Global English: Your Nominations, Please

Thursday, October 21, 2010 - 08:30 AM

Leslie Dunton-Downer writes about the "porousness" of the English language in her book, The English is Coming!: How One Language is Sweeping the World. Global English takes in new words from other languages and sends them back out.  With over 170 languages spoken in Queens alone, New York City is primed to spur that process along.  Which words do you think will show up in global English next? Nominate a word from ANOTHER language that Americans should adopt as part of global English and listen on October 29th for Leslie Dunton-Downer's ideas about what's next for global English.

Post your suggestion below!


Leslie Dunton-Downer

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Comments [63]

Jerrold M Foke

The inevitable introduction of the schwa is evolving English and hence sparking a true, new global laguage which all cultures may contribute to.

We'll have

follow link to Detroit story:

Dec. 18 2010 11:05 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Spanish also has words for the relation of a couple's in-laws to each other: "consuegros" for their parents-in-law & "concunados"* for their...hmm, I guess the gender-neutral term would be "siblings-in-law" (don't know if that exists yet in English).

*The 2nd "n" has a tilde. Last time I tried html on a WNYC comments page it didn't work, but in case that's changed: "concuñado."

Oct. 29 2010 12:43 PM

Schlagger: (from German) literally something that hits; it means usually-bland pop made for the charts like, say, Milli Vanilli. It's used with a generally negative connotation (but often also with endearing feelings to the subject). It can then be extended to describe anything that fits, like film, books, etc.

Oct. 29 2010 11:50 AM

Egal ("ee-gahl") from German. It's similar to English's "whatever," except it has no condescending meaning; so it fills in for "doesn't matter to me," "I have no preference," and "it's not important."

Oct. 29 2010 11:44 AM
Anne George from Bronx, NY

I choose the word 'gostan' which is used in Malaysia to mean 'go backwards in a vehicle'. Wondering if this word is derived from the shipping term "go stern"?

Oct. 29 2010 08:06 AM
anna from new york

I nominate my own, freshly coined word "prostilectual" which is, of course, a conflation of "prostitute" and "intellectual," doesn't exist yet in any language, but clearly deserves to be introduced. A number of the members of the Cockburn family clearly deserve the name (if not Stalin's, it's oil money). Similarly Robert Wright who tries (recently in the NYT, for example) to convince those who don't have a shelter, health care and jobs that their problem is ... you guess it correctly ... "Islamophobia." Sure, Robert. Traditions of "intelectual" prostituiton are alive and well. Hi Heidegger, Lysenko, Wright, etc.

Oct. 29 2010 07:14 AM
Catherine from Cambridge

From the French, the expression "Ras le bol!" as in "Fed up !"
Pronounce : rahl' bohl.
( Literally "to the edge of the "bol", or cup" ).
Often accompanied by quickly moving one's hand horizontally above one's head, from the wrist.

Oct. 28 2010 07:01 PM
Samer from Hoboken, NJ

I cannot think of a foreign word as "sushi" for raw dead fish or "hummus" for a squishing (gas-inducing!) chickpeas paste... But how about "PREPONE" as opposed to postpone!

It just seems very intuitive and I have not heard or seen it being used in either British or US English. It should easily make using the words "advance a meeting", "bring it forward", "plan it to start earlier" something of the past as "xerox" did for "make me a xerographic copy of these papers!". Merriam-Webster, interested??!

Oct. 28 2010 04:14 PM
Benjamin Marcus from NYC

Instead of trying to force a meaning from another language into English, why not learn the pronunciation and use of the foreign word or phrase? There are plenty of examples of adopted phrases, and to use them in their original forms serves to broaden our understanding, respect the original culture, and underline the minor shortcomings of native tongues.

