Saturday, 19 November 2016

Some Arabic Sayings and Their Translations — أمثال عربية و ترجمتها

 An Egyptian street merchant selling fruits (1920s) — Autochromes taken by Gervais Courtellemont and W. Robert Moore for National Geographic

Since I am fascinated by the worlds quotes, idioms, and words, I thought that it would be a cool idea to translate some Arabic sayings into English. There are Hundreds of ‘hekam’ (حكم) or ‘amthal’ (أمثال); some of which I grew up hearing, mainly through TV and movies, while others are relatively new. Some are found in most Arabic dialects, some are more Egyptian Arabic colloquial; some have rhyming words so they appear poetic and easier to remember, others are more about the message.

The stimulating thing is that there is a universal wisdom in all of the worlds literature and linguistics. If we take notice, well find that the messages most of these idioms, proverbs, and adages offer us are often repeated throughout the generations. Yet, because of the limitation of language they do not reach many people and their significance is seldom perceived.

Naturally, I do not have to agree with everything that has been said. In fact, I sometimes take joy in  philosophically debunking them. But in general, I think you will see a certain degree of underlying truth behind most of the sayings which have lasted.

On a parallel note, check Words With Italian Origin That Are Still Used Today In Egypt, which surprisingly became the article with the most Facebook 'likes’ on One Lucky Soul. 

Now let us review this collection of 20 Arabic idioms along with examples of usage and translations.

  • أعمل خير وارميه البحر
Do good and throw it into the sea.

It means to do good deeds and not wait for a reword.

  • أعصر لمون
Squeeze lemon.

Said when you force yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing; to deign yourself. It is used when you have no other options, or think you dont. And lemon specifically due to its sour taste. I recently shared it with my American friends during the presidential elections.

  • الضرة ما تحب ضرتها لو خرجت من صرتها
The woman never loves her co-wife even if she came out of her belly button.

In the Arab world, polygyny is allowed according to Islam — a man can have up to a total of four wives. So the saying means that even if the co-wife (fellow/rival-wife) came out of a woman’s belly, as if she were her own daughter, she would still never love her.

  •  اللي يأخد المقصد بسوء نية تركبه جنية    
Whoever takes the point with bad intentions shall be possessed by a genie (female).

This one is quite self-explanatory: If you take something the wrong way when you shouldnt have, only you is going to suffer and be possessed by your own assumptions.

  •  ابن الهابلة يعيش اكتر
The son of a dumb woman lives longer.

It is said about those who didnt get enough care or attention from their not-so-intelligent mothers as children, yet grew up to do well in life.

  • العلم في الراس مش في الكراس
Knowledge or learning is the head not in the notebook.

We often heard this as kids during the early mornings while frantically studying 20 minutes before the exam. Another more pessimistic saying from those same times: اللي ذاكر ذاكر

Whoever have studied, studied.

Meaning, its too late to do anything about it. Never liked that one though because some of my best revisions took place in those couple of hours before exams.

  • يغيب القط، يلعب الفار 
When the cat is absent, the mouse plays.

Used when a source of authority like a father or a boss is unavailable.

  • حرص ولا تخون
 Be careful but dont assume betrayal.

  • نار جوزي، ولا جنة أبويا
My husbands hell over my fathers heaven.

Told from a wife’s point of view about how leaving her home and husband to go back to her fathers house will never feel comfortable.Hm.

  • القرد في عين أمه غزال
The monkey in the eyes of its mother is a gazelle.
It implies that mothers will always love and support their children no matter what. Another with the same connotation is:  الخنفسة عند أمها عروسة

Or to her mother, the beetle is a bride. Assuming the beetle is ugly.

  • لا تعايرني ولا أعايرك; دة الهم طايلني وطايلك
Do not ridicule me and I will not ridicule you; trouble has reached me as it has reached you.

Do not be happy when others face trouble when you yourself are facing the same. I think it goes in line "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. This one also the exact Arabic equivalent:
اللى بيته من زجاج ميحدفش الناس بالطوب

  • يقتل القتيل ويمشي في جنازته
Kills the dead and walks in their funeral.

Said about those who cause problems to others then go condole them and offer their sympathy.

 An Egyptian peasant singer poses in a seated position (1920s) — Autochromes taken by Gervais Courtellemont and W. Robert Moore for National Geographic

  • اللي ياكل حلوتها يتحمل مرتها 
Who eats its sweet, tolerates its bitter.

Said about the balance in a certain issue; if you took the good then also accept the bad. Yin Yang-ish.

  •  زى الفراخ رزقه تحت رجليه
Like chicken, his livelihood is under his legs.

To describe those who succeed in whatever they do, like chicken that find food as they walk and without much effort.

  • ما أسخم من ستي إلا سيدي
No one worse than maam but master. 

Said when preferring one thing over the other while they are both bad options; the lesser of two evil.

  • كل ما يعجبك والبس ما يعجب الناس
Eat whatever you like and dress how people like.

This was often told by my sweet grandmother during lunches. It means, do as you please with the personal matters, but do what pleases people when it comes to the non-personal ones. I get the meaning behind the sentiment, but I do not agree with it.

  • يعمل من الحبة قبة
Makes a dome out of a seed.

Said about those who exaggerate in their stories and actions.

  • عيسى نبي و موسى نبي و اللي ليه نبي يصلي عليه
Jesus is a prophet, Moses is a prophet, and whoever has a prophet confers blessings upon him.

It is said to show that the relationship with God is a personal matter and that all religions and prophets are similar. The more general meaning is: Having different names does not change the essence. Oddly, for some reasons it is usually shouted by street vendors or in Luna Parks.

  • اتعلم الكرم من البخيل 
Learn generosity from the stingy.

  •  ابوك بصل و امك التوم منين تجيلك الريحة الحلوة يا مشئوم
Your dad is onion and your mothers garlic, where would your sweet smell come from, you ominous.

The saying is said to imply certain negative characteristics which the person had inherited from their parents. It is similar to: The apple doesnt fall far from the tree.

  •  سيب حبيبك علي هواه لما يجي اديله علي قفاه
Let your lover do as they please and when they come back hit them on the back of the neck.

In Egyptian culture, hitting someone on the back of the neck (afa) is like a slap but more demeaning.

  •  حط للمصايب كرسي وترسي
Put a seat to disasters and they will dock.

A comforting expressing meaning to calm down in times of trouble and things will settle.


Words With Italian Origin That Are Still Used Today In Egypt

1920s Egypt in Colours

OLS Reflections — الطبعة العربية المرحة

ظاهرة إستري نفسك و ريحيها  

Nena Ya Nena: a Bilingual Duet with Vaya Con Dios — نينا يا نينا: ثنائي ثنائي اللغة مع ڤيا كون ديوس

The Letter That Hit Me In The Feels
From English as a Third Language to Author — How I Expanded My Vocabulary

Words With No Direct Translation To English

More Words With No Direct Translation To English

Unusual English Words I learned Later in Life

Why Many Place Names End with ‘-Stan’ 

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