Updated: 12 December 2018
They say Farsi shekar ast (Persian is sugar [sweet]), and with good reason. The lyrical and emotional nature of the language lends itself well to poetry and adds a splash of color to everyday spoken Persian. Where the expression doesn’t exist or sounds ordinary in English, it’s absolute lyric poetry in Persian. So without further ado, here are 18 poetic Persian phrases I wish English had, not just for their beauty but for the meanings they convey as well.
Literally: Let me circle around you.
Meaning: You love someone so much and would do anything for them. You’ll just circle around them and attend to their constant beck and call.
Gol posht o ru nadâreh
Literally: A flower has no front or back
Meaning: It’s no problem [that your back is to me.]
How to use it: In Iran, it’s rude to turn your back to someone. Even in a situation where you have no choice (like if you’re riding shotgun in the car), you should apologize. The person sitting behind you will say gol posht o ru nadâreh, implying that they aren’t offended that they are staring at the back of your head because like a flower, you’re beautiful all around. Taarof is brilliant, isn’t it?
Literally: May it be sacrificed for your head (Your head is much more valuable than whatever “it” may be.)
Meaning: Don’t worry about it. / Forget about it.
How to use it: You wrecked your dad’s car and are afraid he’ll get mad. Instead, he says, “Fadâye saret! You’re ok, that’s all that matters.” Or you’re a guest in someone’s house and break a vase. You feel awful. “Fadâye saret! I didn’t like that vase anyway,” they reassure you.
Literally: Don’t be tired.
Meaning: A greeting and a way to recognize and appreciate a person’s hard work.
How to use it: Use it as a greeting alone or in combination with salaam. Say it when you walk into a store, sit in a taxi, or generally any other time someone is working or just completed some sort of work. The reply is salâmat bâshid (may you be healthy). You will hear this one Every. Single. Day. in Iran. Learn it. Learn it now.
(Many Iranians think that by saying khaste nabâshid, you’re implying that the person is tired, and that’s negative. So some people prefer the phrase khodâ ghovat (May God give you strength/power [in your daily life]).
Bol bol zabuni [kardan]
Literally: Nightingale talking
Meaning: Sweet talking
How to use it: This expression collocates with the verb kardan, as in bol bol zabuni mikoni? (Are you trying to sweet talk me?)
Che daste gol be âb dâdi?
Literally: What flower bouquet did you give to the water?
Meaning: What did you do wrong? / What did you mess up?
The story behind this idiom has some character variations, but it basically goes like this: There was a young man who had a reputation for causing bad things to happen. One day, he fell in love with a girl (and she with him), but because her family knew of his bad luck, they didn’t agree to the marriage. She got engaged to someone else, and the heartbroken man left town to avoid seeing their wedding. Along the way, he picked a bunch of flowers and then threw them all in the river. Further down were some children playing. When they caught sight of the flowers, one of them, a close relative of the bride, tried to grab them. Instead, she fell into the river and drowned. Her body was recovered and given to the family, and the wedding turned into a funeral. Days later, unaware of what had happened, the young man returned to the village and heard locals still whispering about the unfortunate incident. When he caught wind of the news, the man confessed what he had unintentionally done, and the villagers responded, “So you’re the one who gave the flower bouquet to the water.”
Jân / Jânam
Literally: Life / Soul / My soul
How to use it: The word jân has many different meanings and uses. One of them is “what?” or “I beg your pardon?” when you didn’t catch what someone said and need them to repeat. My life/soul? So much sweeter in Persian.
Jâye shomâ khâli
Literally: You’re place was empty.
Meaning: Wish you were here.
How to use it: Iranians can’t go anywhere without mentioning that someone’s place is empty. You go to a cafe with two of your besties, but another couldn’t make it. Jâsh khâli (Her place is empty.) It’s like metaphorically leaving an empty place for someone as if they are there in spirit.
