This is a post about the highs and lows of translation, the difficulties of colloquial, and – perhaps most importantly – the cack-handed half-heartedness of Netflix’s subtitling.

In my actual life – that is, when I’m not following my real vocation of writing snarky and/or fake-authoritative posts about Syrian dialect on the internet – I work as a translator. I also, sometimes, watch TV (as the innumerable lines from musalsalat I’ve used as examples might suggest). We’ve already slated the bizarre and occasionally desperately wrong stabs at English you can find in MBC’s abysmal MSA subtitling – but bad translation is far from confined to media conglomerates and their poor renderings of 4-year-old American B-movies. It turns out that it’s also a problem for groundbreaking American streaming services’ poor renderings of (relatively new) Syrian-Lebanese dramas.

You might already be aware of الهيبة, the breakout Mafia drama (and periodic Godfather ripoff) starring Teim Hasan and Nadine Nasib Njeim – if not from watching it, then because of the vast outpouring of memes it produced. I started it a while ago for the plot, but after discovering that it was being aired on Netflix my interest shifted rapidly and sadly predictably to professional curiosity about the translation. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I should say before we dive into some of the weirder translation choices and how they should be fixed that I don’t blame the translator for most of this stuff. They clearly got a native speaker of Arabic whose English is decidedly non-native to do these translations – which has its advantages, especially in a field (colloquial translation) where there’s a shortage of native anglophones. But if you’re going to take that option, at least fork out for a native English proof-reader.

The point of this post isn’t just to shit all over Netflix’s translation. Since these translations are clearly the work of a native Arabic speaker, the translation errors are not about misunderstanding the source but conveying it inaccurately in the target language. Mistakes in a foreign language are often interesting insights into how someone’s native language works – which can be useful for learners in avoiding the same mistakes. There are a lot of occasions where the translator departs from the source text in an attempt to make it more comprehensible or more idiomatic, and ends up using even more conspicious Arabisms than they would have done if they’d just stuck to something more literal. These are, from a linguistic point of view, very interesting.

Oh – and one more caveat. Since I imagine Netflix might be a bit more litigiously-inclined than your average Arab drama production company, I obviously won’t be including samples of video here (it’s difficult in any case to extract video from Netflix and I’d have to resubtitle it). But I will give timestamps in case you want to check the words out in context.

Anyway, with no further ado, let’s launch into the mistakes themselves.

1) Lack of tense agreement

This is one of the problems that could really have been solved so easily even by the laziest and most slapdash of English editors.

لا لسا. قلت لحالي بمر عليكي شوف شو صار معك بعدين منكمل ع البيت
laa lissa. 2élt la7aali bmérr 3aleeki shuuf shuu Saar ma3ek ba3deen ménkammel 3albeet
Their translation: Not yet. I thought I will come here first. Then we’ll go together. (Ep 20, 4:40)
My translation: Not yet. I thought I’d come here first (and see how you were doing) and then we’d go back together.

This is in response to the question ‘did you swing by the house?’ so the ambiguity of ‘we’ll go together’ (where the Arabic has عالبيت) is forgivable. شوف شو صار معك (literally ‘to see what has happened with you’) also contributes little enough to the meaning that dropping it is probably justified – when subtitling you often have to cut down the original to make the written English digestible in the time available. But assuming you’re a native speaker of English, even if you don’t know intellectually what ‘tense agreement is’, that ‘I thought I will come here first. Then we’ll go together.’ should be like nails down a blackboard to your native intuition – even though it (or more accurately because it) copies the Arabic syntax (literally ‘I said I’ll drop in on you to see what has happened with you then we’ll carry on to the house’) literally.

2) Weird conditionals

شو بدو يشتغل حماية عندك شي بدو يشتغل درايفر عندك بحس انو بينفعوك الك اكتر مني
shi béddo yéshtéghel 7imaaye 3éndak shi béddo yéshteghel draayver 3éndak b7éss 2énno byénfa3uuk 2élak 2aktar ménni
Their translation: Some of them want to work as guards for you, others as drivers for you. I feel like they’ll come in handy for you rather than me. (E20, 25:00)
My translation: Guys who want to be your bodyguard, guys who want to be your driver – I feel like they’d be more use to you than me.

Here a character is doing job interviews but all she’s getting is people wanting to work for her husband. I don’t envy a native speaker of Arabic trying to convey this, because shi… shi… doesn’t really have a direct equivalent, so for a translator it’s really a matter of first understanding the original and then using intuition to settle on something that sounds natural in English. What I’m more interested in though actually is the use of the future rather than the conditional in the second clause. As we know, the simple present in Arabic often conveys a vaguely conditional or ‘dispositional’ meaning for which ‘would’ is usually better in English than a future or a present. (Also not sure why they went for ‘rather than me’ when a literal translation of the Arabic would have conveyed the original better).

3) Literal translations of Arabic expressions (that sometimes aren’t even there in the original)

انت ناوي تجلطا لامك؟
inte naawi téjléTa la2émmak?
Their translation: are you intending to give your mother a stroke? (E22, 42:10)
My translation: Are you trying to give mum a stroke?

