Expressions and Idioms Iranian Culture

10 English Words Iranians Use (and Often Misuse)

English words have managed to inflitrate all languages. These are 10 English words Iranians use and that have become common in the Persian language.

I’m an English teacher, true. But I see no reason to insist on English for everything- especially in a country where English is not the main language- by any stretch of the imagination. But it seems I can’t go anywhere in Iran without hearing or seeing English. Obviously, I’m not opposed to using it. My entire livelihood comes from teaching it. But when a perfectly good Persian word already exists, why opt for the English equivalent? Here are 10 English words Iranians use (sometimes incorrectly in the sense that they’ve given it a new meaning) and why I find this trend so irritating. 

My biggest pet peeve

What annoys me more than anything is seeing English words written in Persian script. For starters, it takes me forever to even read it. I keep wondering what on earth it says and why I’m having such a hard time deciphering it. Then I realize it’s English. Like the time on a cafe menu where the name of the drink was گرین اپل (green apple). Couldn’t they have just written the Persian سیب سبز (sibe sabz)? Then there’s the other time when the menu item was گرین بوستر (green booster). Thankfully, I read the English first, so I was well prepared for the “Persian”. But when I ordered a “green booster” with my “thick American accent”, my drink came back pink. When we finally got to the bottom of it, we realized the waiter had brought me a “pink booster” instead. I feel like this confusion could have been avoided if the name had simply been Persian. (Like Rouhi Cafe in Negarestan where the drinks have pure Persian names like Damavand or jigar talâ. Hell yeah, I want to order a drink called jigar talâ! Soooo much cooler! Good on Rouhi Cafe for those names.)

And then there’s the time when I noticed two different items, both written in Persian script. After struggling for a bit, I realized one said “chicken fingers” and the other said morghe angoshti (literally, “chicken fingers” in Persian). That’s when I threw down my menu and called the waiter over to explain what the difference was because it was just too much. (And I now forget what the difference was, but it was something about the way it was cooked).

English words have managed to inflitrate all languages. These are 10 English words Iranians use and that have become common in the Persian language.

Exhibit A: “Chicken” written in Persian. Also- Persian has a word for “stuffed chicken”- why not use it?

A close second in terms of things that annoy me is when English is used in place of Persian altogether. Like when restaurants hang banners out front that say “Coming soon…”. Or when cafes have chalkboards outside with cutesy messages like “Pilates? I thought you said ‘pie and lattes’”. Or when I see job advertisements written completely in English. They write things like “We’re hiring!” and list all the job requirements, but somehow fail to mention any requirement to speak English, which is clearly necessary for no other reason than to understand the ad itself! Iran is not an English-speaking country. Why the insistence on English?

Class gozâshtan (pronounced more like ke-lâs gozâshtan)

What I think it all boils down to is class gozâshtan (to show class/off). That job advertisement in English? Looks cooler than if it were in Persian. Some would believe so anyway. I guess that’s why there are Instagram accounts for cafes in Tehran that, in between shots of coffee and crepes, post Rumi quotes in English. Call me crazy, but I think anyone who is able to read and understand Rumi in Persian is lucky. Sure, English is more universal, but the cafe’s customers are Iranian for crying out loud!

But Iranians love to drop words in a foreign language and show off some class. I was in a pharmacy once when I heard a woman pick up a bottle and say, “Agar injâ attention koni….” (If you pay attention here…). Uh, hold the phone! The only person who might get away with saying that is me, and even I would never do that. If I’m speaking Persian, I would think of the word tavajoh any day over “attention”. In fact, a co-worker once told me that if anyone should be dropping English words, it was me, and yet I didn’t. (She told me this the time there was a student in our office who was flipping through an English copy of National Geographic and every so often loudly exclaimed “Oh, wow!”)

And maybe it’s this concept of class gozâshtan that annoys me to the point that I try to speak all Persian all the time (unless I legitimately don’t know the word, in which case I try to talk around it- in Persian.) But the whole speaking-Persian-all-the-time thing can also be a double-edged sword because then my accent surfaces, which is just another type of class gozâshtan. How you ask? Because some Iranians have the amazing talent to manage to develop an accent in their mother tongue after spending a mere month in another country. I can’t imagine ever developing an accent in English, but somehow 2 weeks in Germany and some Iranians claim to have forgotten Persian altogether (some, mind you, not all)! My accent, on the other hand, is the result of Persian being my second language. But no matter. They think I’m trying to be all cool and classy.

Case in point: I was speaking Persian to a colleague once when one of my students walked by and heard me. “Teacher, that’s enough, come one. Cherâ class mizârin? (Why are you trying to show so much class?)” I asked what he meant by that, and he started imitating my accent. “You were only in the US, what, a couple of years? Come on!” That’s when my colleague informed him that I was born and raised in the US and lived there for over 30 years and that I had only been in Iran 2 years at the time. He eventually managed to pick his jaw up off the floor and go to class where he proceeded to stare at me (completely unaware of anything I was teaching) for the next two hours.

