Practicing your Arabish/Arabizi
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
Arab Americans are fortunate enough to be exposed to two languages in everyday life. While not every Arab American is fluent in both English and Arabic, there are some words that can’t be avoided. By mixing Arabic and English in conversations, Arab Americans have created a whole new language lovingly referred to as Arabizi (a’arabi and ingleezi) or Arabish (Arabic and Enlgish). Here are some common phrases in Arabish/Arabizi you can’t live without. If you’re not saying them now, you will be after reading this!
Every Arab child has heard mama say “yalla let’s go” when you’re at someone else’s house, only for it to mean that you’ll be there for another 45 minutes. After the second “yalla let’s go” it’s maybe another 15 minutes. But once mama finally says “yalla, bye” you know you’re definitely leaving this time. Now, no Arab conversation can end without saying “yalla, bye” either in person or on the phone.
If you’re from Dearborn like me, you know “wallah, bro” is a phrase that’s taken on a life of its own. Young Arab American men use “wallah, bro” when talking with friends to reaffirm a statement they made. For example, Ahmed wants his close friend Yousef to know that he got into a good school so he says “Wallah, bro, I got into the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, wallah!” Ahmed and Yousef can also be referred to as “walla bros” by the Arab women who hear the phrase used all the time by every Arab man they know.
Who is that crazy person swerving between lanes on the highway? A majnoon, of course! No Arab American is unfamiliar with the word majnoon (crazy person) because there’s crazy people everywhere. Examples of majnoons: vegetarians, thrill seekers like skydivers, people who run with bulls, people who don’t like kunafa, people who don’t want to get married, people who go camping, and anyone else who participates in an activity we ourselves would not enjoy. Or if you’re like my dad, you use majnoon as an affectionate term and say things like “See ya soon, majnoon!”
This is another phrase no child can escape. Growing up Arab American, there are some things that can’t be called anything but ’abe. For instance, not fighting over the bill when you’re out to eat with Arab friends. That’s ’abe! We have a culture of generosity that forbids us from not taking care of those around us. What else is ’abe? Being rowdy, screaming, not serving your guests, having friends of the opposite gender, not greeting everyone in the room, going on a date before you’re married, dressing like a cast member from “The Jersey Shore,” and much, much, much more.
Although the meaning of haram in Arabic is “forbidden,” the word is often used out of context in Arab American culture. When we read a sad news story, see a homeless person on the street, or hear about fighting family members, we have no other reaction but “awww, haram, I hope it all works out.” Although haram is used to express sympathy, it’s still used to refer to forbidden items in Islam, such as alcohol and pork.
Get me the babooj!
No one disciplines their children quite like Arabs. You know you did something wrong when mama or baba looks at you and tells you to get them a sandal because if you’re going to get punished, you have to help your parents do it. Babooj is not a word you want to hear unless you’re shopping or actually wearing some cute sandals. Using the babooj on children is growing unpopular among young Arab American parents, but just holding the babooj over your angry face to scare your kids into thinking they’ll get hit should still do the trick! In place of babooj can be the sight of a tennis shoe, a belt, a wooden spoon, or a hanger.
If you’ve ever been frustrated over and over by things not going as planned, you’ve most likely used this dramatic phrase to express your anger. Yabayay isn’t a reaction to just bad news, though. It must be used after a series of unfortunate events that affects your life. Reading a story about Syrian refugees doesn’t warrant a yabayay (please see haram). Yabayay is used when at last minute you learn that you’re going to have company so you rush to get ready, but in the process you spill all the sugar for tea and coffee, you run out of soap to clean the nice cups, you get a stain on the shirt you’re wearing, and the kids won’t come downstairs to help. Yabayaaaaay!
This famous phrase meaning “God willing” is used to express faith that good things will soon come if it’s in God’s plan. Like other Arabic words, InshAllah has evolved to mean “no, it’s definitely not happening” in an Arab American household. How many times have you asked, “Mama can I go to my friends house?” only to be sent to Baba. Then you ask “Baba, can I go to my friend’s house?” But he turns you back to Mama so she just says “InshAllah.” You learn quickly as a child that this means no. Even as an adult, if someone asks you to come over a common response is “InshAllah,” but really you mean “I don’t really want to, but maybe.” Arab Americans need to work on this, but for now InshAllah is going down as a famous Arabic word with an English meaning.
How many of your non-Arab friends have tried to impress you with their Arabic language skills by calling you habibi? Too many to count at this point. This affectionate term meaning “my darling” in Arabic has become an international word used by people in and out the Arab World. Some of the best ways to use the word habibi/habibti: toward a baby, as a name for a puppy, singing Amr Diab songs, getting the attention of someone whose name you forgot, and when you’re trying to get a good deal from a fellow Arab.
What are your favorite Arabish/Arabizi phrases?