The context here is that a character is insisting on keeping a woman he rescued from being sold to an enemy in his house, despite his brother’s complaints. جلط doesn’t really have the same close connection with the literal medical phenomenon of having a stroke as the English expression, which although it can be used metaphorically, invokes the actual illness much more than جلط does. Since, however, the two characters’ mother is actually frail and ill, I’m all right with using جلط here even if the exact implication is a bit different from the Arabic (which simply implies frustrating or wearing her out) because we end up with the same meaning: you’re driving her mad with this behaviour.

Weirder is the ‘your mother’ – the two characters are brothers. Saying امك in this context, to a sibling or اخوك or ابوك etc, is natural in Arabic – particularly in a context of chastisement – but in English it sounds bizarre, as if she’s not also the mother of the second brother. Likewise, ناوي here – although generally translatable as ‘intending’ – sounds very off when literally translated that way into English. We would say, I think, ‘trying’.

انا بزمناتي وقت كنت لسا اصغر منك انفرضت عليي جوازتها لسمية السعيد فرض. كانت لساتها ولد ما ما بتعرف شي.. اربع سنين من عمري انكبو كب. ومع هيك ولا قلت هي حياتي ولا قلت تضرب عيشتي
2ana bzamanaati wa2@t ként léssa 2azghar ménnak @nfaraDet 3aleyyi jwaazéta lasumayya ssa3iid farD. kaanet lissaata walad maa bta3ref shi. 2arba3a sniin mén 3émri nkabbu kabb. w ma3 heek wala 2élt hayy 7ayaati wala 2élt téDrab 3iishti.
Their translation: Back in the days when I was even younger than you, I was forced to marry Somayya Al-Said. She was just a young girl who knows nothing. Four years of my life were wasted just like that. Nevertheless, I didn’t say that I’m free with my life, or that I had a miserable life here. (E15, 11:24)
My translation: Back in the day, when I was even younger than you are now, I was forced to marry Somayya Al-Said. She was just a young girl who didn’t know anything. Four years of my life wasted – just like that. But not once did I say ‘this is my life to do with as I please’. And not once did I despair of living that way.

This one is something of a gold mine.To be fair ‘back in the days when I was even younger than you’ might just about pass muster – I think the structure of the Arabic (where bzamanaati is separate from wa2@t ma) is making me want a more directly faithful translation, but that’s not necessary. But we then have a tense error (‘she was just a young girl who doesn’t know anything’), mirroring the Arabic literally. I quite like their choice for انكبو كب, but the final sentence is a trainwreck. ‘Nevertheless’ for مع هيك, while in a more naturally phrased sentence that didn’t already set the native intuition a-tingling it might sneak under the radar, seems to be to be jarringly literary for this kind of context (maybe if we said ‘but nonetheless’ or ‘but nevertheless’ it might sound a bit better?)

The best bit, though, is هي حياتي – which is meant to mean ‘it’s my life’. The translator seems to have sensed that ‘it’s my life’ sounded funny and opaque in English on its own, especially without intonation – and resolves the problem by translating it indirectly. The translation, unfortunately, is not a natural English expression but a literal translation of a different Arabic expression – حياتي وحر فيها ‘it’s my life and I’m free in/with it’.

تضرب عيشتي is a difficult one. It literally means ‘may my life/way of living be struck’, but expresses a feeling that your life is terrible. There are a couple of close-ish alternatives in English, but none that are as inoffensive (and TV-safe) as this. I approve of the rephrasing in principle but I’m not sure how nice that rephrasing actually is.

‘Not once’ also, I think, conveys the strength of ولا more nicely than the original translation does.

4) Fundamentally bizarre wording

منيح. بس لازمو شي اربعة وعشرين ساعة لحتى يجمد مزبوط
mnii7. bass laazmo shi 2arba3a w3éshriin saa3a la7atta yéjmad mazbuuT
Their translation: Good. But it needs another 24 hours to be much dense. (E19, 34:40)
My translation: It’s good. But it needs another 24 hours to get the proper consistency/to thicken properly.

This one is pretty much self-explanatory. The speaker has just tasted some لبن, which if you’ve never had it (shame on you) is savoury yoghurt. jémed yéjmad refers to the process of… well, I think the technical term might well be ‘curdle’. مزبوط here means ‘exactly right’ or ‘properly’. How the translator ended up at ‘much dense’ I’m genuinely not quite sure, but I suspect it was another effort at free translation that ended up with a swing and a miss. I’m also not sure about the منيح – often with Arabic adjectives standing alone the most natural English equivalent is a full sentence with a copula.

بس يجي جبل رح نخليه يدوقون
bass yéji jabal ménkhallii yduu2on
Their translation: When Jabal is here, we’ll ask him to have a taste.
My translation: When Jabal gets here we’ll ask/get him to have a taste.

وخليه يحكيني كمان
wkhallii yé7kiini kameen
Their translation: Let him call me too, please.
My translation: And ask him/get him to give me a call, please.

The first one is actually not that bad, but the second one makes the classic mistake of getting mixed up between various English causative constructions. Both these sentences use خلي, which in different contexts can mean ‘get someone to X’, ‘make someone X’ or ‘let someone X’. Here the context (talking to a servant) and naturalness both rule out no. 2 and no. 3 – but it’s perhaps difficult to make that call for a non-native speaker. ‘Let him call me’ makes it sound like the servant steals his phone off him as soon as he comes into the house.

Incidentally, the plural in yduu2on refers to an implied لبنات labanaat, a plural form which is discussed at the end of this post.

