Team Nisreen video transcription: On a camel, in Downtown Beirut

This song – one of my favourite Lebanese songs – is, like many things which come out of a country I am increasingly convinced is populated entirely by DJs, totally ridiculous; it’s also full of very useful expressions and vocabulary, as well as a couple of puns (and who doesn’t love puns!). The slightly awkwardly written English description explains that this song, and the accompanying music video, are poking fun at the self-contained bourgeois bubble of Downtown Beirut through a little bit of absurdism, i.e. riding the eponymous camel around and generally causing chaos. The incident made the Lebanese press – which slightly surreally explains that nobody would have had a problem with a horse, since horses are generally considered to be in keeping with the high level of culture in the city centre (?), but that a camel just wasn’t on. The lyrics themselves make the politically critical nature of the song pretty clear, so I won’t bother explaining it further. The sentences are obviously scrambled a bit syntactically for the purposes of rhyme and rhythm, so perhaps don’t copy the word order exactly, but the expressions and words are all perfectly normal.

أنا بدي كزدر ع الجمل بوسط بيروت
Ana baddi kazdir 3a jjamal bi wasaT beeruut
I want to go for a ride on my camel in downtown Beirut

Baddi is Lebanese and coastal Syrian; normal pretty much everywhere else in the urban Levant is biddi. Kazdar (or tkazdar, form V) means something like ‘joyride’, ‘wander around’, ‘cruise around’. There’s no prefix indicating the subject (except the absence of a prefix… make u think), because there’s only one consonant at the start of the stem. In Palestinian and Jordanian, this would be akazder.

ع الجمل – Camel is definite here because it’s generic – ‘by camel’, similar to بالتكسي ‘by taxi’.

خلي اللي ما معه حق بنزين يصير عنده أمل
khalli illi maa ma3o 7a22 benziin ySiir 3indo 2amal
Let those who don’t have the money for petrol have some hope

خلّى here is first-person singular (not clear from the translation), and is lacking a prefix for the same reason as kazder. Like almost all causatives in Arabic (including form IIs and IVs), it can mean either ‘make’ or ‘let’; which is meant has to be worked out from context (here either ‘let them have some hope’ or ‘give them some cause for hope’ both work I think). As you can see, the verb after it does not take a b- (and khalli itself takes no b because it’s following baddi).

اللي ما معه – literally ‘he who does not have’, but the intention here is gender neutral (trickier to do well in Arabic than in English).

حق is ‘the price of’ (literally ‘the right’), or more like ‘the amount of money which should be exchanged for…’, since you can’t really say ‘he doesn’t have the price of petrol’.

يصير ‘become’ doesn’t really translate nicely into English, but it’s much more idiomatic to use it here than تكون because there’s a change of state implied (from not having any hope to having some hope).

خلي الاجانب بنبسطو اخيرا شافو الجمل
khalli l2ajaanib yinbasTu akhiiran shaafu jjamal
Let the foreigners be happy that they finally saw a camel

انبسط من (nbasaT yinbasiT) means ‘be rolled out’ in MSA, but for some reason means ‘enjoy’ or ‘be happy’ in colloquial (in the same way that مبسوط ‘rolled out’ means ‘happy’). Ajnabi/Ajaanib means ‘foreigner[s]’, but it tends to be code for ‘white people’ or more generally non-Arabs (Arabs don’t tend to be included, even incomprehensible ones like Moroccans).

In 3aamiyye, j is (optionally) a sun letter, which means the l- of the article assimilates to it (this is the same in Egyptian, where word-initial g and k optionally trigger assimilation). The sisters alternate between treating it as a sun letter and not throughout the song.

خلي كل أصحاب المحلات يعملو بانيك
khalli kill aS7aab ilma7allaat ya3milu baaniik
Make all the owners of the shops panic

I’m pretty sure 3imil baaniik is a quintessentially Lebanese expression, with baaniik obviously borrowed from French. These sisters have another song called ‘Panic in the Parliament’ which illustrates its usage nicely. That said, it’s worth mentioning that 3imil is pretty much the go-to verb for foreign nouns that can’t easily be turned into a verb using the normal pattern derivations: عملله ريستارت, that is, 3mello riistaart, is a common expression for ‘restart it’, for example.

