A Phrase By Any Other Language…

He has that sort of, uh, je ne sais quoi about him -you know?

I took French lessons in school, yet I couldn’t quite describe je ne sais quoi. I hadn’t heard it. Once I had, I was surprised to learn its frequency in general use. We’ve other phrases like that in English: déjà vu, de facto, alfresco, doppelgänger.

I love pulling them out as appropriate. Sometimes you just need a succinct term for how you’re feeling and weighty, wordy English can’t cut it.

Even better, of course, is when I hear a phrase or word that isn’t in common usage; one we’ve not adopted but that scratches my itch for expression. What about Bilita Mpash (Bantu), the happiness felt after a really good dream? Or, 慢慢来 màn man lái, take your time? Then again, we shouldn’t forget 横飯 – yoko meshi -the stress of speaking a foreign language because, literally translated, it means eating your food sideways. These are nicknamed untranslatable expressions.

On that note, what sorts of odd phrases do we use in American English (or British English)? Besides quoting movies or memes, I often slip in the odd idiom or two. Sometimes I stop and provide a little etymological history lesson for my boys.

Do you have a few oft-used terms? How about a favorite foreign phrase?


Matt’s been reading my Wilhelmina Winters series as audio performances and sharing them. He’s decided to stop while he’s ahead and I don’t blame him! Wil has over 100 installments.

Aaaand here’s what I wrote for the last two weeks:
Wednesday, March 2: I’m still wondering why it’s bad to be beautiful. What do you think is the underlying stigma?

Thursday, March 3: Announced the winningest Terrible Poetry limerick about grain, Joanne‘s.

Friday, March 4: Friday Photo: Choose your own office adventure…

Saturday, March 5: The new Terrible Poetry Contest! Write a tanka about what’s in your pocketses by tomorrow!!

Sunday, March 6: Charlie Chaplin‘s quote.

Monday, March 7: Mormon Monday! Talked about The Plan of Salvation.

Thursday, March 10: Shared a true, recent story about camping in our backyard.

Friday, March 11: Friday Photo. Be careful out there, ladies.

Sunday, March 13: A quote about tacos. Yum.

Monday, March 14: I’m a Mormon, So gambling’s off the table.

Tuesday, March 15: Our wedding anniversary, and the day I wrote about the day of Triffids. You know; the book.

©2022 Chel Owens

36 thoughts on “A Phrase By Any Other Language…

    1. Ha! I thought that a few times when I listened to your readings. Like, ‘I really should have picked words that worked better instead of whatever popped up in the moment!’ There are some mouthfuls there!

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  1. This is something that would keep me up at night or do I think about it because I can’t fall asleep?!? I can’t think of any at the top of my head but when I do I will hop back here!

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  2. Old ones I recall were ‘Gordon Bennet’- used for those times when you, say, dropped a brick on your foot, or ‘what a load of codswallop’ to describe someone telling porkies. 9Cockney rhyming slang ‘porky pies = lies.)

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      1. Gordon Bennett was a larger than life rich playboy publisher from the late 1880s early 1900s. A kind of kardash-style celeb from way back who did whatever he wanted, with no regard for the consequences. An interesting guy,to say the least. Also one of those names where instead of saying ‘Godamighty’ people subverted it into ‘Gawd…on Bennett.’I guess thats where ‘Crikey’ came in as well.

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  3. It’s cold enough to freeze the knockers off a brass monkey. It sort of sounds rude but it’s a naval expression that relates to the differential shrinkage rates between iron canon balls and the brass racking in freezing temperatures. As for non English terms I’m rather fond of schadenfreude..

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    1. Geoff! I was hoping you’d weigh in. 🙂 I hadn’t heard that one about the cold and appreciate your giving its history.

      Schadenfreude is a neat one. I’m fond of the German phrases.


  4. I took two years of high school Spanish, but I’ve never done much with it. In Spanish, I can still ask relevant questions like, “Where is the bathroom?”. 😎 My favorite French phrase is probably “c’est la vie.” I like the sound of it, and it’s the perfect response when you feel like saying, “oh well, or what can you do?”

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  5. Donde esta mis zapatos? (Where are my shoes-haha.) I may never get to use that in real life, but I like the way it rolls off my tongue.🤣

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  6. “Bring a plate” means “Potluck” and can be confusing for visiting .North Americans. In New Zealand we use a lot of Maori words – e.g. kai. turangawaiwai, etc etc… – of course the one Maori word everyone knows is Kiwi!

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