Here’s another example:

بعات حدا يجيب سيارتو للدب وانت خليك هون وما تنزل ع البلد لحتى نعرف شو بدو يصير
b3aat 7ada yjiib siyyaarto laddébb w2inte khalliik hoon w maa ténzel 3albalad la7atta na3ref shu béddo ySiir
Their translation: Have someone bring Debb’s car and you stay here and never go downtown until we figure out what’s happening. (E5, 20:20)
My translation: Send someone to get Debb’s car. Stay here and don’t go into the city until we figure out what’s happening.

I’m not sure what happened here. ‘Have someone bring Debb’s car’ is one of the occasions on which a freer translation seems to have worked out all right, although I think ‘get’ is a nicer translation than ‘bring’ here (at this point in the post my brain is starting to get accustomed to 3arabiizi in an unhelpful way to be quite honest with you) – but there’s no real reason for not going for the more literal ‘send someone to get Debb’s car’. ‘Until we figure out what’s happening’ is also a very nice translation that hits what is literally ‘until we know/find out what’s going to happen’ right on the head idiomatically.

The weirder one, though, is ‘never go downtown’. The meaning here is ‘don’t go into Beirut’ – they’re not in a different area of the city but two hours away in the countryside (‘downtown’ to me implies going from one part of the city into the city centre, which can be what عالبلد means but not here). As for ‘never’, I suspect this might be another stab at a freer translation to clarify the meaning that ends up using an Arabism – in this case a literal translation of عمرك or ابدا, which might be used here in the Arabic to emphasise the command (similar to ‘at all’) in a way that ‘never’ in English can’t.

5) Swing and a miss on English idiom

There are quite a few occasions where the translator has clearly (and probably very proudly) taken the opportunity to show off an idiomatic, less direct translation that they think belongs to the realm of English idiom. There may well be plenty of moments where this has worked out very well for them – but there are also plenty of moments where they miss the mark completely. Here’s one example:

شو يا دب؟ اي طريق بدنا ناخد معك؟ الصعب ياما الاصعب؟
shuu ya débb? Ayya Tarii2 baddna naakhod ma3ak? éSSa3b ya2émma l2aS3ab?
Their translation: So, Debb. How do you want to deal with this? The easy road or the high road? (E5, 17:26)
My translation: So, Debb. How do you want to play this? The hard way, or the even harder way?

You could perhaps make the argument that ‘the hard way or the even harder way’ reads less naturally in English than ‘the hard way or the easy way’, even though in Arabic as well it’s an intuitive play on exactly that expression and can be conveyed, I think, pretty nicely into English. In any case, the ‘high road’ in English means something entirely different to ‘the hard way’ – i.e. taking the moral path which you should take even if it’s difficult – and ‘way’, not ‘road’, is the nice translation here in English even if the Arabic literally says ‘which road should we take with you?’

ولله يا وطن تاخد الطريق اللي بدك ياه. انا مخصنيش بشي ومعنديش شي لقولو كمان
waLLa ya waTan taakhod éTTarii2 élli béddak iyyaa. 2ana makhaSSniish bshi w ma3éndiish shi la2uulo kameen.
Their translation: Choose the road you like. I’m irrelevant. I have nothing to say as well.
My translation: However you want, boss. I haven’t done anything, and I’ve got nothing to say.

This is the response to the above line. يا وطن (a way of referring to police, etc – in Syrian you can say حكومة) is missed out entirely from the English despite the translator’s penchant for tortured renderings of general terms of address in ways that evoke Downton Abbey more than the Sopranos (معلم as ‘master’, ست ناهد as ‘lady Nahed’ etc). The first half we have to change to fit with the general English phrasing – the question is not ‘which road’, but ‘how’ (i.e. in which way). But it’s the second half I like best – ‘I’m irrelevant’ is a pretty free translation of مخصنيش بشي (the rural Lebanese ma-sh negation – Beiruti has maa khaSSni) which in fact means ‘I have nothing to do with…’ or ‘X has nothing to do with me’. There’s also the awkward translation of كمان as ‘as well’ in a negative sentence – while we can use kamaan freely regardless of whether the main verb is negative or declarative, in English *’I don’t know as well’ is like nails on a blackboard.


This is a belated FuSHa to Shami post on something that I somehow managed to completely avoid covering the first time round – what Cowell calls ‘presentational particles’. There are a few of these dialectally, but we’re only going to cover the main two here: ليك leek and هي/هاي hayy/haay.

هي hayy

This is the more universal of the two particles, used in all Levantine dialects. Its basic meaning is ‘here is’ or ‘there is’. Although for some speakers it’s homophonous with the feminine form of هاد (‘this [one]’, feminine), and might be etymologically related, it does not change for gender and can be used with anything:

هي المفتاح
hayy ilmiftaa7
Here’s the key

هي احمد اجى
hayy 2a7mad 2ija
Here’s Ahmad now [= here’s Ahmad’s got here]

In some cases it can overlap to a certain extent in usage with ‘this’, just like ‘here is’ in English:

هي المحطة – وهادا الباب الرئيسي
hayy ilma7aTTa – w haada ilbaab irra2iisi
Here’s the station – and this is the main gate

It is often combined with personal (object) pronouns:

هيو احمد
hayyo 2a7mad
Here’s Ahmad

هيها زينب
hayyha zaynab
Here’s Zaynab

These are the simple uses. But هي also has an idiomatic use which is hard to pin down exactly. We’ve already seen a use with a verb above:

هيني جاي
hayyni jaay
I’m on my way, I’ll be right back [= here’s me coming – slightly different from انا جاي, the normal way of saying ‘I’ll be back’]

وينك هلق؟ هيني بالتاكسي
weenak halla2? hayyni bittaksi
Where are you now? – I’m in a taxi

احمد هيو مدموج برب اللعبة ما عاد عم يطلع لبرة
2a7mad hayyo madmuuj brabb illa3be maa 3aad yam yiTla3 labarra
Ahmad’s engrossed in that bloody game [= here’s ahmad engrossed in the lord of the game] and no longer going outside

ليك leek

ليك is Syrian and Lebanese, and is not used in Southern Levantine. Unlike hayy, which can be used for things that are both nearby and far away, ليك (which is probably originally from ‘for you’) is usually only used for things which are further away – i.e. not when just handing something over, in which case hayy would typically be used.

ليكو اجى
leeko 2ija
Here he is [= there he is come]

ليك القطار
leek ilqiTaar
There’s the train

Unlike hayy, ليك (when used on its own) can be modified for gender – ليكي leeki for feminine singular. But this ending cannot co-occur with the object pronouns. When object pronouns are added the only possibility is ليك, which is then gender neutral:

ليكني بالتكسي
leekni bittaksi
I’m in the taxi

ليكو مدموج برب اللعبة
leeko madmuuj brabb illa3be
Look at him, he’s engrossed in the game

Leek/leeki also has another independent usage hayy doesn’t, meaning something like ‘look’ – i.e. introducing a new assertion (probably easier just to give an example than try and pin it down through description):

ليكي انا ما عندي وقت اتناقش معك
leeki, 2ana maa 3indi wa2@t it2naa2ash ma3ik
Look, I don’t have time to discuss this with you

ليك, في شغلة لازم تفهمها
leek, fii sheghle laazem tifhamha
Listen, there’s something you need to understand

This is a quick post about the word ‘barely’. ‘Barely’ is a pretty useful English word, with a few different possible translations in Levantine.

يا دوب ya doob

This is probably the most multi-purpose and useful word for ‘barely’ or ‘hardly’. It’s not particularly transparent, and I have no idea of the etymology. It can take pronoun suffixes (ya doobni, ya doobak) or appear on its own. Sometimes it triggers subjunctive.

هي يا دوب عمرها سنتين
hiyye ya doob 3omrha santeen
She’s barely two years old [= her age is barely two years]

بتحس الدنيا كلا بتهجم عليك ، بالوقت يلي أنت فيه يا دوب إلك حيل تتنفس
bit7iss iddinye killa btihjom 3aleek bilwa2@t yalli inte fii ya doob 2ilak 7eel titnaffas
You feel like the whole world is coming at you when you barely have the energy to breathe

شب يا دوب بيعرف شكلي
shabb ya doob bya3ref shekli
A guy who barely even knows what I look like

صرت يا دوب عم نشوف حدا
Sir@t ya doob 3am shuuf 7ada
These days I hardly see anyone [= I’m barely seeing anyone]

دوبني واصل
doobni waaSel
I only just got here, I’ve barely just arrived

This is the simplest structure – ‘barely’ appears pretty much just as an adverb. However, you can also extend ‘barely’ sentences with a subclause. In these cases, whereas in English we typically use ‘when’ or ‘before’ in English, in Arabic the typical choice is إلا or إلا و:

يا دوب يخلص جملة الا وبيبدي واحدة جديدة
ya doob yekhalleS jemle 2ella w byibdi waa7de jdiide
He barely finishes one sentence before he starts another

يا دوبني وصلت ع البيت الا ومرتي حطتلي العشا
ya doobni waSSalt 3a-lbeet 2ella w-marti 7aTTetli i3asha
I’d barely got home when my wife put dinner out for me

ما… إلا maa… 2illa

This one is pretty straightforward, and has the variation ما لحق… إلا as well as variations on the 2illa (like 2illa w-). This is used in context like the following:

ما وصلت الا ودق الباب عليي
maa waSSal@t 3albeet 2illa wda22 ilbaab 3aleyyi
I’d barely got home when he knocked the door

ما وصلت البيت الا وصلتني بشارة مخالفة مسج ع التليفون
maa waSSalt ilbeet 2illa waSlitni bshaaret @mkhaalafe mesaj 3a ttelefoon
I’d barely got home when I got the happy news [that I had a] speeding fine alert on my phone [= than came good news of a fine as a message on my phone]

ما لحقت وصل ع البيت الا ودق الباب عليي
maa la77a2@t waSSel 3albeet 2illa wda22 ilbaab 3aleyyi
I’d barely got home when he knocked the door

In Palestinian and Jordanian, this construction requires a li7e2 (not la77a2) and typically triggers a participle:

ما بلحق يخلص جملة والا هو بادي وحدة جديدة
maa bil7a2 ykhalleS jumle willa huwwe baadi wa7de jdiide
He barely finishes a sentence before starting a new one

بالزور bizzoor

This one is a borrowing from Turkish zor ‘difficult’. It means ‘barely’ in the sense of ‘with great difficulty’:

بالزور استحملت حالي
bizzoor @sta7mal@t 7aali
I was barely able to contain myself

حتى نسيت كلمة المرور بالزور لتذكرتها
7atta nsiit kilmet ilmuruur, bizzoor latzakkartha
I even forgot the password, I only just managed to remember it [= barely la-I remembered it] (this structure of adverb plus la- covered in the PDF)

انجق anja2 (Lebanese)

This is a Lebanese synonym of ya doob, borrowed from Turkish ancak. You might have heard it in the Mashrou Leila song إني منيح.

