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Arabic Sayings Hardly Expressed in English

posted on: May 8, 2019

By: Noor Almoshin/Arab America Contributing Writer

Having a hybrid culture could be confusing sometimes. For Arab Americans, there are some Arabic sayings that are hard to translate into English. In many cases we find ourselves saying the Arabic expression because there isn’t an English statement that delivers the same intended meaning. I thought of these sayings, can you think of more expressions you can’t find it in English?

1. Y’khzi ala’in–(Disgrace to “evil” eye) يخزي العين

Many Arabs fear to envy and believe that evil eye could be very harmful. Therefore, when someone sees something good, they show a positive impression by saying “Ykhzi Alain.” Some Arabs would say “Ain alhasood feeha oud” which means a stick in the envying eye. Moreover, when something bad happens to someone, some Muslims would say, “Ain ma sallat ala alnabi” which translates that an envying eye didn’t praise Allah’s prophet.”

2. Mash’allah–(It is what God willed), ما شاءالله Esm’Allah (God’s name) اسم الله

In showing good intentions when seeing something beautiful, Arab People say “Mash’Allah” or “Esm’Allah”. These words also mean hold the envy or keep the evil eye away. Mentioning Allah shows adoration and lack of spite at the same time.

3. Insha’Allah–(God willing) ان شاء الله

Arab’s favorite word! It could mean the strong will to do something. “Insha’Allah” could also be used for passive or uncertain responses. And because Arabs are not explicit, “Insha’Allah” could mean yes for shy people. It also could mean maybe, I don’t know, or simply I don’t want to upset you. It’s also become a smart byword for a shrinking bargain, buying time, or having options out of any guarantees.

4. Daymah o a’amrah/amaar–(Let it remain well and constructive) دائمة و عامرة

After being invited to a feast at someone’s house, the guest tells the host “Daymah o a’amrah”, which means may your house and feast continue to thrive. Some Arabs would say “Nridha lkom belafrah,” which means we will invite you back at happy times.

5. Albaqiyah bhayatak–(The remainders added to your life)البقية بحياتك

To show condolences to the family of the dead, Arabs would say, “Albagiyah bhayatak/tik,” it means what has gone from the dead’s life is added to your life. Some Arabs would say “Atham Allah ajrak/ik” which means, May Allah doubles your reward, or makes your reward greater for being patient on such tragedy.

6. Mgaddam–(Take it in advance) مقدّم

Generosity is one of Arabs great features. If you compliment something an Arab owns, he/she would immediately hand it and say: “Mqaddam,” meaning take it as a gift up front. In such situations, it is very hard to reject the gift or change your mind.

7. Ouqbalak–(You are next) عُقبىٰ لك 

In any celebration, Arab people will tell Ouqbalak/ik to the person expected to be celebrated next. Whether it is engagement, marriage, graduation, or baby born. Everyone around will pray and wish to bless the target and to be celebrated soon. Although it presents positive wished, it puts pressure and reminds people of what’s missing in their lives.

8. Sahhah–(Health) صحَّة

When someone coughs, those Arab around will say “Sahhah” meaning be healthy. In another instance, It becomes “Sahtain,” which means two healths; being said at mealtimes wishing well eating, and the person easting responds with, “Ala albak/ik,” meaning: health to your heart too.

9. Na’eeman–(Be in paradise) نعيماً

When an Arab sees that you have left the shower, or had a fresh haircut, or a clean shave, he/she would say “Na’eeman,” which means blessings to your cleanliness and refreshment of health. And that because hygiene is important appreciated in the Arab culture. A reply would be, “Allah yen’eem A’alaik/ki” to reciprocate the blessing.

10. Min ouyooni–(From my eyes) من عيوني

Eyes are very precious to Arab people. When someone very beloved asks for something, Arabs respond, “Min ouyooni,” expressing a willingness to give sight to that person. People respond, “Teslam ouyonak/ik,” meaning bless your eyes. Others would say, “Ala rasi” meaning on my head. It indicates that your request is on top of me and that I am doing happily anything for you.

11. Yisim albadan–(It poisons the body) يسمّ البدن

When Arabs are extremely upset with something, they say this thing: “Yisim albadan,” expressing it is annoying to the point that it is fatally toxic. It shows that a person is angry, hurt, and bitter.

12. Ya haram–(O taboo/poor thing) يا حرام

When an Arab sees a sad or unfair incident, he/she would say “Ya haram” to show empathy to the person in charge. Sometimes, “Ya haram” is used to express the helplessness of that person. Although haram means taboo, its literal meaning might indicate the incident should have been prohibited in the first place. Iraqi Americans say “Khatiyah” for the same use of ya haram.

13. Est’hi a’ala halak– (Be embarrassed about yourself) استحي على حالك

When someone is misbehaving, an Arab would say “Est’hi a’ala halak,” meaning respect yourself. Also if someone is blunt and rude, he/she would be described “ma beyst’hi”. Self-respect is highly appreciated in the Arab culture.

14. Kol sana wa enta/ti bekhair–(Be well every year) كل سنة و انت بخير

This statement is commonly said on annual recurrent occasions. Arabs find it a universal wish/prayer in occasion “kol sana wa enta bekhair” can be said for religious holidays, birthdays, new year. Some say “kol sana wa enta salem,” which wishes for safety and peace every concurrent year.