21 interesting, useful or funny foreign phrases

Stephen says:

1. Popty ping

Welsh for microwave.

Jeremy Powers says:

2. Kaput

broken glasses

Even in China they knew what that meant. Very handy when things break. Bring a pair of broken glasses into a optomitrist is Nepal and show them and say “kaput.” They’ll realize they’re broken and you need help.

Andrew Johnson says:

3. Damit

I agree with Einstein that the most expressive word in German is “damit” (“with it”), but their various words related to travel and direction are just as good–e.g.,

4. Ausfahrt


German for “exit” and..

5. Rundfahrt


German for tours.

John says:

6. Come lo faceva la mama

Come lo faceva la mama

Italiano for “Just like mother used to make!” Always makes the waiter or waitress smile.

Craig Hamilton says:

7. Handy


German for “cell phone.” It just makes so much sense!

Patrick Milligan says:

8. Je ne parle pas francais

Je ne parle pas francais

My favorite phrase was “je ne parle pas francais” or “I don’t speak French”. It got me through France in the bad old days of the 60′s, when all of the French could speak english, but would not. But even my “je ne parl” showed them that I was making some effort to speak in their language. Melted the ice.

Nancy Davis says:

9. Francobolli


I love to go to the post office in Italy so I can buy some francobolli (stamps), my favorite Italian word!

Mike says:

10. Je ne sais pas

Je ne sais pas

“Je ne sais pas.” (French for ‘I don’t know’) My daughter and I have shortened it to “pah”, to go along with our shortening of Louisville to “Luh” and New Orleans to “Nuh”. The fact that my wife rolls her eyes whenever either of us does any the above adds to the pleasure.

Leigh Shepherd says:

11. Je parle un petit, tres mauvais Francais.

Je parle un petit, tres mauvais Francais

(I speak a little very bad French.) Always got them laughing and speaking English.

Mike says:

12. Vasanesoume


In Greek it means “we are being tortured”!

Bob Holman says:

13. Pronto

Pronto means hello when you answer the phone in Italy.

Bob Brisson says:

14. Sawat Dee Kup

My favorite is ‘Sawat Dee Kup’. Traditional Thai greeting makes everyone smile!

Wilbur E. Anderson says:

15. Varum nicht in dem luft gehen

German for “go fly a kite” – or as we might say- go jump in the lake.

Auke Hart says:

16. Drempel


“Drempel” a Dutch word (pronounced like “Dremel” with a p) such a pretty word for a bump in the road. Note, Dremel is an electric screwdriver.

Simon says:

17. Der Schmetterling

Der Schmetterling

The German word for “butterfly.” After hearing the Spanish “la mariposa,” (which aptly describes it as it’s resting on a leaf) or the French “le papillon” (which aptly describes it as it flits across the sky), the German word is, “der Schmetterling” (which aptly describes a pterodactyl, or perhaps one of those mechanical wind-up birds you see being sold on the streets).

Eleanor Kohn says:

18. Fauteil


I love saying “fauteil” which means armchair in French. It is a hard word to work into the conversation, so I was excited on my last trip to France when I got an opportunity to say “fauteil” in a normal context. I have loved this word since learning it in junior High French class.

julie says:

19. Vaya con Dios

Vaya Con Dios

Spanish – Go with God

Martha says:

20. Ti kabicha

“Ti kabicha”–pronounced tee cab ee sha–is a nap or snooze in Haitian Creole. The combination of the sound of the words plus the meaning amuses me. Who knows why….

Christine says:

21. Dugnad

My husband and I had dinner one night on a cruise ship with the Norwegian captain. He described a philosophy of “dugnad” (doog-nod) meaning “voluntary community service, or the cultural standard of giving something of your time and talents to the greater good” in Norway. I found the word pleasing to say, and the meaning equally satisfying.

Got an interesting word or phrase? Add it as a comment below…

12 thoughts on “21 interesting, useful or funny foreign phrases

  1. Mep

    Chueco. (pronounced chwaiko) In Mexico this means broken or twisted. I love the sound of it.

  2. john condon

    My entire career was spent in global telecoms. I traveled all over the world many times. One amusing incident which happened in Germany may raise a chuckle among other well traveled Mobal users. At a rather formal reception one evening in Frankfurt I was greeted by a Prussian looking German telecom official thus:
    a Prussian style click of heels followed by a stiff bow and the words: “Hoffman, Deutsche Telekom”, to which I responded: “Condon, FBI”.
    He looked somewhat startled not to mention nonplussed.
    “FBI, Ja?” Ja! I replied, except in my case it means ‘Full Blooded Irish’.
    After a moment’s consternation his features cleared and announced
    “Ah! you make a joke! which in Germanic English came out as:
    Ah! you make a yoke!. It sure broke the ice on that occasion.

  3. Alfredo Núñez

    I am a native Spanish speaker and have lived in 3 Hispanic countries. I HAVE NEVER EVER HEARD ANYONE UTTER VAYA CON DIOS. except in Hollywood movies and by Americans who think we all go around saying it!

  4. Silvia

    “Varum nicht in dem luft gehen” — I don’t know who taught you that, but it’s wrong. It actually is spelled “Warum nicht in DIE Luft gehen?” (phonetic: varum nicht in dee luft gayen) and it means “why not blow up?”

  5. Wilbur E. Anderson

    Better be careful with #14, Sawat De Kup, You use Kup or Ka ti express genter of speaker, use the wrong one and you will really get them laughing.

  6. Mardav

    My favorite French one is faites attention. It should be said with a menacing glare and it means “watch out” or “be careful.”

  7. Mardav

    A-BEE gez-UNT (abbe gezundt)…. it’s Yiddish for “So it goes”, “you should be well”, “as long as you’re ok with it.”

  8. David

    “Me dispiace” translates from Italian as “sorry,” but it expresses much more. It is like saying “I am in despair” for what I have done. This always produces equal concern in the person addressed. Which makes him/her want to reassure you and guarantees that, soon, all will be well.

  9. BL

    Regarding No. 14: “Sawat Dee Kup”, it’s important to remember that this phrase is for a male speaker. If you’re female, you would say, “Sawat Dee Ka”…

    …or you could stick with “Sawat Dee Kup” just to illicit some smiles!

  10. Mark Pedersen

    Fregatura – means “rip off” in Italian, especially applicable to taxi fares for foreigner.

  11. Dola Morgan

    io non capisco italiano… tu parla englese? Which means don’t understand italian… do you speak english? Got me thru italy several times.

  12. Stephen

    Ma belly’s touchin’ ma back!

    Means “Hungry” in Barbados!

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