For the first 10 years of my life, I never set foot in my mother country, Iran. Born in Spokane, Wash., my family was one of the few Iranian ones in an otherwise mostly white city.
During my first trip to Iran, it was clear that my accent was very entertaining to native Iranians. To this day, I have the “lah-jeh” (accent) of an American, and translate English words and phrases into Farsi in a manner that is comedic fodder for many of my fellow Persians.
That isn’t to say I can’t appreciate some of Farsi’s nuances.
In fact, the Farsi language has many phrases and words that make you wish English wasn’t so boring. These are my top five favorite Farsi phrases with no English equivalent:
1. Ghorboon sadageh
This is an endearing phrase that has the tone of “I worship the ground you walk on.” It is the poetry of words you offer a loved one: a gesture of self-sacrifice at the core.
2. Khaak too saret
This is an insult and translates to “throw dirt on your head.” This is not something any English speaker would say to someone in an argument, but very common in Farsi. When I first understood the translation, I was confused, but Iranians use this both as an insult and more recently, as a lighthearted jab.
When I first understood the translation of this phrase, I loved to randomly yell, “Throw dirt on your head!” in English, which threw people in my surroundings who didn’t speak Farsi. It was very comical to me, and was only appreciated by other Iranians who knew what the translation was in reference to.
It can be expressed in many different social situations, from being irked at someone for pouring the wrong tea, to yelling at someone for getting back together with their ex.
3. Roo-hetou kaam-kon
This phrase is translated as “subtract your face/soul.” If you were talking to someone and felt that their ego or attitude was getting out of line, this is the best time to admonish them with a good “roo-hetour kaam-kon!” It’s another way of saying “humble yourself.” Roo is translated as face or soul and kaam-kon is translated as subract or take out.
4. Goheh ziyadi nakhor
This phrase literally translates to “Don’t eat a lot of shit!” Someone can say this to you when you need a good reminder to not overstep your boundaries or get in over your head with life and gossip. It is something that has been said by my mother many times in my lifetime.
5. Rou dar vaasi/ta’arof
There is no direct translation for “rou dar vaasi” or the less formal, more commonly used “rou dar ta’arof,”” but it is best described as a scenario. “Ta’arof” refers to an entire art form of Persian etiquette, and elaborate hospitality is no exception. This phrase caters to the highest form. For example, someone comes over for the first time, and you immediately clean your house top to bottom, bring out the best silverware and plates, and put on something sensible to answer the door in. You need to show your first houseguest the best of everything you have so they can have the utmost enjoyable experience.
That’s my take on Persian expressions!
To hear more entertaining translations from Farsi to English, watch this video:
Editors note: This story has been updated since its original publication. Clarifications were added to the term describing Iranian hospitality, “rou dar vaasi/ta’arof.”