But enough of my complaining. I needed to vent a bit and, man, it feels good to get that off my chest! These are just 10 of the English words that have insidiously found their way into the beautiful Persian language, for better or worse.

English words have managed to inflitrate all languages. These are 10 English words Iranians use and that have become common in the Persian language.

Hang kardan (to freeze)

As in mobâilam hang kard (“My phone froze.”). You’ll hear this one a lot. My students often say things like, “I tried to make a call, but my phone…hanged?”

“Froze,” I tell them.

I wondered where Iranians got “hang” from, but apparently, it shows up in Google searches. I think the English “freeze” or “crash” are more common, though.

Cut kardan (to break up)

“Do sâl bâ ham budan, vali ba’ad cut kardan.” (They were together for two years, but then they cut [broke up].)

Shoot budan (to be out of it; air-headed, ditzy)

My cousin uses this one a lot- sometimes, she even uses shooting instead of shoot. “Yâru kheyli shooting-e.” (That guy is totally out of it.) or “She’s a good friend, but sometimes a little shoot.”

Left dâdan (to leave [a group chat])

Ok, so this one is due to the era we live in now with messaging apps where you can form groups. And let’s be honest- enough group chats already! Maybe that’s why so many people left midan (leave). I’m sure you’ve noticed that when someone leaves the group on What’s App, it says “felâni (so-and-so) left”. And Iranians have turned that past tense English verb into the Persian infinitive left dâdan.

Hichi nagoft az gruh left dâd. (S/he didn’t say anything and left the group.)

Cheap budan (to be cheap)

Here cheap is not so much related to price as it is acting in an unclassy/worthless kind of way. I recently heard this used in reference to a certain Iranian actor. “When he’s acting, he’s really funny. But as a director, filmâsh kheyli cheape (his movies are really cheap).”

IQ

The same way in English we sarcastically call someone “Einstein” or “professor”, in Iran, we call this person “IQ.”

Fake budan (to be fake)

This is used just like the English, and a person or a thing can be fake.

Time fix kardan (to set a time)

I hear this a lot at work. Ye time fix konim barâye jalase aval. (Let’s set a time for the first session.)

Case (candidate)

Case is commonly used in the context of potential candidates for jobs or khâstegâr (marriage suitors). For example, “I met this nice guy who’s a successful lawyer and comes from a good family. Case-e khubiye barâye Sarah.” (He’s a good case [candidate] for Sarah.)

Luxury (classy and luxurious)

I saved the best for last because nothing makes me cringe more than the word “luxury.” Its use is similar to English to mean “classy” and/or “luxurious”, only I think opinions as to what constitutes these two characteristics may differ. After all, one man’s “classy” is another man’s “trashy” (or “cheesy”). Hearing this word is like nails on the chalkboard for me for two reasons:

1. Not everything bright, sparkly, and expensive is “luxury”!

2. Every time I hear this word, I can’t help but think of the time when two dear, dear co-workers said about me (in front of me):

Woman: “You know, we could charge a fortune if we advertised that we had a native English-speaking teacher here.”

Man: “Yeah, but Pontia doesn’t really look the part.”

Woman: “I know what you mean. She’s not really ‘luxury’.

At the moment, I laughed it off. The confusion on my face said it all as I glanced back and forth between them because I was quite literally speechless. I still don’t know what they meant by that comment, but to tell you the truth, I stopped caring long ago. 

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English words have managed to inflitrate all languages. These are 10 English words Iranians use and that have become common in the Persian language.

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  • Charles
    14 October 2018 at 15:59

    My pet peeve is when I return to Iran everyone tells me “Nice to meet you” when I have known them for 6 years and see them every year. I have stopped trying to correct them with “Nice to see you”, because it never ends.

    • Pontia
      14 October 2018 at 16:17

      Hahaha, that’s a good one! I also hear this often when I run into a student I haven’t seen in a while. Like you, I’ve stopped trying to correct them, but I always hope that one day, they’ll pick up on my “Nice to SEE you, too.”

  • Yu-Hsuan
    15 October 2018 at 08:49

    i encountered another one called ”surprise shodan” before.

    • Pontia
      15 October 2018 at 14:34

      Yes! Another very common one 🙂

  • Gabriel Thomé
    15 October 2018 at 21:44

    That intro was so relatable haha

    • Pontia
      16 October 2018 at 09:09

      Haha, glad to hear it!

  • Hussein
    2 November 2018 at 20:16

    It’s also noteworthy how “foreign-er” has lots of negative connotation around in US or other countries (not 100 % sure about the latter)…but in Iran it’s deemed as “shakh”

    • Pontia
      3 November 2018 at 10:20

      Yes! Indeed, very true!