وكياس الشوبينك توقع من ايد العالم الشيك
w kyaas ish-shoping tuu2a3 min iid il3aalam ish-shiik
And [make] the chic people drop their bags of shopping

عالم (literally ‘world’) for ‘people’ is very common in all Shami dialects; it usually takes (although you can’t see it here) either feminine singular agreement or plural agreement, like naas. Tuu2a3 here is also losing its b- under the influence of a previous khalla, although there’s no khalli in this line. Also! Iid il3aalam – the hands of the people. Colloquial Arabic, like French but unlike English, uses the singular in this sort of construction where you’re talking about things belonging to people that they each have one of, like body parts: قلبكن ‘your hearts’.

وقع من (wi2i3 yuu2a3) is the most common translation for English ‘drop’, though it literally means ‘fall from’: وقع منك مصاري ‘you’ve dropped some money’. Generally speaking in 3aamiyye ‘assimilating’ verbs (those with a w or y as their first root consonant) do not lose it in the present but have a long vowel there instead (like yuu2a3), although some speakers drop them, especially with more elevated language like أثق فيك asiq fiik ‘I trust you.

كيس (pl. كياس) – in Egyptian this seems to be used for all bags, but in Syrian at least it generally has a narrow scope and is only used for shopping bags, plastic bags etc. شنطة  shanTa or شنتة shanta is used for backpacks, suitcases etc.

The use of English (or French) words like this is common everywhere in Lebanon (and to some extent other Levantine countries), particularly by wealthy urban sorts; bliiz seems to have practically replaced other alternatives for ‘please’ and there are many nativised recent borrowings, as well as a lot of resorting to whole sentences in English when somebody wants to make a point or show how clever they are.

والمسيور الفخامة يفلت من تمه السيجارة
w ilmonsieur ilfakhhaame yiflot min timmo issiigaar
And [make] the fancy monsieur drop his cigar from his mouth

Literally again ‘make the cigar fall out of the fancy monsieur’s mouth’. Falat yiflot is used a lot for things escaping – its participle, فلتان, is used for runaway dogs and in the feminine form as a term for a ‘fallen woman’. In a more similar sense to its usage here, you can use it for words slipping (unwittingly) out of your mouth: خايف تفلت من تمي كلمة بالسياسة ‘I’m afraid that I’ll let slip some word on politics’. فخّامة, incidentally, is one of a set of adjectives known as ‘exaggeration expressions’ in Arabic grammar; the taa marbuuTa is not a feminine marker but a further emphatic addition (these types of adjectives didn’t, in Classical Arabic at least, generally vary for gender).

تِمّ (in some more hicksy dialects, ثِمّ) is the normal word for ‘mouth’ in Levantine. Ditch that فم.

مامي مامي حصان! يصطرخو الاولاد الصغار
maami maami 7Saan! YiSTarkhu lewlaad leSghaar
‘Mami mami, a horse!’ scream the small children

صْغير (sometimes written زغير, since the saad is voiced) has a consonant cluster at the beginning, as does its plural, صغار. Lots of colloquial adjectives have plurals formed on this pattern; more than in MSA have plurals formed with fu3aal (like kubaar). Nouns and adjectives with consonant clusters at the beginning, like Sghaar, tend to take the li- form of the adjective instead of the il- form, but when the consonant they begin with is a sun letter, like saad, you can also go with the normal form with il- (so both li-jdiid and ij-jdiid exist).

أنا بدي كزدر ع الجمل بوسط بيروت وخلي كل الناس تغار
ana baddi kazdir 3a jjamal bi wasaT beeruut w khalli kill innaas tghaar
I want to go for a ride on the camel in downtown Beirut and make everyone jealous

وسط بيروت
wasaT beeruut
Downtown Beirut

بجملي بدي فوت
bi jamali baddi fuut
On my camel I want to go [in]

فات يفوت means ‘go past’ in MSA and occasionally in colloquial, as in اللي فات مات ‘let bygones be bygones’, literally ‘what’s gone is dead’ and السنة اللي فاتت ‘last year’, but in urban Levantine dialects it is also by far the most common word for ‘enter’, ‘go in’, ‘come in’ etc. Ditch that دخل, you can start shouting اُدخُل at people again once you’re a high-ranking officer in a regional Syrian police force (living the dream).