كان عمرها ٢٠ سنة انجق
kaan 3emra 3ishriin sine 2anja2
She was barely 20 years old

أنجق ساعتين
anja2 saa3teen @b2iit
I barely stayed two hours


You probably already know the words تقيل and خفيف in their literal senses, along with their plural forms. You’ve probably also heard at least some of the various verbs derived from them, or could guess at them based on our handy guide to causatives.  You might not know, however, that calling someone ‘heavy’ is more likely to be a comment on how they deal with potential suitors than their actual weight. For this and more metaphors and expressions of similar weighty importance, have a look at this post.


تقيل تقال t2iil t2aal ‘heavy’, also metaphorically ‘coy, playing hard to get’

تقل té2@l (tu2el) ‘heaviness’

تقيل عليك t2iil 3aleek ‘too heavy for you’

تقل يتقل té2el yét2al ‘get heavy(ier)’

تقلان ta2laan ‘having got heavier’ [participle of the above]

تقل ta22al ‘make heavier, heavy, go heavy on’

تقل حالو ta22al 7aalo ‘play hard to get, be a bit reserved’

تقّل بالعشا ta22al bil3asha ‘eat too much at dinner’

دمو تقيل dammo t2iil ‘he’s annoying, has a bad personality’

تقّل دم ta22al damm ‘to be annoying’

حكي تقيل ‭7‪‭aki t2iil ‘harsh/serious/indelicate language’

اكل تقيل ‭2akal @t2iil ‘heavy, stodgy food’

تقل حكي ta22al 7aki ‘go too far, be too harsh’

تقل العيار ta22al lé3yaar ‘raise the stakes, make something more serious’ [= make the standard heavier]

تقل العيار té2el lé3yaar ‘the stakes have got bigger, it’s got more serious’ [= the standard got heavier]

لهجة تقيلة lahje t2iile ‘a strong accent’

لسانو تقيل lsaano t2iil ‘his [often non-native] accent is strong, he can’t talk normally’

لغتك تقلانة شوي lughatak ta2laane shwayy ‘your [Arabic]’s got a bit worse’

خفيف خفاف khafiif khfaaf ‘light’

خف يخف khaff ykhiff ‘get light(er)’

خفان khaffaan ‘having got lighter’ [= participle of the above]

ايدو خفيفة ‭2iido khafiife ‘he’s quick(-handed)’, ‘he’s dextrous’

خف ايدك, رجلك khéff 2iidak, khéff réjlak (ijrak) ‘hurry up!’

اكل خفيف ‭2ak@l khafiif ‘snack food’

نام ع الخفيف naam 3alkhafiif ‘go to sleep hungry, without eating [much]’

خف علينا khéff 3aleena ‘go easy[ier] on us’

سكر خفيف sékkar khafiif ‘not much sugar’

شعر خفيف sha3@r khafiif ‘thin, fine hair’

شغل خفيف shégh@l khafiif ‘light, easy work’, ‘not much work’

خفّف سكر, دخان khaffaf sékkar, dékhkhaan ‘cut down on sugar, cigarettes’

خففلي شعراتي من ورا khaffafli sha3raati mén wara ‘he thinned out/trimmed the hair on the back of my head’ [=  he lightened me my hairs from behind]

دمو خفيف dammo khafiif ‘he’s easy to get on with, nice to be around’

خفف دم khaffaf damm ‘have fun, be fun’

متل العالم
mitl il3aalam (zayy il3aalam)

متل الناس
mitl innaas (zayy innaas)

متل العالم والناس
mitl il3aalam winnaas (zayy il3aalam winnaas)

As the different variations on the expression given above show, ‘like the world’ is a pretty misleading translation. (Psych!!!) As you probably know, عالم (in this sense feminine, not masculine) means ‘people’:

في عالم بتقول انو…
fii 3aalam bit2uul inno…
There are people who say that…

The expression متل العالم and its variations thus literally mean ‘like people’. What they actually mean, though, is ‘like [normal, respectable] people’, or by extension ‘properly’ or ‘decent[ly]’:

المهم يضل عنا بلد نعيش في متل العالم
ilmohimm yDell 3anna balad @n3iish fii mitl il3aalam
The important thing is that we still have a country where we can live decent/normal lives [= we can live in like people]

لما تقول لحدا كول علكة زيالعالم والناس
lamma t2uul la7ada kool 3alke zayy il3aalam winnaas
When you tell someone to chew gum like a normal/respectable person [= like people and people]

احكيلك جملة جالسة متل العالم
i7kiilak jimle jaalse mitl il3aalam
Speak properly [= say a straight sentence like the people]

In these two examples the meaning can be relatively straightforwardly derived from the meaning of ‘people’, since the comparison is with a person. By extension, though, متل العالم and its variations can be used to refer to objects too!

