By Jeff Salter
We’re studying foreign phrases this week and after Janette’s list on Tuesday, I didn’t think I had anything to add.
Then I remembered a phrase my Dad used to say, occasionally: comme ci comme ça. Of course, as a youngster, I thought he was saying, “Come see, come saw” — which made no sense at all. Later I learned it means (literally) “like this, like that”. My Internet sources varied, but I think it’s French [though some say it’s Spanish, adapted from French]. Colloquially, it means “either way” or “so-so” or “neither good nor bad”. Or, to translate it to an expression I often hear these days, “six of one, half dozen of another”.
About the only foreign expression I use often is geshundheit … in response to a sneeze. The literal German translation is supposedly “good health” … but for many years I thought it meant “bless you” (which is what most Americans say when somebody sneezes). Interestingly, the other day a friend sneezed and I said “geshundheit” — to which she replied, “My goodness, I haven’t heard that in years! Everybody says ‘bless you’ these days.”
I don’t use these, but I think they’re cool
Here are a few expressions I don’t actually use, but I think it would be cool to find myself in a situation (or proper context) within which it would sound normal.
Just as ALOHA supposedly can be used interchangeably for “hello” or “goodbye” — CIAO (Italian) can be used for either. I like the economy of having one word with two opposite applications. I suppose if you’re walking backwards at the moment, it could be confusing!
I don’t know if this occurs in real life (in Italy) but in movies, when Italians answer the phone, they often say, “PRONTO.” It does not seem to directly correlate to my use of “hello” — it seems more to indicate, “proceed”. [Though in American parlance, it seems to mean, “hurry”.] Conversely, when you’re through with that phone conversation (in Italy) – at least in the movies – you may find yourself saying, “Ciao.”
Also in Italian use (so say the movies), when somebody knocks at your door, you might respond, “AVANTI.” Its literal translation seems to be something along the lines of “ahead” or “forward” … but colloquially it seems to mean “enter”.
One more Italian word before I shift gears. Before PREGO was a spaghetti sauce, it was an Italian word meaning, “it matters little” or something to that effect. Though its colloquial application would compare to my use of the words, “you’re welcome.”
Doris Day’s Spanish Philosophy
Popularized (in the U.S.) after the Hitchcock movie, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” – the remake with James Stewart – this expression entered my consciousness with Doris Day’s solo, “Qué Será Será.” Frankly, I was sick of the song, which she sang a full THREE times in that movie, but I was intrigued by the expression. Miss Day translated it in the song as “what will be, will be,” but I don’t think that’s the exact literal translation (though close enough). But I remember asking my Mom what did THAT (“what will be, will be”) mean? To a grade school kid, it’s a bit vague. My Mom said it meant “whatever is going to happen will happen, so don’t worry about it.” Not sure how accurate that is, but I can see why Miss Day shortened it — would have ruined the flow of her melody.
Pardon My French
This really isn’t a foreign expression, of course, but it tickles my fancy because it almost NEVER refers to anything French, unless you were saying, “merde” or something similar. As everyone knows, “pardon my French” actually means, “I’m about to use a cuss word, so don’t be shocked.”
What foreign words or phrases do you use? Which ones do you find particular appealing? Particularly offensive?