Sunday, August 11, 2013

words I can't live without

I'm (recently) back stateside, and only slightly reeling from reverse culture shock. My time in Switzerland last month served as a pretty decent decompression zone after a year in the Middle East. I re-learned how to cross streets at crosswalks, wait in single-file lines, and accept prices without trying to negotiate for something cheaper.

By far one of the toughest things for me has been adjusting my vocabulary. There are some Arabic words that I don't want to live without--words that manage to capture meanings efficiently, and words that capture meanings English can't approximate.

I've mostly switched over to (rough) English equivalents of these words and phrases, but, if you encounter me late at night speaking (seeming) gibberish, this is a clue to what I'm trying to say.

  • khalas-enough/that's it. A value-neutral word. A not-entirely-impolite way to indicate you're ready to end a discussion. 
  • yaani--literally "it means." One of those lovely filler words like "like" and "I mean." Most often used when I'm struggling to speak in Spanish (multilingual fail).
  • shway shway--little by little/slowly slowly/small (quantity). Most often used when describing my process of learning Arabic.
  • inshallah--god willing/hopefully/maybe. Maybe I really want something to happen in the future. Or maybe I don't. Adding "inshallah" to the sentence preserves that ambiguity while humbly acknowledging human fallibility. 

  • aadi--ordinary, it's no big deal. Yaani, if you step on my foot, but it's not broken or anything, I might say "aadi."
  • bas--but/only/just/that's it. 
  • bshoofik/bshoofak--I'll see you! A useful word to insert into long goodbye sequences. Add an "inshallah" if you're not really sure if you'll see the person again.
  • keefik/keefak--How are you? But with fewer syllables.
  • tufuduli/tufudul--go ahead/help yourself/after you.
  • ze ma bidik/ze ma bidak--as you like. A lovely way to deflect a decision to another person, under the guise of politeness.
  • habibti/habibi--"my dear," but less matronly.
  • wallah--I swear (to god)/really. 
  • alhamdulillah--thank god. An expression of relief or gratitude. As in "I got on the wrong bus but I eventually made it home, alhamdulillah.")
  • mashallah--wow. (But wards off the evil eye.)  Tara writes amazing lists, mashallah.
  • yalla- how on earth could I almost forget yalla? It means "let's go," "come on," or, when ending a phone conversation, it serves as a warning that you're about to say bye. Example: Ok, ok. Ok, yalla, bye! *click*

Here's to hoping we all manage to communicate.

p.s. Aspiring Arabic learners, travelers to the Levant, etc: master a few of these words and, wallah, you'll get major bonus points.