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
Maternal grandfather (commonly used in Taiwan)
Maternal grandmother (commonly used in Taiwan)
A term of endearment. Literally means “precious” or “treasure.”
Gōng fu chá
Hěn hǎo hē
Mmm, that’s delicious (literally, “very good to drink”)
Fried dumplings / potstickers
Lǔ ròu fàn
Braised pork belly served over rice (a beloved Taiwanese comfort food)
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
Persian Words & Phrases
Sour or tart cherries.
I love you
A drugstore that sells traditional Persian medicinal herbs, plant essences, spices, soaps and shampoos.
A term of endearment. Literally means “my dear.”
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.
Delam baraat tang shodeh
I miss you (literally, “my heart has become tight for you”)
A stew made with lamb, tomatoes, yellow split peas, onion, and dried lime. Usually served over rice.
Goodbye (literally, “I’ll sacrifice myself for you”)
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.
Usually refers to a maternal aunt, but can also be used for a close family friend (like Khaleh Yasmin in the books).
A generic term for stew, often comprised of vegetables, herbs, beans and/or meat.
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.
No way / absolutely not! (Used when you want to really emphasize the “no.”)
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.
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.
The “Book of Kings”: an epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi that is hugely important in Iranian culture.
Saffron rice pudding.
A mythical phoenix-like bird.
The 13th day of Nowruz. Typically spent outdoors, picnicking and enjoying nature.
A thin crust of slightly browned rice that forms at the bottom of the cooking pot. The tahdig is a crucial (and highly coveted!) component of Persian rice.
Spanish Words & Phrases
Farmer / peasant
How are you?
Do you speak Spanish?
Colloquial term for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Colloquial term for mother
Mi casa es su casa
Make yourself at home (literally, “my house is your house”)
Colloquial term for father
Just a second (literally, “one moment”)
Usted me puede dar el trabajo?
Can you give me the job?
Yiddish Words & Phrases