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Here are the foreign words that other countries use to describe relationships

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There are some 171,476 words in the English language, of which we say around 16,000 a day. Yet despite this abundant lexicon, we’ve never been supplied a really decent word to describe our ‘partner’.

When you’re a kid, you have a girl/boyfriend. It’s a clunky-if-pragmatic term, and its fit for purpose up until your mid twenties.

Then, the English tongue abandons you. It doesn’t feel right to call an adult you’ve been seeing for the past three years a ‘boy/girl’ any more. There’s the aforementioned ‘partner’, but that makes it sound like you’ve gone into business to open an artesian bakery.

We don’t even have a good word for ‘the person I’m engaged to’ – we had to nick ‘fiancée/fiancé’ from the French because ‘betroth’ sounds like you’re audition for a part in an amateur Shakespeare production. 

So how does the rest of the world do it? Here are some terms of endearment and other versions of ‘partner’ we propose borrowing from other cultures to replace our juvenile use of ‘boy/girlfriend’. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.


Skarbie

Origin: Polish

Meaning: Honey, baby, darling, sweetheart

No, we wouldn’t suggest you use “honey” as a replacement for “girlfriend” – the English use is weighed down with a sickeningly patronising tone. But the Polish ‘skarbie’ has a nice bit of weight to it. “This is my skarbie, she works in finance”. “I met my skarbie on Tinder, we’ve been seeing each other for a few months now”. Sure, it does sound a bit like a medieval disease, but that’s a pretty accurate description of some relationships we know. 

Le petit ami/ La petite amie

Origin: French

Meaning: literally, the little friend

So this suffers from the same issue as ‘boy/girlfriend’ in sounding like you’re addressing someone who still thinks they pick friends based on their favourite colour, but it’s considerably more mature by virtue of being French. Classy, educated people speak French. People who have meaningful-deep relationships, centred around a mutual appreciation of cheese and wine. 

tim & dawn

Joonam

Origin: Farsi

Meaning: My life

Now we’re getting somewhere. There’s a weight to ‘Joonam’, a substance that promises meaningful chats and the kind of hand holding that evokes jealousy in all who witness it. “Sorry mate, can’t come out tonight, I’m seeing my joonam. We’re watching this amazing documentary on Argentinean wildlife.” 

Novio/Novia

Origin: Spanish

Meaning: It’s typically used for ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’, but also means ‘groom/bride’, ‘fiancé’ and ‘sweetheart’. It’s an extension of ‘novi’, meaning ‘new’. 

Fiancé doesn’t sound like a word the English tongue should get around, yet we’ve managed it for a few centuries, right? In the same way, calling someone your “novio/a” might sound a bit weird, but this could catch on if enough of us throw our weight behind it.

jon snow

Mo Chuisle

Origin: Irish Gaelic 

Meaning: My pulse

Sure, it’s a bit like ‘Mi Julie’, but there’s a much sweeter sentiment at the heart of this. 

Drágám

Origin: Hungarian

Meaning: Precious

No, you won’t always think your partner is ‘precious’ – not when they wake you up at 3am when they roll over and make off with the duvet. But there’s a satisfying, Game of Thrones-esque tone to this that we quite like. 

jesse

Cariad

Origin: Welsh

Meaning: Sweetheart, love

A Welsh guy in our office assures us that he’d never call his other half his ‘cariad’, but we think it’s just because they haven’t reached that ‘stage’ yet. 

Sötnos

Origin: Swedish

Meaning: Sweet nose

“Sat-nav?” No, sötnos. “Your what?” You know – My sötnos, my girlfriend. “Why didn’t you say that then?” Because I don’t think that girlfriend is a… never mind, you’re right.

han

Bok

Origins: Afrikaans

Meaning: Girlfriend, taken from the Swedish for goat 

Now, you might not want to tell your partner that you’ve started referring to them as your “Goat”. Just tell her it’s Afrikaans, and it’s a term of intimacy and endearment. It sounds lovely, no? 

Xodó

Origin: Brazilian Portuguese

Meaning: A term of endearment for the person you’re in a relationship with

It’s pronounced ‘zod-o’ – which is awesome. Even if you’re happier being on your own, you’ll find yourself wanting a xodó just so you can say the word xodó more frequently. 

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