Adonis Diaries

Pearls of wisdom: And Arabic wisdom to boot it…

Posted on: November 15, 2013

Pearls of wisdom: And Arabic wisdom to boot it…

Across cultures and languages and even religious traditions, words and often concepts can get lost in translation.

Nuances and subtle undertones don’t stand a chance on border crossings and cryptic idioms, well they can just forget it!

The “Arabs”, as much as the next people, maybe more, have their own unique phrases and peculiar linguistically- contained notions that cannot conceivably be translated into any other frame of reference.

Neologisms and international-speak are a force for universal understanding, making languages more transferable and providing solutions for the overlaps and fringes, yet some vestiges are still intrinsically owned by the language and its people.

Published August 21, 2013 by

Mardi Aalai the Arabic mother blessing

Image 11 of 12:  To have parental blessing – the highest accolade of all, is Mardi Aalai

Once you have secured ‘ridda’, the mother’s blessing, you sit back and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling that your mom approves your lifestyle. Reaching this blessed state of being ‘mardi’ in planet Arab is more crucial to life happiness than waasta (intermediary); wretched is he who foregoes ridda.

The German and Japanese languages are renowned for their untranslatable turns of phrase.

In German, they have a word for the cowardly individual who wears gloves during a snowball fight: ‘Handschuhschneedballwerfer’. Try saying that with a mouth full of kanafe (a sweet)!

In Japanese, they have the beautiful ‘yugen’, which occurs when you have an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious to be described.

Arab unity?

With the lyrical nature, poetic nuances of Arabic and the zaney notions of its speakers, there are plenty of words or idioms that simply have no precise equivalent in any other language.

A few turns of phrases in Arabic are idiosyncratic to Middle Eastern culture – they have their origins in Islam or a bedouin tradition that isn’t replicated elsewhere.

The denizens of Araby have their own esprit d’escaliers and we are taking away their exclusive rights to them for a moment to share a dozen of our favorites.

From Inshallah (God willing) to being able to tell someone they have heavy blood as an insult to their sense of humor, check out our editors’ picks of the most untranslatable or precious Arabic words and phrases that wouldn’t work anywhere else but the colorful, rowdy and sand-swept Middle East!

Indeed, some Arabs won’t have a clue, since, need we remind you that the Arabic language groups loosely different dialects and speakers across the board who speak in variations of the classical, formal tongue.

If you enjoyed these Arabic classics, join the conversation! Have we missed out any goodies?

“You glassed me” or “burning your guts”?

Got any of your own to add? 


Share some of your favorite hard-to-translate Arabisms in the comment space below!

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November 2013

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