Oct. 28 2010 12:12 PM
Jean Richards from New City

Dear Brian Lehrer,
A wonderful Arabic word to include in our language is Inschallah. i'm not sure of how to spell it but it means God willing. I use it all the time and those who hear it like it to much that they incorporate it themselves.
It has a bit of avoiding the evil eye in it, I think, Please check out its usage in Arabic and then suggest it under my name. . An example would be- I'll see you in a month, inschallah.
Jean Richards

Oct. 28 2010 12:06 PM
Giuseppe from NYC


a Russian word that was particularly expressive in Soviet times. It denoted the widespread "quid pro quo," the "favoritism system," sometimes the "old boy network," whereby at all level of society people were climbing the ladder or merely getting by.

Sadly, I believe it describes just as felicitously the state of affairs inside the beltway and pockets of corporate America.

Oct. 28 2010 12:41 AM
Michael Hariton from NYC

I'm a translator, and there are a lot of words I have to translate where I think, "why can't I just leave it in? It's perfect just the way it is!".

I'll narrow it down to 2:

1. Fachidiot: from German. This is someone who knows so much about only one thing that they're basically an idiot in everything else. Great for seminars, death on the cocktail circuit.

2. This isn't a word, but a phrase: "l'esprit d'escalier" (lesspree deskal yay). It describes that moment after you leave a room or a party and you suddenly realize exactly what you should have said to so and so. The perfect quip, the witty "a-ha!", but now, it's the gotcha that got away. That feeling. It literally means the spirit of the stairway.

Oct. 28 2010 12:37 AM
Alan, Smadar & Carmel from Fort Lee, NJ

In Hebrew, the word "shil-shom" means "the day before yesterday". Wouldn't you rather use one foreign word to replace 4 English ones? Plus, 'shil-shom' has a certain ring to it! It kinda captures the swaying of palm trees in the wind....The Israeli beach in October. Fun, no?

Respectfully submitted,
Alan Herschenfeld, Smadar Shemmesh & Her Annoying 14-Year-Old Daughter

Oct. 27 2010 07:20 PM
Giovanni Garcia-Fenech from Queens, NY

My suggestion is a Spanish word (I'm not sure if it's common throughout Mexico or local slang from Baja California, where I grew up): "conchudo," an adjective meaning a combination of lazy and stubborn; the word literally translates as "with a lot of shell." An example of its use would be "Don't be conchudo, move away from the entrance when people are trying to get into the train."

Oct. 27 2010 06:45 PM
maria from Queens

The english that is being "globalized" is mostly American. There are some common British words that are conspicuously absent - chuffed for example. I suppose it means to be statisfied or pleased, but it carries a typical British gift for understatement - a gold medal in winner in olympics famously said he was chuffed.

We also lack terms of endearment, that are so common in spanish, and the diminutive that "tenderizes" even common words.

We have many negative versions of words for which there is no positive equivalent - disheveled, for example, or unkempt. Both have a connotation of something more than untidy, and "tidy" is a very unsatisfactory antonym. On the rare occasions when I am not disheveled, I would like people to be able to exclaim how shevled and kempt I am looking today.

Oct. 27 2010 01:07 PM
Tracy from Brooklyn, NY


Chinese expression for disappointment, dismay, exasperation. Of course, tone of voice and inflection can change the meaning of of the expression.

"Aiya, we missed the train."
"She married who?! Aiya!"
"Aiya, Timmy, will you please just take out the trash?"

Oct. 27 2010 12:11 PM

Inshallah- arabic for "God willing".

Pole sana- Kiswahili for "so sorry" as in please accept my sympathies. When someone complains about something or has experienced a death, illness or breakup, you just say "pole sana". I have to catch myself since I say it to my English speaking friends automatically.

Sawa- Kiswahili for okay.

Oct. 27 2010 12:01 PM
edward tarlov from Nahant Mass

The scottish dialect word "Satisfice" meaning good enough to satisfy not necessarily perfect.

From medicalese, "Gomer" an elderly person with many medical problems, usually used with "old" as in an "old gomer"
Origin as an acronym for Get Out of My Emergency Room but now used as a more broadly descriptive term. So used in the book "House of God"

Oct. 27 2010 12:01 PM
Samuel Buggeln from NYC

When I got back from my junior year abroad in France, I found myself missing "chez." Somehow, "--'s place" felt clumsy and inelegant in comparison. (Though I guess many things in the US feel inelegant compared to their Parisian equivalents!)