وبين السيارات جملي يكزدر مبسوط
w been issiyyaaraat jamali ykazder mabsuuT
and for my camel to cruise between the cars, happy

Ykazder has no b- because it’s going back to baddi.

وسط بيروت
wasaT beeruut
Downtown Beirut

نزلت كزدر ببيروت ع ضهر الجمل
nzil[i]t kazder bi beeruut 3a Dahr iljamal
I went for a ride in Beirut on the back of the camel

You can put a verb of motion followed by a verb without b- and it means ‘I went in order to…’

The way this woman says ضهر sounds to me more like دهر, though my ajnabi ear is not the most reliable on this distinction. That said, emphatic consonants turning into non-emphatic ones is not unheard of – an example that comes to mind is اتدايق tdaaya2 ‘become annoyed’ and various related words, which are all transparently related to MSA ضاق. At least a little bit of confusion seems to happen in all dialects.

بشوف ويتر عم بيحط سالاد بأفخم مطعم ببيروت
bshuuf weeter 3am bi7aTT saalaad bi 2afkham maT3am bi beeruut
I see a waiter putting a salad [down] in the fanciest restaurant in Beirut

Whilst in English ‘put’ can’t generally be used on its own without a place or at the very least some kind of description of direction (put it down, put it on the shelf) you can use حط in Arabic on its own, generally meaning ‘put down’.

مش عارف هنيك بالذات بجملي بدي فوت
mish 3aarif huniik bizzaat bi jamali baddi fuut
Not realising that it’s precisely there that I want to go on my camel

مش عارف – Most (or maybe all) Lebanese dialects, like Palestinian and most Jordanian, use mish instead of muu, and don’t have very many participles formed with –aan (like 3arfaan, the Syrian equivalent of 3aarif). This sentence potentially has two interpretations – either the waiter doesn’t know, or the speaker doesn’t know. In some Levantine dialects, there seems to be a move towards participles referring to the speaker being invariably in the masculine, even when the speaker is a woman (this might be part of the trend for participles to act more and more like verbs: there’s also a second person singular feminine marker in participles like muu shaayiftiini ‘don’t you see me?’, which only appears when the participle is referring to the addressee).

هنيك huniikhniik is the Syrian and Lebanese equivalent of هناك hunaak/hinaak/hnaak used in Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. It might get you a few funny looks if you use it in Egypt in particular because it sounds uncomfortably close to ha-niik ‘I’m going to fuck’, but it’s a perfectly servicable word in the Levant.

بالذات bizzaat and its synonym بالضبط/بالزبط biDDab[i]6/bizzab[i]6 do not always line up exactly with English ‘exactly’ in that they can be used a little bit more broadly: انت بالزات مالك فوتة ع المدرسة inte bizzaat maalak foote 3a lmadrase ‘as for you, you [definitely] aren’t allowed into the school!’

وجملي معتر وتعبانضارب ببطنه الجوع
w jamali m3attar w ta3baan Daarib bi baTno jjuu3
My camel is worn out, tired, feeling the hunger in his stomach

ما هو جمل! ما فيك تقلله عن ولا شي ممنوع!
maa huww jamal! Maa fiik [i]t2illo 3an wala shi mamnuu3
He’s a camel! You can’t tell him that anything is forbidden

ما – This maa is not really negative; it appears, generally, before pronouns, and is an ‘attention-grabber’; it means something like ‘but’. It’s also used in Egyptian and I could’ve sworn it’s been referenced right here on Team Maha before, but الله أعلم because searching ما on an Arabic blog, as anyone who has ever had to memorise the 9 types of ما will know, is not going to do you much good. I guess that structures like this (maa huww jamal!) originally started as rhetorical questions and developed into an emphatic structure. Huw[w] is a short, alternative form of huwwe which appears (like hiy and hin for hiyye and hinne) in a few different contexts, particularly, it seems, after particles like maa and laa.