Though often sincere, it wouldn’t be truly Persian if it couldn’t also be used as taarof. For example, you go to a wedding, and your friend later asks how it was. “It was great, jât khâli.” This friend may not even know the happy couple, but you say this to be polite so your friend doesn’t feel bad for missing out. The friend would respond, “Doostân be jâye mâ,” (Friends were in our place instead.) See how that’s taarof?
Literally: May their place be green
Meaning: This is similar to the expression above, only it’s for when someone has left. For example, your parents visit you for the weekend, and when they leave, others tell you jâshun sabz. It symbolizes a new positive growth in the place of the person who has left.
Alternatively, you can say, Jâshun khâli nabâshe (May their place not be empty) to express that hopefully you aren’t feeling too sad or lonely now that they’ve gone.
Cheshmâtun ghashang mibine
Literally: Your eyes see beautifully
Meaning: A form of “thank you”
How to use it: Use this when someone compliments you, like if they say you look beautiful. This expression is part of the taarof game in which you never accept a compliment with a “thank you” but rather return a compliment. It’s not you who is beautiful, it’s the other person’s eyes that see beautifully.
Del be del râh dâreh
Literally: There’s a path between two hearts
Meaning: There’s a telepathy between hearts / The feeling is mutual
How to use it: You’re thinking you should call your mom, and in that instant, she calls you. You pick up the phone and say, Del be del râh dâreh! It means you were thinking of her at that moment and/or perhaps about to call too.
If you tell someone you miss them, they may respond Del be del râh dâreh (I miss you too/The feeling is mutual).
Literally: May your breath be warm
Meaning: A living person’s breath is warm, so this slang expression of gratitude and appreciation/well done/thanks symbolizes that you hope the person will always be alive.
How to use it: You followed My Persian Corner on Instagram and signed up for my monthly newsletter!? Damet garm! (See what I did there? 🙂 )
Havâ do nafaras
Literally: The weather is for two people.
Meaning: Rainy weather conjures up romantic images of strolling hand-in-hand down the street with your lover. So when it’s an overcast, drizzly day, Iranians commonly say, havâ do nafaras.
Literally: It’s not worthy of you
Meaning: It’s on me / Be my guest
How to use it: This is another taarof-related expression used every day in Iran. Before you pay for anything, the salesman will say ghâbel nadâre and refuse to take the money. Although it can get annoying in Iran, I’m always mildly offended when I DON’T hear this in the US. I know it’s insincere, but I’d at least appreciate the offer.
It’s also commonly uttered in relation to gift giving. Check out this post on ghâbel nadâre for all the details.
Literally: I’ll sacrifice myself for you
Meaning: A general way to show your loved one affection or a way to say “thank you” or “goodbye”.
How to use it: When I call and ask how my aunt’s doing, she lovingly says, “ghorbunet beram, I’m fine.” My mom’s Swiss friend once asked what this expression meant because she often heard my parents say it to each other on the phone. When my mom explained it, she turned to her husband and said, “Why don’t you ever say things like that to me?”
Delam barât tang shode
Literally: My heart has become tight for you
Meaning: I miss you
I think this is so much more beautiful in Persian. And let’s face it, isn’t that the way your heart really feels when you miss someone?
Ghorbun sadagheh [kasi raftan]
Meaning: To shower someone with affection; To worship the ground someone walks on
How to use it: Sadaghe is alms you give as a thank you for a close call you’ve had and/or to prevent bad luck. Let’s say you get into a terrible car accident, but thankfully you’re ok. After that, you would give sadaghe. So ghorbun sadagheh is something of a prayer to not jinx you. In practice, it’s the constant complimenting a person and worshiping the ground they walk on. For example, mâmânam ghorbun sadaghe barâdar-zâdam mire. (My mom showers my nephew with love and affection.)
Cheshme shomâ roshan
Literally: May your eyes be bright
Meaning: An acknowledgement of one’s happiness at the return of a loved one
How to use it: If someone travels a long distance to see you or you see someone again after a long time, friends and family will call to tell you cheshme shomâ roshan. It’s symbolic of this person having brought light and goodness into your home.
Any of these or any others you wish your language had? Comment below!
Pin the full post!