Oct. 27 2010 12:00 PM
Sam Haselby from Beirut, Lebanon

At the American University of Beirut the language of instruction is English, but many Lebanese speak a mixture of English and Arabic and French, and sometimes Armenian. I asked the students in my "Introduction to American Studies" course for suggestions of words that English should adopt. They came up with a short list that, they said, express important or useful concepts in life but for which there is no economical English equivalent. Here are there suggestions. The words are all from Arabic, so the spellings are phonetic and any errors all mine:

1. Wallaw- A prevalent expression here and it is one of those words that can mean one thing or nearly its opposite. It means, roughly, "Don't worry about it" or "It's all good" but it can also mean, again roughly, "How dare you!" For instance, a you allow a driver to pull in ahead of you. They say thank you, you say "wallaw." However, if someone, uninvited, cuts ahead of you in line, you might also say "wallaw!"

2. Tfadl. "Tfadl" is basically a more courteous way of saying "Here you go." If you give someone a cup of coffee, for example, or a pen, you might say "tfadl" and it basically means "Please accept this."

3. Dayme. Dayme is another hospitality word, and it's used by guests. When a host provides something a guest might say "dayme," to acknowledge the happiness of the moment and it means roughly "Let it always be like this."

4. Yalla. "Yalla" means "Let's go" in the sense that "Andiamo" has from the Italian made an inroad into English. My students, however, insist "yalla" is more fun to say than "Let's go" and sounds more like what it means.

5. Fasharet or Fasharat. A kind of playful, sarcastic way of saying "That's not going to happen," something akin to "Over my dead body," but lighter.

6. Rab-hak jmiyle. This is a tough one, judging from the difficulty my students had in explaining it to me. Basically, and I could be missing something here, but I think it means the action of doing someone a favor but doing it to then create an obligation that person has to you. It's doing something for a friend but then lording it over the person in a way that leaves a bad taste. It's like an impure favor, with too much of a transactional cast to it. My students said, "You don't want to be "rab-hak jmiyling!"

Oct. 27 2010 06:37 AM
Steven Howard from NYC

1)Simpatico/simpatica . From the Italian and Spanish.
Basically suggesting that a man or woman is affable, compatible with another,
pleasant of character.
2) Tsoris.From the Hebrew for aggravating,
distressing or trouble.

Oct. 26 2010 02:31 PM
Roberta from Manhattan

I nominate the Afrikaans word "gatvol" which means "fed up" or "I have had it up to here." It's from the Dutch - GAT is a hole. VOL is full.

Oct. 26 2010 12:17 PM
James Riley from Brooklyn, NY

When I was studying in Senegal, I particularly loved one word in Wolof that kept coming up. It has no standard spelling, but it is pronounced: "jai-funn-day". It means roughly "sell your heavy," and is used to refer to a person who is bigger than most but who is pulling it off beautifully. I can see anglophones using it like this, "You're not fat, baby! Nothing wrong with a little jai-funnday."

Oct. 26 2010 12:10 PM
Danny Williams from Morgantown, WV

"Earworm" (Ohrwurm in German): That tune you can't get out of your head. You don't know how it got started, you hum something else (something better!) over it, you think it's gone but it comes back . . . Everyone I know has described this phenomenon, and has wanted this word.

Oct. 26 2010 12:07 PM

I couldn't help noticing the clever selection of Flight of the Conchords' "Robots" for your closing song. In the spirit of New Zealand-New Yorkers, I'd propose a bit of NZed slang in "knackered," meaning exhausted/worn out/bushed. It may originate in Britain, but it's common in NZed. It's flexible: "I'm knackered." "These midterm elections make me knackered." "Grammatical mistakes like 'someone left their coat in the hall' make us knackered, so we might as well accept them!"

