JOKES FROM THE INTERNET: I’ve come to ask for your daughter’s hand

In the Levant and probably most of the Arab World, when a man wants to get married to a woman, he goes to see her father and requests her hand in marriage. This interaction is quite awkward, and has spawned a whole genre of jokes. Here is one from the internet:

شب رايح يخطب
مرحبا عمي انا جاية اطلب ايد بنتك
طيب عمي ازا قدرت تاخد الموبايل من ايدا خدا كلا وبلا مهر ازا بدك
shabb raaye7 yikhTob

mar7aba 3ammi ana jaayye eTlob iid bintak
Tayyib 3ammi iza 2der@t taakhod ilmobayl min iida khida killa w bala mah@r iza biddak
A guy goes to get engaged
“Hello, sir, I’ve come to ask for your daughter’s hand.”
“Look, son, if you can get the mobile out of her hand you can have all of her and without paying if you want.”

شب shabb – ‘young man’ – equivalent to MSA شاب. Its plural form is شباب, as in al Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group. Uncomfortably. شب is often used to mean just ‘guy’, with no age really implied (or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking – a Syrian friend of mine once said ‘you know even if a guy dies at the age of 90, we say ‘he went in his prime!’).

خطب khaTab/yikhTob – ‘get engaged [to someone]’. khaTab refers specifically to what a man does when he initiates the engagement. Women انخطب nkhaTab (the passive). Yeah. The verb takes a direct object. Here it has no b- because it is attached to raaye7 in the meaning of ‘to get engaged’

عمي 3ammi – literally ‘paternal uncle’, but in the Levant, 3ammi and 3ammo are used for any man a generation older than you with whom you have a reasonably informal relationship (i.e. not teachers or bosses, probably, but taxi drivers and your parents’ friends, yes). Because kinship terms in the Levant are reversible, 3ammi is also used for anyone to whom you are 3amm, regardless of gender. So in the second line – where I’ve translated it as ‘son’ – he’s really just using the same term of address as the young man is using for him. يا عم is also quite often used as a generic ‘man!’ though not here, I don’t think.

جاية jaayye – the observant among you might have questioned the شب’s use of a feminine participle. In most Levantine dialects, جاية always has a taa marbuuTa. جاية is often used in the sense of ‘I’ve come to’ or ‘I’m here to’, usually with a b-less verb following it. Possibly this is an example of an active participle being used to express a result (having come) instead of a continuous action (coming).

ازا قدرت iza 2der@t – this is either an accidental misspelling or a deliberate phonetic spelling (without knowing the writer we can’t be sure). Syrians in particular, in my experience, are given to very phonetic spellings of 3aammiyye, whereas Palestinians tend to spell colloquial words more similarly to their MSA equivalents. That said, this guy hasn’t spelt قدرت as ئدرت, as he might have done. اذا is not always followed by a past tense in Levantine, and to me the use of the past makes it seem a bit more hypothetical – ‘if you can get the phone out of her hand [but you probably won’t be able to!]’

ايدا, خدا كلا – iid-(h)a, khid-(h)a, kill-(h)a. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how Syrian and Lebanese drop the h, in -ha and -hon a lot of the time, although when I’m transcribing things myself I usually include the h for clarity. In many dialects, akhad ‘take’ has an irregular imperative خود khood which acts like a hollow verb: when a suffix is added (like -ha) the long vowel is shortened to u, which in dialects with the u-i merger then becomes khid. When he says خدا كلا this is a pun based on the idea of asking for someone’s hand (i.e. ‘don’t just take her hand…’).

بلا مهر – a mah@r is the opposite of a dowry – whilst a dowry is paid by the wife’s family to the groom for being kind enough to take her off their hands, a mahr is paid by the groom to the family in exchange for their daughter. Make of that what you will.

Ha ha! Women and their telephones am I right guys!!! Ha ha ha ha!


  1. عمّ

    True, this is used as a form of address to people older than one’s self – and also as a term of familiar address between age mates, but here the young man refers to his intended’s father as such because that is a term for father-in-law. And the father is referring to the suitor in the same manner to indicate that he accepts the offer of marriage. This goes back to the day when the preferred marriage partners were paternal cousins (it is even referred to in anthropological literature as the bint amm system – it is a rarity amongt human cultures). Now more honored more in the breach, it does still occur now and then. And a relic of it remains in the language.

    1. Yeah though in this sort of situation you would call (and be called) 3amm anyway even if you weren’t seeking a marriage

      though I guess thinking about it that you’d say ya ibni in response to refuse them in the situation above

  2. Hahaha. That’s a nice one I’ve never heard before.
    I love how passionate and determined you are to learning everything about the Arab culture!

  3. Of course, a lot of the time the guy’s mom goes to do the engagement for him (or drags him along), which means you can use Measure II حطّب.

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