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Language

Arabic Words/Phrases I Wish We Had In English

As most of you know, Angie and I lived in Jordan for almost fifteen years. We studied Arabic and became fairly fluent. We loved learning Arabic phrases and idioms that communicated thoughts and ideas better than any literal use of language could. In fact, some of the phrases were so unique to Arabic that we continue to use them interspersed with English comments when English words just won’t do!

Recently my father-in-law shared an article with my son about Arabic phrases Deric Gruen wishes we had in English (see his post here). Of the five he listed I regularly used three when I was in the Middle East – saha (صحة used for sneezes, coughs or just to wish “health” for a person); yallah (يلا let’s go; time to get moving); insha’allah (إن شاء الله “if God wills” – used a lot in various ways). But the article got me thinking about my favorite words and phrases I wish we had an English equivalent for…

1. hayk (هيك)= “that’s the way it is” – This is an all-time favorite. Imagine your child asking you one of those questions you don’t want to answer, instead of getting mad and yelling, “Because I said so!” wouldn’t it be better to be able to say, in a calm, cool voice, “Hayk.” That’s just the way it is. Or when you’re in geometry class and you don’t want to do the proof…”hayk” (ok, that one might not gain you any points).

2. ya halla (يا هلا) = “welcome” or “make yourself at home” – This is actually a contraction of the more formal ‘ahlan wa sahlan (أهلاً وسهلاً) which is used all the time in the Arabic world where hospitality is a virtue and obligation. It has the idea that you are part of the family and our home is wide open to you. So while English has a way to say “welcome”, we don’t have the rich invitation and warmth behind the word. Granted, even the Arabic word can be said as a formality, without the heart of it, but that’s true of any language. I always loved the depth and the beauty of the idea that when I say ya halla, I am welcoming you in a significant way.

3. ma’laysh (معليش)= “don’t worry about it” or “no big deal” – I’m not entirely sure of it’s origins. I’ve heard it’s a contraction of three words, but don’t know. It is colloquial so not usually written. Anyway, ma’laysh is a multi-purpose phrase that can be used to tell someone the spilled milk is no big deal or to ask permission to do something…you don’t mind, do you? It can also take on the equivalent of, “meh, whatever.” Very versatile word!

4. haram (حرام)= “shameful” or “forbidden” – It is used to describe things that shouldn’t be done or eaten. But it has come to be used in unfortunate situations to describe things that shouldn’t be. Somebody is sick? Haram. Someone lost a job? Haram. Someone cheated me? Haram on him/her! (shame on him/her…and maybe me…)

5. ‘akeed (أكيد)= “definitely” or “for sure” – This is sort of the antithesis of insha’allah which often takes on a “hopefully” sort of air. ‘akeed leaves no doubt. When Angie and I would schedule an appointment with an Arab and they’d say, “‘insha’allah” we would often say, “Not ‘insha’allah, ‘akeed! to convey the point that this needed to happen. It wasn’t always effective, but it often brought a chuckle and got our message across.

Those are my favorites…but for those who are Arabic speakers, what Arabic words do you wish had English equivalents?

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