Oct. 25 2010 10:45 PM
Alice Freed from Montclair, NJ

With regard to a 3rd person singular pronoun in English: As others have commented, not only do we already have such a pronoun ("they, their, theirs" ) but these forms have been used in English for hundreds of years! It is now the avoidance of "they" in the singular that is somewhat artificial sounding - at least in speaking. (Writing is a bit trickier.) In discussing language change, sociolinguists explain that speakers who avoid such widely used changing forms are often making a conscious effort to retain an older form of English. Besides, as we are reminded in "All-purpose Pronoun" by Patrician O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman, there is a history of such changes in English. Singular "you" used to be a plural pronoun but it replaced singular (informal) "thou." See:

Oct. 25 2010 01:18 PM
anna from new york

Russian has a number of words worth borrowing, including "toshnit" (sickening/feel sick - a very useful word in this reality) and "svolochi" (scoundrels - the same)
Andrew, "dupa" is a good word.
A real story:
A bus in Warsaw, half full, quiet. A toddler sitting on the lap of his grandmother is quiet too. Suddenly, he sighs and utters with an obvious pleasure: "Dupa."

Oct. 25 2010 12:48 PM
anna from New York

A couple of comments:
- The Czech writer who introduced the word "robot" in his play "R.U.R." had a name, actually a well known name "Karel Capek."The word "robot" actually exists now in many languages as a synonym of "American" describing the population of "I love my job, I love my boss" and "making this love" some 70 hours a week.
- English is, of course, sweeping the world because of the existence of two empires (British, American) whose citizens firmly believe that the world exists only to be squeezed, even linguistically

Oct. 25 2010 12:25 PM
Edward from NJ

Regarding the request for a gender-neutral third-person pronoun: There's no need to invent or import a word. We already have one. It's they/them/their. As the original poster notes, we already use "their" to avoid the awkward "his or her". While more the more pedantic might rail against this, it's just as easy -- more sensible and less futile -- to see it as the language evolving to fulfill a need.

Oct. 25 2010 12:16 PM
Andy from Montclair, NJ

Dafka from Hebrew means "on purpose" or "just to" I did it "dafka" to annoy him. She "dafka" did not want him to go to the pary

Oct. 25 2010 12:01 PM
Hina from Stamford,CT

"Inshallah" would be a fun word for the induction into english language.

Oct. 25 2010 12:00 PM
Lisa from Manhattan

German: Ohrwurm
a portion of a song, an ad jingle, etc that repeats compulsively within one's mind, put colloquially as "music being stuck in one's head." Literally, an "ear worm."

Oct. 25 2010 12:00 PM
Aline from Brooklyn, NY

How about adding some subtlety to 'love' - perhaps one for maternal love, parental love, romantic love, etc.

Oct. 25 2010 11:59 AM
Paula from Manhattan

L'esprit d'escalier....spirit of the staircase. In very unsuccint English, it describes the sensation of only coming up with a retort long after being insulted..the "why didn't I think of that at the time" moment. I assume the French phrase refers to the time it takes to pass someone while ascending or descending...

Oct. 25 2010 11:55 AM
Miriam Poser from Manhattan

From Indian English: prepone, as when you have to change a date to earlier than you had originally made it. The opposite of postpone.

Also, the accent is on the first syllable in 'pukka.'

Oct. 25 2010 10:27 AM
sebnem senyener from new york

"CROS AND PONS" : Recently, my husband and I found ourselves in a diffucult situation in which a decision seemed impossible as the pros and cons double-crossed each other. As we struggled to make our choice out of my mouth came the phrase "cros and pons."

I like to nominate "Cros and Pons" for when impossibly tough choices come along.

Oct. 24 2010 04:46 PM
Julia from NYC

"Todo", from spanish. Means "all", we're are all, all in it, all in it together, all together.

Oct. 23 2010 11:29 AM
Gloria Erlich from Princeton, NJ

We have great need for a gender- neutral pronoun, so that we can stop using a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent, as ini "Everyone should leave THEIR coat in the hall," to avoid saying "his or her coat."
We also desperately need an inclusive pronoun that would take the place of "you guys" or "you all." I shudder when I see a teacher addressing a group of dainty girls as "you guys," as a way of saying "all of you in this group."
Maybe we could appropriate something from a European language for these purposes.