ما فيك – this is a pretty Syro-Lebanese expression meaning ‘you can’t’, formed either straightforwardly with the normal forms of fii (fiyyi/fiyye, fiik etc) or with the stem fiin- (probably a back-formation from fiina or fiini, the latter of which is an alternate form for fiyye: fiinak, fiinik etc); the second form (maa fiini) appears later in the song. It’s not only used in the negative either: fiini ‘I can’. This entire sentence – whose order is scrambled a bit for rhyme – literally means ‘you can’t tell him about anything [that it’s] forbidden’.

ولا شي – wala here is a negative which always appears in double negative constructions, like here (you can’t tell him nothing is forbidden). Not to be confused with waLLa (with a dark, doubled l) which you probably already know as ‘by God!’.

تقلله – although قال is obviously a perfectly normal MSA verb, you could be forgiven for not recognising it in this mess of unexpected vowels and consonants. First of all, and reasonably obviously, the prefix is t- rather than ti- because it precedes only one consonant instead of a consonant cluster (Levantine can’t really cope with three consonants in a cluster except in some specific contexts and with some specific consonants), making the form without -lo تقول t2uul, which so far seems very reasonable. When the -li, -lak, -lo etc suffixes are added to hollow verbs, the long vowel in the root is shortened, making the expected form t2ullo – and this is exactly what it would be in most Palestinian and Jordanian dialects, and some Syrian and Lebanese ones too. But I mentioned in my very first post that most Syrian and Lebanese dialects have merged short u and i in stressed syllables. Since the stress is now on the /u/, it turns into this merged vowel (sometimes represented by é in linguistic stuff), which in this context – without any emphatic consonants – sounds like ‘i’.

والناس تعيط وتصرخ تركض ببعضها تفوت
w innaas t3ayyiT w tSarrikh tirkoD biba3Da tfuut
While the people are shouting and screaming, running, banging into one another!

Mostly pretty boring and straightforward, except that it includes the uncomfortably sexy expression ‘entering into one another’ which is the normal way of saying ‘knock into one another’ (fuut bi-ba3D). I think the w- here is making this whole sentence into a 7aal (one of those few al kitaab explanations that are of any relevance to how people speak); this might explain why the verbs are mysteriously lacking in b-s (the prefix, not the substance produced by bulls and politicians, ho ho ho), because some speakers use these forms in 7aal clauses. In any case, sometimes forms without b- are used outside 7aals in narratives for no apparent reason. Another possible explanation, given the tense-switching throughout the song, is that there’s a kaan here (indicating continuous pastness) that has been dropped. And God knows best.

جملي لعوس السالاد ع مهله مبسوط
jamali la3was issaalaad 3a mahlo mabsuuT
My camel ate up the salad in his own time, happy

ع مهلك – in your own time. Often shouted at people going too fast in doing things, or breezily said to waiters as a passive-aggressive (or, more charitably, friendly) indication that you don’t mind them taking a while.

أنا ع الجمل نزلت كزدر وبوسط بيروت!
ana 3a jjamal nzil[i]t kazder w bi wasa6 beeruut!
I went for a ride, on a camel, and in downtown Beirut!

فجأة بشوفني الدركة وبيوقفني ع اليمين
faj2a bishuufni ddarake w biwa22ifni 3a lyamiin
All of a sudden, a policeman sees me and pulls me over on the right

فجأة – فجأة in Fusha would have tanwiin in this meaning, but like many similar nouns (صراحة ‘to be honest’) it can appear with or without one in colloquial.

دركة – A darake is a member of the darak, Lebanon’s gendarmerie, who are responsible (among other things) for traffic; the feminine ending is I guess making a singular out of a collective (like… تفاحة?) and the darake here is masculine. The fact it’s definite – along with various other definite nouns with indefinite translations in English – has deep and mysterious implications about the nature of Arabic information and discourse structure. Probably.

بيقللي ع الجمل بوسط بيروت مفكرة حالك مين؟
bi2illi 3a jjamal bi wasaT beeruut? Mfakkira 7aalik miin?
He says to me, on a camel in downtown Beirut? Who do you think you are?

حالك – the normal Levantine replacement for نفسك.

مفكر mfakkir can be used very similarly to its verbal counterpart بفكّر bfakkir, though mfakkir is narrower in scope. It means either ‘[X] thinks [Y to be…]’ or ‘[X] has thought of/about’, depending on whether it’s reflecting the ‘think someone to be’ meaning of فكّر or the ‘think about [doing]’, ‘think about [something]’ meaning (which takes the preposition بـ). In this sense it means ‘[who do you] think [yourself] to be?’

