Team Nisreen: Genie joke

genie lampقال في تنين فقراء ماشيين بلطريق
2aal fii tneen fé2ara maashyiin bi-TTarii2
Once there were two poor guys walking along the street


2aal – 2aal on its own is used to mean ‘they say that’, or ‘once upon a time’ without any obvious subject.


fé2ara – plural of fa2iir ‘poor’. MSA would call for the dual here (faqiiraan), but in colloquial we can use tneen with a plural in the same meaning (fa2iireen could also be used here without any change in the meaning).


واحد منهون منحوس ولسانو وسخ بيضل بيسب
waa7ed ménnon man7uus w lisaano wésekh biDéll bisébb
One of them’s really unlucky and foul-mouthed and is always swearing


man7uus – unlucky


lisaano wésekh – literally ‘his tongue is dirty’, i.e. he’s foul-mouthed.


biDéll bisébb – ‘he keeps on swearing’. biDéll doesn’t trigger the subjunctive – we can just put another verb after it, fully conjugated and complete with b-.


لقوا فانوس سحري راحوا وفركوه
la2u faanuus sa7ri raa7u w farrakuu
They found a magic lamp and rubbed it
la2a ylaa2i – find. In the present it looks like a form 3 verb but in the past it conjugates like a form 1.faanuus sa7ri – a magical lamp. faanuus (or 2ém2om قمقم) is the normal term for the lamps that genies live in.
farrakuu – stress on the final long syllable but no –actually pronounced, meaning ‘they rubbed it’.


أم طلعلون مارد كبير قلون شبيك لبيك طلبوا وتمنوا
2aam Télé3-lon maared @kbiir 2él-lon shabbeek labbeek Tlébu w @tmannu
Out came a huge genie. He said to them ‘your wish is my command!’

2aam Télé3-lon – 2aam means literally ‘get up’, but here doesn’t have much of a meaning independently – it continues the narrative and is stuck on to the following verb.maared – a maared is a type of genie (jinni). Usually the genies in stories with magic lamps are maareds.

shabbeek labbeek – meaning ‘your wish is my command’. shabbeek as far as I know is a nonsense word not used elsewhere, but labbeek is sometimes used to mean ‘we obey you’ (or something along those lines) in set expressions like لبيك يا حسين.Tlébu – the plural imperative of Talab/yéTlob ‘ask for’, ‘request’. The singular masculine is Tloob.

tmannu – the plural imperative of tmanna ‘wish for’. Although complications of pattern make this less clear, this is from the same root as umniye ‘wish’ (m-n-w – umniye is on the same pattern as ughniya ‘song’).

أم هنن خافوا منو وتلبكوا أم هوة قلون لح أعطي كل واحد فيكون 3 بيضات وكل بيضة فية مارد صغير بيحقق أمنية
2aam hénnen khaafu ménno w @itlabbaku 2aam huwwe 2él-lon la7 a3Ti kéll waa7ed fiikon tlét beeDaat w kéll beeDa fiyya maared @Sghiir bi7a22e2 umniye
They were scared and didn’t know what to say, so he said to them I’ll give each one of you three small eggs. Each one has a small genie inside who’ll grant one wish.

2aam – again meaningless. Notice that it doesn’t agree with the plural here.tlabbaku – ‘they were confused’ or ‘they didn’t know what to say’.

la7-a3Ti – la7 is a regional (Damascus) variant of ra7, the future particle. a3Ti is quite irregular in Syrian – its present forms always have a in the prefix (a3Ti, ba3Ti, bta3Ti, ya3Ti etc), its past forms act like a normal verb (3aTa > 3aTeet), and its imperative has a weird shape (3aTi, 3aTiini).


kéll waa7ed fiikon – fii- ‘in’ is often used rather than mén in expressions like ‘each one of us’.  inte ashTar waa7ed fiina – you’re the cleverest of all of us.


kéll beeDa fiyya maared – every egg in it (is) a genie. This is basically the same as saying في كل بيضة مارد. fii is like 3énd and ma3 in that forms with pronoun suffixes often act a bit like conjugated verbs – ékhti 3énda ‘my sister has…’ il2ooDa fiyya kéll shi ‘the room has [in it] everything!’

اخد كل واحد 3 بيضات وفترقوا عن بعض
2akhad kéll waa7ed tlétt beeDaat w @ftér2u 3an ba3D
Each one took three eggs and they went their separate ways
tlétt beeDaat – tlét is the reduced form of tlaate used before nouns. beeDaat is the ‘plural of small numbers’ or ‘plural of paucity’ – its main function is to appear after numbers from 3-10. On its own it can imply a small number of eggs (3-10 specifically). beeD cannot appear here since it’s not a real plural but rather a collective and thus cannot be counted.


ftara2u 3an ba3D – went their separate ways, parted from one another. ba3D is used to mean ‘one another’, most commonly used on its own (rather than in an MSA structure like بعضهم البعض).