Oct. 23 2010 11:23 AM
Jan McConnell

ecclefecken - used as a word for a cake in Scotland, but I think it makes a better word for the F....word or Darn in "oh ecclefecken"! or Oh Darn!

Oct. 22 2010 04:40 PM
Dan Simpson from Pittsburgh, PA, USA

I nominate "Insh'allah" from Arabic, literally meaning "If God wills it" -- something will occur. It could be applied usefully to, for example, "Change you can believe in."

Oct. 22 2010 12:48 PM
Anyta from Cabo Rojo, PR

"Vivencia" (vivencias, plural, from "vivir" to live or be alive), a lyrical, beautiful word in Spanish that elegantly conveys the rich, complex states of existence brought about by any given experience(s)--this single word conveys the depth of one's moods, reminisces, expectation, etc. in ways that the word "experience" simply cannot.

Oct. 22 2010 12:02 PM
Bernard Kabak from Manhattan

"Machatonim" (Yiddish) expresses a common human relationship that lacks a word in English. One's "machatonim" are the parents of your child's spouse. You can say my machatonim are coming for Thanksgiving dinner. In English you'd say my daughter's in-laws or my daughter's husband's parents are comig for Thanksgiving dinner. What's nice about machatonim is that it implies an enlargement of one's own family, i.e., MY machatonim are coming; in English the implication is that the relationship is second-tier, derived indirectly through one's child. A note on pronunciation: the "ch" in machatonim is sounded like the "ch" in 'Bach".

Oct. 22 2010 12:01 PM
Steven Lerner

lots of family relationship words are missing in english. My daughter's in-laws, for example, in yiddish, is machetunim, or in hindi, kudrun...we need this

Oct. 22 2010 12:01 PM
Ellen Mahlke from Manhattan

"wasuremono" from Japanese--from "wasureru", to forget, and "mono", thing. The thing that you when you run back into your apartment for your wallet, you turn to your spouse/partner/roomate and hold up your wallet, and say "wasuremono".

Oct. 22 2010 11:58 AM
Mark from Manhattan

The Hindi word, "pakka". It translates to "the real thing". I believe it's already worked it's way into British English.

Oct. 22 2010 02:08 AM
Elizabeth Downer from Oaxaca, Mexico

I would like to nominate the Spanish expression, "ya basta." It means "enough is enough".

Oct. 21 2010 10:48 PM
Margaret Desjardins from Cambridge MA

"schadenfreude" (german) - just because we don't have the word doesn't mean we don't have the feeling... pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

Also "naches" - yiddish for deriving pleasure from something (like our children).

mal foutu(e) french for feeling lousy and un-put-together.

Oct. 21 2010 10:21 PM
Sarah Hirschman from Princeton, NJ

No good way in English to end letters to friends.
The Spanish "Abrazos" is perfect - vaguely meaning I throw my arms around you - but it does not have to be so emotional. Corresponds to something like "affectionately" but it is a noun and an economical and friendly way to end a letter.
Sarah Hirschman

Oct. 21 2010 09:52 PM

Brazilian: legal!!!!meaning great!
And "a optima" also meaning the best.....

Oct. 21 2010 06:30 PM
Anna Henchman from English Department, Boston University

HEINBAG! adj. unpleasant, irritating, noxious person

An amalgamation of heinous and the suffix
-bag (as in scuzzbag, douchebag, scumbag, dirtbag), this word vividly depicts the irritating effects of those people one encounters at work or in daily life who just manage to get under your skin. It was coined in the 1990s in New York and has led to a number of other variations on heinous, such as heinoserie. Please note: it does incorporate a certain fondness for the annoying person--Hitler was not a heinbag, for instance. And life is not a heinbag free zone (HBFZ), as many have been heard to remark. It could even be argued that every party needs a good heinbag, as it's often nice to be able to bond with people by noting another's irritating social gaffs.

