Each country, and each language, has its own quirks and foibles, its own particular witticisms, metaphors, idioms, and referential exclamatory remarks. Outsiders, tourists, or those who are not born and raised in a particular country, might find certain bywords, sayings or declarations hard to understand. Worse still, they might look for a straightforward translation, which would completely miss the mark in that, more often than not, in these cases a straightforward translation is impossible. One must look into the context, the situation, and sometimes even the connection between speakers, in order to elucidate the whole meaning of such assertions.

The Maltese language contains a wide variety of such expressions. Most of them are commonplace, others are used mostly in a particular area or by a particular strata of society, while others still even belie historical or geographical connotations.

hi’ – this is a non-word which is generally used to refer to a person(s) in a conversation. Perhaps it is most similar to “mate”, though how well you know the person you’re speaking to makes a significant difference. Using it with acquaintances is normal e.g. you could greet someone you are familiar with saying “Aw, hi! Good morning!” and it will mean something like “Hey mate! Good morning!”. If you are not good friends though, or have a previous history of dissent, it can be interpreted sarcastically, or to denote impatience e.g. “Inti gejja hi? ” (“Are you coming dear? “). In this case, it all depends on the tone of voice.

ta’ – this literally means “of” or “this belongs to” (the possessive form). However, it is also used at the end of a sentence as an emphasis for a statement that doesn’t need an answer. In this way, it can almost be translated as “you know” or “then”. E.g. “You aren’t supposed to be here, ta!” or “We’re meeting up on Tuesday, ta!”

ux’ – can be said to be a colloquial contraction of the statement “mhux hekk?” (“isn’t that right?”). That being said, “ux” in conversation is much closer to “Right?” or even “Right!”. You can use it in answer to a question you agree with wholeheartedly e.g. “This wine is terrible!” “Ux! I agree!”, or when asking for agreement e.g. “This wine is terrible, ux?” “I agree!”.

mela’ – this is a common one. Although it literally means “to fill up”, it can be used in multiple ways which have nothing to do with the original meaning. For e.g. “Right! Let me start explaining this.” (“Mela! Ha nibda nispjega.”). It can also be used as a resounding confirmation e.g. “We’re still on for tomorrow, ux?” “Mela! I’ll pick you up at 7, ta!”. It can also, confusingly enough, be used in answer to “Please”, where it can almost mean something like “You’re welcome”. E.g. “Mela le!”. This roughly means “As if I’d ever say no!”

jew’ – This usually means “or” when inserted in the middle of a sentence, however it is sometimes also added at the end of a question. E.g. “Ok, jew?”, quite literally meaning “Are you ok, or…?”. This is generally an invitation for someone who doesn’t look okay to talk about it and expand the conversation. By using “jew” at the end of a sentence in this way, you can most likely appear interested in a person’s state, without being overly nosy or overbearing, since you are actually showing the person he is welcome to talk if he wants to, but that, since you are not asking outright but just hinting at the issue, you do not want to invade his privacy. Quite some heavy connotations for such a small word!

These are just a few such Maltese expressions. In reality, there are many more of them.

Can you mention one?