لو في دوله متل العالم والناس ما بخلوا كلب متلك يعوي
law fii dawle mitl il3aalam winnaas maa bikhallu kal@b mitlak y3awwi
If we had a decent government [= a state like the people and the people] they wouldn’t let a bastard like you mouth off [= a dog like you bark]

ما اجى نص متل العالم تحت ايديه
maa 2ija naSS mitl il3aalam ta7t iidee
Because he wasn’t sent any decent scripts [= because a script like the people did not come under his hand]


You may already know the word عزم يعزم ‪3azam yi3zem ‘invite’ (not ‘be determined’ as in fuSHa), but unless you’re German or Turkish this simply gloss is likely to expose you to some misunderstandings and possibly some embarrassments without a little bit of cultural background. If you tell someone:

بعزمك على فنجان قهوة
bi3zmak 3ala finjaan 2ahwe
‘I’ll invite you for a cup of coffee’

You’re more or less saying ‘I’ll buy you a cup of coffee’.

If someone says to you:

اكيد عزمتو بعد ما فادك هيك
2akiid 3azamto ba3d ma faadak heek
[You must have invited him after he did that for you]

What they mean is ‘you must have bought him dinner/bought him a drink after he did that for you’.

If after going out for coffee (or whatever) with someone they say:

انا عازمك
2ana 3aazmak
I invited you

They’re offering to pay. It’s polite to do this and then argue about it for a bit before one of you concedes (this can be a fairly awkward social thing to get used to, but it gets easier). Conceding immediately makes you look rude. This is a broader field of social awkwardness too, since even if you don’t explicitly say one of these expressions, you might (emphasis on might) be expected to pay if you invite someone somewhere.

The noun is عزيمة عزايم ‪3aziime 3azaayem ‘invitation’. Sometimes you might be invited (out of politeness) to have dinner somewhere, or just not be able to attend. Something you can say is:

عندي عزيمة
3indi 3aziime
‘I have an invitation’

معزوم عند غيرك
ma3zuum 3ind gheerak
‘I’m invited to someone else’s [house]’

Ideally being apologetic.

This post is about all the different things you can do with your eyes (عين عيون ‭3een 3yuun). As anybody who’s listened to any Arab pop song can attest, the word 3een and its various variations appears all the time in Arabic. In fact there are loads and loads of nice idioms to do with eyes which it’s worth learning a bit about.

You can more or less divide these idioms up into three broad sections. The first set will be fairly familiar to English native speakers because they depend on a straightforward enough equivalence of eyes and seeing. The second set depends on a broad idea of the eye as something positive to be attached to compliments willy-nilly. The third set are to do with the evil eye.

Although I think this list is fairly comprehensive of the most common ones, many of these words – especially the curses and formulaic expressions – have about a thousand different variants and synonyms. Just to warn you.

Fairly literal stuff to do with eyes

حط عينك بعيني – ‭7eTT 3eenak b3eeni ‘look me in the eye’ [= put your eye in my eye]. Carries the same connotations of ‘be honest with me’ as the English expression does.

شوفت عينك shoofet 3eenak – ‘as you can clearly see’. shoofet is almost certainly a noun of instance with ـة, but it’s often spelt with a تاء in this fixed expression.

شفتو بعيني shifto b3eeni – ‘I saw it with my own eyes’ [= with my eye]. Various variants including بهالعينتين bhal3eenteen ‘with these two eyes’.

عيني عينك ‭‭3eeni 3eenak – ‘brazenly, without any shame, openly’ [my eye your eye]. 3eenak doesn’t change, even though it’s transparently ‘your eye’. Some people say 3eenak 3eenak instead.

لعمى بعيونك l3ama b@3yuunak – Goddamn [you], literally ‘blindness in your eyes’! Often just لعمى l3ama, a particularly Syrian/Lebanese expression of surprise or exasperation.

حط عينو على 7aTT 3eeno 3ala – ‘have your eye on’ [= put your eye on].

في واحدة حلوة حاطط عيني عليها
fii waa7de 7ilwe 7aaTeT 3eeni 3aleyya
There’s a really nice one I’ve got my eye on/I’ve had my eye on

خلى عينو على khalla 3eeno 3ala – ‘keep an eye on’ [= keep your eye on]

تحت عينك ta7t 3eenak – right there in front of you, in sight [= under your eye]

فقس عينو fa2as/yif2os 3eeno – to take someone’s eye out. Usually a symbolic threat, equivalent to ‘fuck X up’ or something. This has a loooot of variants: طلع عينو Talla3 3eeno ‘take his eye out’, etc.

كسر عينو kasar 3eeno – to look away, to break eye contact [= broke his eye]

عينو زايغة ‭3eeno zaaygha – a philanderer, a guy who thinks about cheating on his wife or girlfriend [= he has a skidding eye]

عينو لبرا ‭3eeno labarra – a philanderer, a guy who thinks about cheating on his wife or girlfriend [= his eye is to outside]

عينو بيضا ‭3eeno beeDa – a womaniser [= he has a white eye]

ما حدا معبيه عينو maa 7ada m3abbi 3eeno – nobody is good enough for him [= nobody fills his eye]

الك عين ilak 3een – ‘you’ve got the gall to…’ [= do you have the eye to] followed by subjunctive.

سقط من عيني sa2aT min 3eeni – he fell in my estimation [= he fell from my eye]

Eyes as something nice

يا عيني yaa 3eeni – a generic term of affection.

