Persian contains many idiomatic phrases, expressions and compound verbs which utilise the common body parts like سر sar ‘head’, چشم cheshm ‘eye’, دل del ‘heart’, پشت posht ‘back’, and پا pā ‘foot’. These body parts often carry a multitude of different meanings, such as when an Iranian person says ‘heart’ but really they are talking about their ‘stomach’, or says ‘eye’ but really they just mean ‘okay’.
It’s time to discuss the most important body part of them all: the heart!
دل Del ‘heart’ is a word which descended all the way from the Proto-Indo-European root *ḱérd which also meant ‘heart’. The Proto-Indo-European root *ḱérd is also believed to be the origin of the English word ‘heart’, so although they do not look it, the words دل del and heart actually share the same linguistic origin.
The original meaning of دل del is of course ‘heart’, but this word has come to signify many more things. According to the Aryanpur Persian-English Dictionary (Aryanpur Kashani 1984), the word del can be translated into English as either “heart, stomach, abdomen, belly, guts, mind, courage, patience, middle”. It is a word which you will constantly hear dropped into Persian conversation, so it is an extremely useful word for a Persian learner to dedicate some time to studying. Below we will take the time to explore these different meanings in more detail:
Let’s start with the most straight-forward meaning: one’s heart, the organ which pumps blood around your body. In this sense, دل del is a synonym of قلب qalb, a word borrowed from Arabic also meaning ‘heart’. This is clear from a phrase such as تپش دل tapesh-e del ‘heartbeat’.
When wanting to make it clear that one is talking about the heart in medical terms, the word قلب qalb, and its associated adjective قلبی qalbi ‘cardiac’, are preferable, as they are less ambiguous in meaning. Some examples include: ایستِ قلبی ist-e qalbi ‘cardiac arrest’; سکتۀ قلبی sekte-ye qalbi ‘heart attack’; رشته های قلبی reshtehā-ye qalbi ‘heartstrings’; and قلب مصنوعی qalb-e masnu’i ‘artificial heart’. It is not incorrect to use the word دل del in place of قلب qalb, but it may come across as a little old fashioned.
It seems strange that del can refer to both the heart and to the stomach or abdomen area simultaneously. This is a peculiarity that has been explored by the Persian linguist Farzad Sharifian in his 2008 paper Conceptualizations of del ‘heart-stomach’ in Persian. One can find many instances in both modern Persian dialogue and in Classical Persian poetry of del being used to refer to the abdomen and to the heart, so this dual conceptualisation is by no means a new phenomenon.
An example of when a Persian speaker uses the word del to refer to their stomach is دلدرد del-dard ‘stomach ache’ or دل آشوب del-āshub ‘nausea’. For example, دلم درد می کرد delam dard mikard ‘my stomach was hurting’.
Del can also mean ‘courage’ or ‘bravery’. Let’s look at a line of poetry by Shahid Balkhi where del has this exact meaning:
هزار کبک ندارد دلِ یکی شاهین
Hazār kabk nadārad del-e yeki shāhin
‘A thousand partridges don’t have the heart (courage) of a falcon’
If you want to say that someone is ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ in Persian, you say that person is del-bringing: دلاور del-āvar, or دلیر dalir/delir. You could also say that person has a lion-del: شیردل shir-del.
This is by far the most extensive and idiomatic use of del in spoken Persian, as there is a seemingly endless list of expressions, verbs and idioms which use del as a key component when talking about one’s mind, emotions and psyche, a.k.a. ‘matters of the heart’.
Let’s dive in to some examples:
If you are two-del, دودل do-del that means you are ‘indecisive’ or ‘in two minds’ about doing something. If you have a hard-del دل سخت del-sakht, or a soft-del دل نازک del-nāzok/نرم دل narm-del, it carries the exact same meaning as in English: ‘hard-hearted’ and ‘soft-hearted’.