قلتله يا حضرة الدركة سمعني شو بدي قول
2iltillo 7aDrit iddarake sma3ni shu baddi 2uul
I said to him, sir, listen to what I have to say

حضرة, which you may know from the more common ­­حضرتك, literally means ‘presence’ and is used to be respectful (although to be honest in my experience it’s far more commonly used sarcastically with people acting as if they’re better than everyone else).

أنا بعرف حضرتك عن أمن المواطن مسؤول
ana ba3rif 7aD[i]rtak 3an aman ilmuwaaTin mas2uul
I know that you’re responsible for the safety of the citizen

On a slightly dorky syntactic point, you can do something with عرف that you can’t really do with English ‘know’, which is that you can have the subject of the following sentence (normally standing on its own after ‘that’) be the direct object of عرف: بعرفك مشغول ها الأيام ‘I know you’re busy these days’. I guess the closest equivalent in English is ‘I know you to be busy’.

بس ما أنا كمان مواطنة وحقي فوت ع ها المدينة
bass maa ana kamaan muwaaTne w 7a22i fuut 3a ha lmadiini
But I’m a citizen too and it’s my right to enter this city!

I think I mentioned before that many Lebanese people pronounce final ـة as i. The maa here is the same one we saw earlier with maa huww jamal. You can say حقي + b-less verb to mean ‘it’s my right to’.

وأنا من عيلة متواضعة وبلا ها الجمل ما فيني
w ana min 3eele mitwaaD3a w bala ha jjamal maa fiini
And I’m from a humble family, without this camel I can’t!

We’ve already seen fiini. Note that mitwaaD3a has mi- not mu-, which is also found in Egyptian and many other dialects. Annoyingly for the learner of colloquial, some high-prestige adjectives + nouns unpredictably take mu- (muwaaTin for example, not mwaaTin) and some appear in both forms; in more ~elevated~ forms of speech the prevalence of mu- and more MSA-esque forms like mutawaaD[i]3a increases. But mi- is still probably the most common way of forming participles.

جملي مواطن صالح وبيوقف ع الاشارة
jamali muwaaTin Saali7 w biwa22if 3a lishaara
My camel is a good citizen, he stops at the traffic lights

We saw wa22af in a causative sense ‘make stop’, i.e. ‘stop someone’, above; it is also very commonly used in a non-causative sense, like here, as a synonym for the form one wi2if (which can’t be used with a direct object).

ع الإشارة – ishaara ‘sign’ is the normal word for ‘traffic lights’ in the Levant. One of the many uses of ع or على (these women never say على, but for many speakers على is only shortened to ع before il-) lines up nicely with English ‘at’, as in ‘at the traffic lights’, ‘at the red line’, and ‘at the door’ (ع الباب).

ما بيدوبل ما بيزمر وبيقطع المرة الختيارة
maa bidawbil maa bizammir w bi2aTTi3 ilmara ilkhityaara
He doesn’t overtake, he doesn’t beep his horn and he lets old women cross the street

دوبل dawbal or doobal is from French doubler and means ‘overtake’.

زمر zammar is the verb from زمور zammuur or zmuur ‘horn’.

قطع ‭2‮ 2‭aTTa3 is a great example of a causative you might not think exists; the normal way to say ‘cross the road’ is 2aTa3 ishhaari3. The form II verb either means ‘make [x] cross’ or ‘let X cross’, in this case I think the most obvious interpretation is ‘let cross’.

مرة mara is a swearword in Egypt but the normal word for ‘woman’ in the Levant (its plural نسوان is also apparently a swearword in Egypt, so avoid them both and stick to ست if you don’t want to be beaten up by an old woman on a microbus. Trust me.).

ختيار khityaar is ‘old person’, it can be used as a noun or an adjective. There is also a verb, ختير khatyar, which means ‘to get old’; ختيرنا على… khatyarna 3ala… means ‘we’re too old for…’

جملي بيخفف ع الطبة وما بيسرع فوق العشرين
jamali bikhaffif 3a TTabbe w maa byisra3 foo2 il3ashriin
My camel goes slowly over speedbumps and he doesn’t go faster than twenty

خفف khaffaf and its opposite تقل ta22al are sometimes causative and sometimes not; they often mean ‘go light’ and ‘go heavy’, as here. خفف بالعشى means ‘don’t eat too much dinner’, ثقل بالعشى means ‘eat a lot/too much’.

