Money talks: Financial terms we don't have in English but you'll wish we did

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Ever needed a word to describe that feeling of balance in your life, where you’ve struck the perfect chord between saving and spending?

Or a phrase to describe that sinking feeling when you wake up from a night out and realise you spent a little bit more than you’d have liked?

Look no further. These nine words and phrases, borrowed from lands near and far, help describe states of being that the English language doesn’t quite crack.

Spot the surprise English word
One of the terms in our list has already made it to the Oxford English Dictionary – can you spot it? Clue – it’s not number eight.

If you’re lucky enough to be holidaying this summer in any of the countries listed below, why not take these terms for a test-drive? Staycationers (or those not holidaying at all) –  you can sit back as these terms bring insight from overseas straight into the comfort of your own home.

🔍Don’t forget to look out for the surprise English word. 

1. Lagom

Most of us strive for a good balance in our lives, whether that’s between work and play, health and wealth or saving and spending. ‘Lagom’, a Swedish word, refers to that state of perfect moderation. It also represents the idea of living a balanced life. So next time you treat yourself to a greasy takeaway, but power-walk to the door to collect it, that’s ‘Lagom’.

2. Friendship is friendship, but cheese costs money
(Приятелството си е приятелство, сиренето е с пари)

A Bulgarian phrase that’s used to warn someone not to take advantage of someone else’s generosity. We’re not encouraging penny-pinching or stinginess, but next time you see someone offering to buy a round of drinks or pay for a cab, remember: cheese costs money.

3. Iets voor een appel en een ei kopen

This Dutch phrase means ‘to buy something for an apple and an egg’ and is used when you find a bargain or buy something cheap. The closest phrase we have in the English language is probably ‘it’s going for a song.’

4. Wie eine Made im Speck leben

A German phrase meaning ‘to live like a maggot in bacon’. A state of sheer decadence. That feeling of delight when you’re dressed head to toe in your best outfit and you’re looking at life through rose-tinted specs. When your money’s in a good place, you can live like a maggot in bacon.

5. Saudade

Sound familiar? You must be a secret Eurovision fan. This phrase featured in the chorus of Portugal’s entry this year (2022) and refers to a longing or nostalgia for something you may never experience again. Just like that extravagant holiday you went on in 2019, or the pair of shoes you tried on that you’re still thinking about.

6. Kaizen (改善 / かいぜん)

A state of continuous improvement. Rather than a single big change, ‘Kaizen’ is the process of constantly improving in a methodical way. Applying this concept to your finances can be beneficial as it makes the process of saving habitual and gradual, rather than one big upheaval.

7. Seigneur-terraces

This phrase refers to coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables for a long time, a very long time; but spend very little money. A bit like window-shopping.

8. The Midas touch

Now technically a part of the English language, this phrase originates from Greek mythology. It refers to someone who has great success in anything they put their hand to. Midas, the king of Phrygia, wished for everything he touched to turn to gold. Ultimately, he took it a little too far when he turned his beloved daughter into a statue of gold. Moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for.

9. Tsundoku (積ん読)

For some bibliophiles, buying books brings as much joy as reading them. Tsundoku takes this even further: it’s the art of buying (or otherwise acquiring) books and not reading them. Even if you don’t get around to reading all the books you own, they’ll still look nice piled up on your shelves. Similar phenomena have been observed for other objects: handbags, shoes, and clothes spring to mind.

When things change, language changes: did you spot the English term?

Just last month, 700 new words, senses, and sub-entries were added to the Oxford English Dictionary, including “sharenting,” “folx,” “ignorati,” and, unsurprisingly, “unjabbed.” Language evolves all the time, as speakers devise new ways to describe a changing world.

Did you spot the English word?

It’s the Japanese loan-word, Kaizen (number six).

Kaizen was popularised in the West following the publication of Masaaki Imai’s 1986 book, ¬¬Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. The Kaizen approach comes from Toyota’s continuous improvement approach to manufacturing. Instead of accepting things as they are, Kaizen challenges businesses to constantly adapt and refine – without stepping off the gas. Not too dissimilar from the way language evolves.

The content in this article is for information only and is not advice. All content in this article was accurate on the date of publication shown above.

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