Oct. 21 2010 03:39 PM
james andrea from Union City, NJ

The Japanese term WABI SABI is something like faded glory, a patina of age, even shabby but a beautifully-worn look, evoked in English with fading autumn leaves, a sense of melancholy & spiritual longing; the opposite of shiny new. MONO NO AWARE, pathos of things' impermanence.
The Italians use a VERB FORM OF "VALOR" as in doing a noble deed, one is valorized, accruing valor or imparting it, as in one valorized a project with civic-mindedness, unselfish support.
unselfish support.

Oct. 21 2010 01:22 PM
Gillian Hargreaves from New Jersey

Protivno (pro-TIV-no) - Russian - "Protiv" in Russian means "against," so "protivno" roughly translates to "against-y," which is THE most fantastic way to describe young children when they're they oppose everything just for the sake of opposing it. English currently doesn't have a great, simple word that means "against-y!"

Oct. 21 2010 12:37 PM
Richard Storm from Hell's Kitchen

Two from German:
1. fisselig=temporary incompetence specifically brought on by someone else's nagging or agressively critical supervision. (Think spouses being taught to drive by their mates.)
2. Papierkrieg=complicated paperwork consciously designed to create an obstacle to filing a complaint.

Oct. 21 2010 12:30 PM
Eric from Port Washington

The Hebrew word, "davka," like the Japanese word yappari, is an exclamation of confirmed irony. "It rained davka on her wedding day!" "I got a speeding ticket davka on my way to a traffic safety rally!"

Oct. 21 2010 12:10 PM
Tony from Valley of the Jolly Green Giant

OK, wienerschnitzel, and shmendrik.

Oct. 21 2010 12:00 PM
Suzanne Burger

I nominate the French word "debrouillard" which is defined as a skilled or resourceful person who can figure out a solution to challenges. It is derived from "brouiller" which means "to mix up" or "to tangle."

Oct. 21 2010 11:55 AM
Phil from Park Slope


Yappari is a Japanese word that, like many Japanese words and concepts, has many subtle meanings and no exact analogue in English (which is why we should adopt it!)

It can be used in a sentance or alone to mean something like "of course," or "figures..." or "as expected," or "predictibly."

When you hear the news that the Family Values, anti-immigration politician has a secret family in Mexico, you can say "yappari!"

Oct. 21 2010 11:53 AM
Johan Marby from London

I would like to nominate the Swedish word "LAGOM", which translates roughly to
"just the right amount." I think the U.S. would greatly benefit from this word.

Johan Marby

Oct. 21 2010 11:52 AM
brian jones from queens, ny


Oct. 21 2010 11:52 AM
Liz from UES

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco 15 years ago - there were several words we incorporated into our English conversations - some of which we still use with each other, including:

neeshen: straight ahead or straight as an arrow - example: "He's not a drinker or smoker - he's so neeshen" or "Just keep doing exactly what you're doing, it's working - neeshen, neeshen."

miskeen: pathetic or "poor thing" - example: "I had to adopt the kitten I found - she was lost, hungry, and full of fleas - so miskeen." or I had a date with the most miskeen guy last night. I'm giving up on dating."

Oct. 21 2010 11:52 AM
andrew from nyc

dupa (PL) = gluteus maximus

It's another variation for one's bottom...easy to say...a lot of people already know it from proximity to Polish diaspora...and it's kind of like duplex...suggesting both two sides, perhaps a common entrance, and something a bit wider than a stand alone row house.

Oct. 21 2010 11:48 AM
Mark McCarthy from Union City, NJ

I think we should incorporate the French word "triste" into American English. It means heartbreakingly sad, and it sounds like what it means.

Oct. 21 2010 11:47 AM
Eric Zolov from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, NY

I would nominate the (Mexican/Latin American) expression, "ni modo." It roughly translates as "tough cookies" or "tough luck" but is, I find, a little gentler and rolls more easily off of the tongue. I use it often with my 3 year old when something goes wrong (something's broken/spills, etc.), "ni modo."

(pronounced: "nee-mohdo")

Eric Zolov

Oct. 21 2010 11:46 AM

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