‫وركبتله نمرة وأصلا ما بيصرف بنزين!
w rakkabtillo nemra w aSlan maa byiSrof benziin!
I’ve put a licence plate on him and he doesn’t use petrol!

نمرة is obviously from… well, I’d guess French nombre and seems to be used in the sense of a ‘set of numbers which comprise a unit’, like registry and licence numbers and phone numbers.

أصلا aSlan is a very useful word to start using, though what it translates to is not entirely clear to me; it generally means something like ‘to start with’, ‘anyway’.

اطلع فيا الدركة ما حب جملي من الأساس
TTala3 fiyyi ddarake, maa 7abb jamali mn ilasaas
The policeman looked at me, he didn’t like my camel one bit

اطّلع بـ TTala3 bi- is the normal word for ‘look at’ in the Levant. Generally speaking the preposition fii has been largely lost in Levantine dialects and replaced with bi-, but bi- does not have any pronominal forms and uses the forms of fii- instead (some speakers are exceptions to one or both rules).

بس مش حاطة سانتور جاوبني بحماس
bass mish 7aaTTa ceinture, jaawabni bi 7amaas
‘But you haven’t put a seatbelt on!’ He answered with zeal.

حاطّة is from حطّ (the masculine will either be حاطّ or more commonly حاطِط) and means ‘having put’; this is one of the many participles that expresses the state of being post-action (hurr hurr) rather than being mid-action (hurr hurr hurr), like آكل ‘having eaten’ or عامل ‘having done’.

Ceinture is obviously borrowed from French, and is a common term for seatbelt in Lebanon, at least. Other terms used include حزام أمن (the Fusha term) 7izaam (aman), زنّار zinnaar (which just means ‘belt’; you can hear it in another Lebanese song here), and probably also قشاط, pronounced 2shaaT, which is another normal term for belt.

جملك رح ياكل زبط وما تجربي تقنعيني
jamalik ra7 yaakol zab[i]T w maa tjarribi ti2na3iini
‘Your camel’s going to get a ticket; don’t try and convince me’

ياكل زبط – the idiomatic use of أكل here is going to be important later on in the song, so pay attention. أكل is not only used in Levantine Arabic for eating, but also as a kind of ‘bad passive’; you eat punches (أكلت ضربة ‘I was hit’), kicks, and, apparently, parking tickets. أكلها akala ‘he ate her’ on its own means ‘he messed it up’. A زبط is basically a ticket you have to take to a police station and pay a fine for. I should probably come up with a nicer way of writing this meaningless inserted-4-sound vowel I keep writing [i].

جرّب jarrab generally means ‘sample’, ‘try’ (in the sense of tasting something to see if you like it, rather than attempting), but it can be used in this sense too, I guess in the sense of ‘attempt [to see if it succeeds]’; ‘don’t even bother trying to convince me [otherwise]’.

قللي بشواربه السود وبضحكته اللئيمة
2illi bi shwaarbo ssuud w bi Da7[i]kto illa2iime
He said with his black moustache, and his nasty laugh.

As long as Levantine speakers carry on using plural shwaarib to refer to this particular type of facial hair (it takes plural agreement too as you can see) I’m going to carry on translating it as moustachioes in my head.

قللي you would expect, following the normal process of vowel shortening, to be pronounced 2al-li, and I’m pretty sure this is how it is pronounced in the eminently more reasonable dialects of Jordan and Palestine. Both exist as variants in Syria and Lebanon.

قلتله حضرة الدركة اللي بتقوله ع الراس
2iltillo 7aDrit iddarake illi bit2uulo 3a rraas
I said, ‘sir, whatever you say,’

ع الراس is a probably slightly more polite way of saying ع راسي ‘on my head’, which means ‘highly respected’: you can tell someone they’re على راسك to mean you really respect them. على راسي and على عيني, along with the perhaps more polite تكرم and تكرم عينك and the then more subservient حاضر and أمرك, is a way of agreeing to a request, similar to ‘no problem’ in English; what she’s saying here is ‘of course I will do what you are asking me to’.