نور العين nuur il3een – probably similar to ‘apple of my eye’.

يا عيني عليك yaa 3eeni 3aleek – I can’t think of a particularly nice translation, but this is used when you describe something (for example that you can’t remember the name of) and someone else works it out, if someone works out what you’re talking about before you get there, or if someone says something you agree with. Probably equivalent to the dry old ‘there we go’ or ‘exactly’.

عيونك الحلوين ‭3yuunak il7ilwiin. Literally ‘your beautiful eyes’ or ‘it’s your eyes that are beautiful’, but don’t let that put you off. A nice fixed response to someone saying that something is 7ilw. You can also say inte l7ilw ‘you’re the nice one’.

نور عيونك nuur @3yuunak. Literally ‘light of your eyes’. Another fixed expression which can used to respond to the equally untranslatable نورت nawwar@t or منور mnawwer, literally ‘[you’ve] lit up [the place you’re visiting]’, but used to welcome someone or tell them they look nice on Facebook.

على عيني ‭3ala 3eeni – ‘on my eye’, a less common synonym of the omnipresent 3ala raasi. Used in all sorts of different contexts, but mainly to say ‘of course’ to a request. Various variants, including min 3eeni, abshir min hal3eenteen, etc.

على عيني وراسي ‭3ala 3eeni wraasi – ‘on my eye and my head’. A slightly more elaborate version of 3ala 3eeni or 3ala raasi. Like 3ala raasi this one can be used to express respect for someone (often before saying something rude about them):

هلق كريس على عيني وراسي, بس…
halla2 @kriis 3ala 3eeni wraasi, bass…
With the greatest of respect to Chris….
Now Chris is a great guy, but…

تكرم عينك  tikram 3eenak – ‘may your eye be honoured’. A polite assent to requests. You might also hear, in the context of for example a party in X’s honour, tikram 3een X in response to requests.

طرقني عين Tara2ni 3een – ‘he cursed me with the evil eye’ [= he hit me an eye]. Various variants including ضربني عين Darabni 3een, with derived stuff like اكلت ضربة عين ‭2akal@t Darbet 3een ‘I’ve been cursed!’ [= I ate an eye blow].

The basic idea behind this, as you might know, is that feeling envy towards someone (hitting them with the evil eye) will cause bad things to happen to them, thus the synonym حسد يحسد ‭7asad yi7sid, literally ‘envy’. ‘Curse’ is a pretty good equivalent though, and obviously the expression is often used in a way that is not serious.

يخزي العين yikhzi l3een – literally ‘may He shame the eye’, i.e. may God stop you from being hit by the evil eye. A generic and arguably somewhat folksy way to compliment somebody or something.

كسر عينو kasar 3eeno – to have dirt on someone in such a way that they’re powerless against you, i.e. I guess to have ‘broken’ the power of their evil eye.

عطاه العين الحمرا ‭3aTaa l3een il7amra – he glared at him

ابو العين الحمرا ‭2abu l3een il7amra – a guy who’s always glowering

فنجر عين ‭fanjar 3een – he got angry [= he angered an eye]

Some related and less idiomatic stuff

عاين يعاين معاينة ‭3aayan y3aayen m3aayane – ‘inspect, examine’ (a doctor for example)

عوينات ‭3weenaat – ‘glasses’ [= eyelets]

عين الشمس ‭3een ishsham@s – the SUN’S FIERY DISK, the sun, the face of the sun, also a place in Egypt

العين السحرية il3een issi7riyye – a peephole in a door [= the magic eye]

عين العاصفة ‭3een il3aaSife – the eye of the storm [just like in English]

One of those translation curiosities you come across when you’re first learning Arabic is just how many different words for ‘mind’ there are. On the general theme of common idioms, one of the most common in colloquial is the word بال, which we’ll cover in this post.

خطر على بالي khaTar/yikhTor 3ala baali

‘To occur to’, ‘to think of’, ‘to come to mind’ [= it occurred onto my mind]:

اول شي خطر ع بالي هو هادا السؤال
2awwal shi khaTar 3a baali huwwe haada ssu2aal
The first thing that occurred to me was this question

خطر ع بالي اعمللي مشروع
khaTar 3a baali 2a3milli mashruu3
It occurred to me to/that I could do a project

A more-or-less synonym is simple خطرلي khaTarli.

اجى ع بالي ija 3a baali

‘To feel like (doing)’. Literally ‘it came onto my mind’:

اجى ع بالي ابعتلك
2ija 3a baali 2ab3atlak
I felt like sending [it] to you

The most common usage with this expression by far is with a present participle:

جايه ع بالي اكل ملوخية
jaaye 3a baali 2aakol @mluukhiyye
I feel like eating mluukhiyye [not a linguistic note but try this stuff, it’s amazing]

مو جايه ع بالي
muu jaaye 3a baali
I don’t feel like it

حط ببالو ‪7aTT bbaalo

‘To set your mind on (something)’, ‘to get it into your head that’ [= put it in your mind]:

يعني في حدا كان حاطط ببالو انو يحل محل المدير
ya3ni fii 7ada kaan 7aaTet bbaalo 2inno y7ell ma7all ilmudiir
There was someone who’d got it into his head that he was going to take the boss’s place

