the words and phrases that come up in this series.

A few general notes:

  • I made the stylistic decision not to italicize the non-English words within the books. While this is a matter of debate, it felt more true to my multilingual characters, who can slip effortlessly between languages.
  • I generally use the term “Persian” instead of “Farsi” to describe the language spoken by the characters of Iranian descent. This is because Farsi is what it’s called in the language itself, so saying, “I speak Farsi” in English is kind of like saying “I speak Deutsch” instead of “I speak German.” (For a more expert look at these various nuances, as well as the Persian vs. Iranian conundrum that I didn’t even touch on here, check out this excellent blog post).

Jump to a Language

Mandarin Words & Phrases

Ah-gong

Maternal grandfather (commonly used in Taiwan)

Ah-ma

Maternal grandmother (commonly used in Taiwan)

Bǎo bèi

A term of endearment. Literally means “precious” or “treasure.”

Gōng fu chá

Carefully brewing Chinese tea with great skill. Watch a demonstration here!

Hěn hǎo

Very good

Hěn hǎo hē

Mmm, that’s delicious (literally, “very good to drink”)

Jiǎo zi

Fried dumplings / potstickers

Lǔ ròu fàn

Braised pork belly served over rice (a beloved Taiwanese comfort food)

Lu Yu

A Chinese tea master who lived from 733-804 CE and authored the first definitive work on cultivating, making, and drinking tea.

Wǒ ài nǐ

I love you

Xīn nián kuài lè

Happy New Year!

Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn

Good luck

Persian Words & Phrases

Albaloo

Sour or tart cherries.

Areh

Yes

Asheghetam

I love you

Attari

A drugstore that sells traditional Persian medicinal herbs, plant essences, spices, soaps and shampoos.

Azizam

A term of endearment. Literally means “my dear.”

Baba

The colloquial Persian term for “father” (equivalent to “dad”). 

Chahar Shanbeh Suri

The festival that kicks off Nowruz on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year. The activities usually involve lots of pyrotechnics and fire-jumping, in accordance with the holiday’s Zoroastrian roots.

Chai nabaat

Tea sweetened with rock sugar, a traditional cure-all home remedy.

Delam baraat tang shodeh

I miss you (literally, “my heart has become tight for you”)

Gheimeh polo

A stew made with lamb, tomatoes, yellow split peas, onion, and dried lime. Usually served over rice.

Ghorbanet beram

Goodbye (literally, “I’ll sacrifice myself for you”)

Jaan

This appears quite often as an addition to a name, as in “Roya-jaan.” While it literally means “soul/spirit/life,” it can be translated as “dear”—it’s a term of endearment and affection. You may also see it written as “joon,” but it’s often pronounced as “jaan” when spoken (see this great blog post for more info on this term). I went back and forth about how to best transliterate it, finally settling on “jaan” since this most clearly illustrates the pronunciation.

Joojeh kebab

Literally means “grilled chicken.” This popular dish usually consists of chicken marinated in a mixture of yogurt, saffron, turmeric, and citrus juice, but check out my blog for a vegan version!

Khaleh

Usually refers to a maternal aunt, but can also be used for a close family friend (like Khaleh Yasmin in the books). 

Kheyli khoshgel

Very beautiful

Khoresht

A generic term for stew, often comprised of vegetables, herbs, beans and/or meat.

Khosh amadid

Welcome

Maman

The colloquial Persian term for “mother” (equivalent to “mom”). The term is also used in French, of course, but in Persian it’s pronounced pretty much exactly how it looks, with an enunciated “n” at the end.

Merci

Thank you

Mordad

The fifth month in the Iranian calendar (from late July to late August, roughly aligning with the zodiac sign Leo).

Nah deegeh

No way / absolutely not! (Used when you want to really emphasize the “no.”)

Nowruz

Persian New Year, celebrated on the spring equinox. The Nowruz festivities stretch over a period of several weeks and involve feasting, spring cleaning, and visiting family.

Sabzi

Green vegetables or herbs. Persian meals are often served with a sabzi plate containing radishes, walnuts, and plenty of fresh herbs like mint, basil, cilantro, parsley, scallions, tarragon, dill, and chives.

Shab-e Yalda

Yalda night, celebrated on winter solstice. Red fruits like pomegranates and watermelons are part of the traditional spread for this holiday, as they are said to boost the immune system and symbolize rebirth.

Shahnameh

The “Book of Kings”: an epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi that is hugely important in Iranian culture.

Sholeh zard

Saffron rice pudding.

Simorgh

A mythical phoenix-like bird.

Sizdah Bedar

The 13th day of Nowruz. Typically spent outdoors, picnicking and enjoying nature.

Sobh bekheir

Good morning

Sonbol-eh tib

Valerian root.

Torshi

Pickled vegetables. 

Spanish Words & Phrases

Absolutamente

Definitely

Buenos días

Good morning

Campesino

Farmer / peasant

Cómo estás?

How are you?

Gracias

Thank you

Habla español?

Do you speak Spanish?

Hola

Hello

La migra

Colloquial term for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Lo siento

I’m sorry

Mami

Colloquial term for mother

Mi casa es su casa

Make yourself at home (literally, “my house is your house”)

Papi

Colloquial term for father

Yes

Tío

Uncle

Uno momento

Just a second (literally, “one moment”)

Usted me puede dar el trabajo?

Can you give me the job?

Yiddish Words & Phrases

Zei gezunt

Be well

Zetik

Nourishing, satisfying