أصلا مين بيسترجي يقللك لأ
aSlan miin byistarji y2illak la2
Anyway, who would dare to say no to you

This is one of the times when a general statement which is expressed most naturally with ‘would’ in English uses a present tense verb in Arabic. Another example is أنا نفسي ما بدفع عليه ولا ليرة ‘I myself wouldn’t pay a single lira for it.’

مع جنبك في رصاص!
ma3 jambak fii rSaaS!
When there’s a gun at your side!’

عطيت الزبط للجمل شافه ورقة ما فهم شو هي
3aTiit izzab[i]T laljamal shaafo wara2a maa fihim shu hiyye
I gave the ticket to the camel; he saw it as a piece of paper [that] he didn’t understand what it was

3a6iit (instead of 3a6eet) is perhaps a specifically Lebanese form, I’m not sure.

شافه ورقة – ‘he saw it [as a] piece of paper’.

think she says هي at the end of this line referring back to wara2a, which certainly makes sense in the rhyme scheme, but when I was transcribing it I kept hearing a pesky -m at the end; possibly it’s something like ما فهم شو يهم ‘what importance it had’. If it is هي then the whole maa fihim… clause is probably best understood as a relative clause attached to ورقة.

لعوسه ع مهله بلعه بكل شهية
la3waso 3a mahlo, bala3o bi kill shahiyye
He ate it up in his own time, he swallowed it with all appetite

قلتله حضرة الدركة متل ما حضرتك طلبت
2iltillo 7aD[i]rtak iddarake mit[i]l ma 7aD[i]rtak Talab[i]t
I said to him, ‘sir, as you ordered,

جملي نفذ الأوامر وأكله للزبط!
jamali naffaz ilawaamir w akalo la zzab[i]T!
my camel carried out the orders and ate the ticket!’

أكله للزبط – I told you you should keep that dual meaning in your head! Whoa! Puns galore! This construction with -o la- (and similar constructions with other pronouns) are used quite a lot anywhere suffixed pronouns can be used: with verbs (as here) and with possessives (أخوه لمازن ‘Mazin’s brother’). It’s difficult to pin down exactly what difference there is between this and the simpler construction; sometimes it seems to be an afterthought to disambiguate. Probably the best approach is to try and imitate natives’ usage. One gloriously superfluous construction – where the la- is followed not by a noun but by a second pronoun echoing the first, as in سأله لإله s2alo la2illo ‘ask him’, is used to emphasise the pronoun.

هلأ كنت بحب ضل معك أكتر بس وقتي مضغوط
halla2 kint [i]b7ebb Dall ma3ak aktar bass wa2ti maDghuuT
Now I’d’ve loved to stay with you longer, but I’m pressed for time

كنت here is conditional. There is a general rule, though not universally followed and probably dialect-specific, that كان takes verbs without b- when it is used to put a continuous construction into the past and takes verbs with b- when it is hypothetical, as here.

وقتي مضغوط – ‘my time is pressed’, i.e. limited.

بدي انزل كزدر بالجمل وبوسط بيروت!
baddi inzil kazder bi jjamal w bi wasaT beeruut!
I want to go and cruise, on the camel, in downtown Beirut!



  1. Another excellent post. I found that comment about the emphatic consonants getting de-emphasized particularly interesting because I’ve noticed that a LOT when listening to Lebanese Arabic but I wasn’t sure if it was my untrained ears or an actual phenomenon I was noticing.

    1. It is a thing. They do de-emphasize them in Lebanon.

      There was a whole debate about this a few months ago when the Lebanese pop singer Elissa released a song called “MawTini.” Some people got upset because they claimed that in the song she pronounces the ‘T’ like the regular ‘t’ instead of the emphatic ‘T.’

      But in her defense, it’s just how some Lebanese people pronounce these emphatic letters: very light, almost like their regular counterparts. So a lot of the time the ‘T’ will almost sound like a ‘t’, the ‘S’ will almost sound like an ‘s’, and so on.

      BTW, you can read more about the Elissa “MawTini” ‘controversy’ here:

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