Here’s the next instalment in our Quirky Vocabulary series: we’re up to the letter H. In English, the words beginning with H can be heavy going: there’s harassment, hate, hellfire, halitosis, houses of horror, hallucination, henchmen, handicaps, hysterics, hassles, herpes, hardship, hard labour, the heebie jeebies and haemorrhoids. I’ve chosen a house of horror to illustrate this, I thought you would prefer it to herpes or a haemorrhoid.
On the bright side, though, there’s happiness and harmony, high jinks and humour, hearty meals and haberdashery (a lovely word), high hopes, homes, hurrahs, honesty, the hit parade, heroes and heroines, hello, howdy, halos, heaven, hazelnuts, hanky panky and hokey pokey ice-cream 😀
So, what interesting H words have we found in the five Romance languages?
PORTUGUESE: a lot of the H words in Portuguese seem to be scientific or mathematical – they must be derived from the Greek, I guess. However, I like this one: haraganear, which in vintage Brazilian Portuguese means to run wild or rove at large (referring to cattle, etc). However, in modern figurative use it means to loaf or to idle. Bernardo loves doing that! The adjective haragano I means idle or lazy. Call me Mr Harango.
FRENCH: hoqueter means to hiccup. Hoqueter de frayeur means to gulp with fright, while avoir de hoquet means to have the hiccups.
SPANISH: There are some interesting expressions that revolve around huevo, meaning egg. And I don’t mean just those like huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs). I am thinking more with a testicular bent: tener huevos = to have balls. And esta hasta los huevos de… means to be pissed off with… Y un huevo! means like hell! And costar un huevo is the Spanish equivalent of to cost an arm and a leg.
ROMANIAN: o habar is an idea (as is o idee). But there is a very useful expression habar nu-am which means I don’t know, or I haven’t a clue. Being mostly a clueless person, I’d use this phrase a lot. Another word that you might find useful in Romania if you are a tourist is o hartă, which is a map; it’s not to be confused with hârtie, meaning paper, but since many maps are made of paper perhaps you should lump the two together.
ITALIAN: There is no “h” sound in Italian and consequently the Italian dictionaries’ H pages are short, offering only borrowed words such as haute cuisine or heavy metal. You can find a fuller explanation here of the rare instances where and why H is used in the language.
My listings for A-G words are under the Quirky vocabulary tab near the top of the page.