If you have a narrow-del, that means that you are missing or longing for something or someone. So, دلتنگی del-tangi means ‘nostalgia, longing, homesickness’, and if you say دلم برات تنگ شده delam barāt tang shode (lit: ‘my heart has become narrow for you’) that is the most common way to say ‘I miss you’ in Persian. We can take that to the extreme by narrowing our del until it becomes the size of a speck: دلم برات یه ذره شده delam barāt ye zare shode (lit: ‘my heart has become a speck for you’), a.k.a. ‘I really really miss you’. In contrast, if you say something has an open-del دلباز del-bāz, that means that a place is ‘bright and cheerful’ or ‘airy’.
If something has warm-del, you would think that means ‘heartwarming’, right? Actually, in Persian having warm or cold del is used to express the concept of ‘having the heart to do something’, so warm-del دلگرم del-garm means ‘encouraging, assuring, confident’, and in its nominal form, دلگرمی del-garmi, it means ‘assurance, encouragment’. In contrast, cold-del دلسرد del-sard means ‘dispirited, disheartened, dissuaded’, and دلسردی del-sardi means ‘discouragement’. There are also the related words دلسرد سازی del-sard-sāzi ‘dissuasion’, and دلسرد کردن del-sard kardan ‘to discourage’.
We can all guess what it means when your del is broken: دل شکستگی del-shekastegi means ‘heartbreak’, and the verb دل شکستن del shekastan means ‘to break someone’s heart’. An example of heartbreak comes from Sa’di:
دلم شکستی و رفتی خلاف شرط مروت
Delam shekasti-o rafti khalāf-e shart-e morovvat
‘You broke my heart and broke (lit: ‘went against’) the conditions of virtue.’
Having a broken del can also lead to having a depressed-del دل افسردگی del-afsordegi, meaning ‘heart sickness, depression, disconsolateness’. On the other hand, if you have lost your del, دلباخته del-bākhte, that means you are ‘lovesick’ or ‘enamored’.
When you want or desire something, it is very common in Persian to say that in fact it is your del that is doing the desiring. For example, دلم بستنی می خواد delam bastani mikhād (lit: ‘my heart wants ice cream’) is a less direct way of expressing your current desire for some ice cream.
Interestingly, if you are suffering from a burning del, in Persian this means that you feel sorry for someone or that you take pity on someone. For example, دلم برات خیلی می سوزه delam barāt kheyli misuze (lit: ‘my heart really burns for you’) means ‘I feel sorry for you’.
If someone has a full or brimming del, this means that they are angry with you. For example, دلم از تو پره delam az to pore (lit: ‘my heart is full from you’) really means ‘I am angry/upset with you’. This is why when a Persian person needs to vent their anger, they express this by emptying their del: دارم عقدۀ دلمو بهت خالی می خانم dāram oqde-ye delam-o behet khāli mikonam (lit: ‘I am emptying the complex of my heart to you’), meaning ‘I am venting my anger to you’.
Finally, if something sits upon or caresses the del, this means that something is ‘pleasant’ or ‘enjoyable’: دلنشین del-neshin and دلنواز del-navāz.
That was a lot! And we have only just scratched the surface: del has loads and loads of other emotional uses that could make this section a whole lot longer! Write a comment if you think we missed an important one!
This exact same semantic extension of ‘heart’ exists in English, such as ‘the heart of the countryside’. A common phrase in Persian with this meaning is دلِ شب del-e shab ‘the middle (heart) of the night’. A more narrative example would be قایق از دل تاریکی بیرون آمد qāyeq az del-e tāriki birun āmad ‘the boat appeared out of the darkness’ (lit: ‘out of the heart of darkness’).
The words دل del or قلب qalb by themselves can be used as a term of endearment, and one can also say دلبر del-bar or دلدار del-dār to refer to one’s lover. The phrase جان دلم jān-e delam ‘the soul of my heart’ is another endearing way of addressing someone you care about, similar to ‘my dearest’.
That’s all for now! Stay tuned for our next post all about the eyes!