لازم يكون بحبني متل ما انا ومش حاطط ببالو يغيرني على كيفو
laazem ykuun bi7ibbni mitel ma 2ana w mish 7aaTeT bbaalo yghayyirni 3ala keefo
He’d have to love me as I am and not have this idea that he’ll change me however he wants [= on his mood]

عندي عادة سيئة انو بس حط شخص ببالي بنكشلو كل حساباتو وحسابات العيلة كمان
3indi 3aade sayy2a 2inno bass 7eTT shakh@S bbaali binkishlo kill 7isaabaato w 7isaabaat il3eele kamaan
I have this bad habit that as soon as I get someone in my head I dig through all their accounts and the[ir] families’ accounts too

Although it’s usually your own mind you’re putting things into, it can be someone else’s too:

انا من كتر ما مجتمعنا حط ببالي انو العيب للبنت بس لما اشوف هيك تويتة رزيلة كاتبتها بنت بكرهها بس لما يكتبها ولد بضحك
2ana min kiter ma mujtama3na 7aTT bbaali 2inno l3eeb lalbinet bass lamma  2ashuuf twiite raziile kaatibiitha binet bakrahha bass lamma yiktibha walad baD7ak
Our society has put the idea that only girls should have shame into my head so deeply [= from the amount that our society has…] when I see a rude tweet written by a girl I hate her but if it’s a guy who writes it I laugh

ببالو bbaalo

‘On his mind’ [= in his mind]:

بضلن ببالك ع طول
biDallon bbaalak 3aTool
They’re always on your mind

خليني ببالك
khalliini bbaalak
Keep me on your mind

Very commonly co-occurs with اللي in the sense of ‘what’s on your mind’, ‘what you’re thinking of’, or ‘what you want’:

آه نفس يللي ببالك
2aa nafs yalli bbaalak
Yeah, [I’m thinking] what you’re thinking

انشاءالله بتحقق كل اللي ببالك
nshaLLa bit7a22a2 kull illi bbaalak
I hope you get everything you’re dreaming of!

There is a set expression, من اللي ببالي بالك or اللي ببالك بالك illi bbaali baalak which means something like ‘you-know-who’ or ‘you-know-what’, i.e. the person or thing both you and me are thinking of:

كل ما أتذكر الي ببالي بالك بتقرف
kull ma 2atzakkar illi bbaali baalak bat2arraf
Every time I remember you-know-what/you-know-who [= what/who is on my mind your mind] I feel sick!

طول بالك Tawwal baalak

‘Calm down’, ‘be patient’. Literally ‘lengthen your mind’. Possibly the literal intention is something like ‘think in the long term’.

لك طول بالك خيو القصة ما بدها كل هلقد
lak Tawwel baalak khayyo il2eSSa maa bidda kill hal2add
Calm down, man, you’re overreacting!

الشغلة بدها طولة بال
ishsheghle bidda Toolet baal
It needs some patience

You can say that بالو طويل baalo Tawiil ‘his mind is long’, i.e. he’s patient or calm, but it’s not very common to say the opposite (بالو قصير), i.e. he’s impatient.

دار بالو daar baalo 

This means ‘take care’, ‘be careful’. Literally, ‘turn your mind’.

On its own diir baalak can be a warning/caution. With min it means ‘be careful of’:

دير بالك من السيارات
diir baalak min issiyyaaraat
Be careful of the cars/watch out for the cars

With على it means ‘look after’ (though in some dialects min is used for this meaning too):

دير بالك على حالك
diir baalak 3ala 7aalak
Look after yourself

بدير بالو على ابنو
bidiir baalo 3ala 2ibno
He looks after his son, keeps an eye on his son

This one we’ve already touched on previously. The verb اكل akal, as we all know, means ‘eat’. It’s also used metaphorically/idiomatically, however, to express a negative passive (a usage which also exists in Turkish and Persian and probably other languages of the region). The things you can ‘eat’ in this sense are numerous – in fact it’s fairly productive, in the sense that anything negative you can experience you can probably ‘eat’ in this sense. Here are some of the common ones:

اكلت ضربة akal@t Darbe ‘I got hit’

اكلت قتلة akal@t 2atle ‘I got beaten up’ [2atal can mean ‘beat up’ rather than literally ‘kill’ in 3aammiyye]

اكلت بوكس akal@t books ‘I got punched’

اكلت زبط akal@t Zab@T ‘I got a parking ticket/citation’

اكلت مخالفة akal@t mkhaalafe ‘I got a fine/citation’

اكلت اصابة akal@t 2iSaabe ‘I got injured’

اكلت بهدلة akal@t bahdale ‘I got told off’ [bahdal = tell off, this is the maSdar]

اكلت خازوق akal@t khaazuu2 ‘I got screwed over’ [خازوق = an impaling stake – this one is metaphorical]

اكلت خرى, هوى akal@t khara, hawa ‘I got screwed’ [= I ate shit, I ate air – this one is complicated enough that there’s a whole post on it]

اكلتها akalt(h)a ‘I’m screwed’ [= I’ve eaten it]

اكل خمسة akal khamse (for example) – ‘lose by five points, get a five (in cards) when you don’t want it’

اكل 18 سنة سجن akal tmenTash sine sij@n – ‘he got 18 years in prison’

Most if not all of these can be replaced, logically, in the active with طعمى Ta3ma ‘feed’ – طعماني بوكس مرتب Ta3maani books @mrattab ‘he gave me a good smack’.