راح الشخص العادي كسر اول بيضة طلعلو المارد قلو بدي أموال ما بتخلص قلو حاضر وعطاه أموال كتير
raa7 éshshakhS él3aadi kasar 2awwal beeDa Télé3-lo lmaared 2él-lo béddi 2amwaal maa btékhloS 2éllo 7aaDer w 3aTaa 2amwaal @ktiir
The normal guy went and broke the first egg. The little genie appeared to him and he said I want endless money. He said ‘very well’, and gave him lots of money.7aaDer – an affirmative response to a command or request, i.e. ‘OK, sure, I’ll do it’.


ktiir – ktiir often stays in its default masculine singular form rather than agreeing with its noun.


كسر التانيه قلو بدي أكبر قصر بلعالم عطاه أكبر قصر
kasar éttaanye 2él-lo béddi 2akbar 2aS@r bi-l3aalam 3aTaa akbar 2aS@r
He broke the second one and said to him I want the biggest palace in the world, and he gave him a huge palace


éttaanye – ‘the second one’. Feminine to agree with beeDa ‘egg’.


akbar 2aS@r – often the superlative is used in a way which is most idiomatically translated in English with a normal adjective – 3aTaa akbar 2aS@r ‘he gave him a huge palace’ (= the biggest palace), a7la kaas la-3yuunak ‘here’s a lovely glass for you’ (= the nicest glass).


وكسر التالتة قلو بدي عز وجاه وسلطة وعطاه يلي بدو ياه
w kasar ittaalte 2éllo béddi 3ézz w jaah w SalTa w 3aTaa yalli béddo yaa
He broke the third one and said I want power and glory, and he gave him what he wanted


yalli béddo yaa – béddo yaa means literally ‘he wants it (masculine)’ – the -h manifests as lengthening on the final vowel of yaa. This yaa- (derived from classical Arabic إيّاه) is used to carry pronouns when they cannot attach to the main verb or verb-like expression. In the case of béddo, the main ‘verb’ is not a verb and already has a pronoun suffix to indicate the subject (-o ‘he’), so we need something else to carry the object. The object itself refers back to yalli – yalli béddo yaa ‘what he wants [it]’ – which is required in Arabic but not in English.Note that this is present, whereas in English we would have to put the verb ‘want’ into the past to match ‘give’ (‘gave him what he wanted‘). This reflects a much broader syntactic ~thing~ in Arabic where the main verb of a sentence (here 3aTaa) sets the tense for the sentence as a whole and other expressions are generally left in the present, taking their tense from the main verb.

ومرت السنين وهاد الزلمة عايش ومروق بلنعم يلي عندو
w marret lésniin w haad ézzalame 3aayesh w @mrawwe2 bi-nné3am yalli 3éndo
The years passed by with the guy living a great life enjoying all of his blessings
w- this ‘and’, called waaw al-7aal, is very common in Arabic. It usually means something like ‘with’ or ‘while’, expressing that two things are going on at the same time.yalli 3éndo – ‘that he has’, or in nicely translated English ‘that he had’. Again the Arabic is in the present where English would require the past.
مرة ماشي بلطريق أم شاف واحد شكلو متل الشحاد عم يشتغل بتصليح البسكليتات
marra maashi biTTarii2 2aam shaaf waa7ed shéklo métl éshsha77aad 3am yéshtéghel bi-taSlii7 élbisikleetaat
One day he was walking along and he saw a guy who looked really poor working repairing bicycles


waa7ed – literally ‘one’, used a looooot in colloquial to mean e.g. ‘a guy’ (or the feminine waa7de for ‘a girl).


shéklo métl éshsha77aad – here the definite article is generic, so the whole expression means (literally) ‘[who] looks like a beggar’. According to my friend, bicycle repair is a stereotypically low-income profession.


تطلع فيه مرة تانية أم قال والله هاد رفيقي يلي كان معي وقت اخدنا البيضات
TTalla3 fiih marra taanye 2aal waLLah haad @rfii2i yalli kaan ma3i wa2@t 2akhadna lbeeDaat
He looked at him again and said ‘By God, that’s my friend who was with me when we got those eggs!’


TTalla3 bi- ‘look at’.


marra taanye – literally ‘another time’ or ‘a second time’.


wa2@t akhadna – in colloquial we can stick a sentence after wa2@t and it means ‘when’.


غريبة ليش هيك حالتو بدي روح شوفو راح لعندو قلو مو انتي يلي أخدت معي البيضات
ghariibe leesh heek 7aalto? béddi ruu7 shuufo. raa7 la-3éndo 2él-lo muu inte yalli akhad@t ma3i lbeeDaat?
Strange! Why is he so poor? I’ll go and see him.’ He went up to him and said ‘aren’t you the guy who got the eggs with me?’
ghariibe – the feminine of adjectives is often used when they refer to situations, as a default. This doesn’t seem to agree with anything, but see e.g. Sa3be ‘it’s difficult’ and sahle ‘it’s easy’.béddi ruu7 shuufo – shuufo has no b- because it’s attached to ruu7 (‘go see him’). ruu7 has no b- because it follows béddiBéddi itself obviously prototypically means ‘want to’, but has a whole range of additional uses, including indicating the future – béddi shuufo bukra ‘I’m going to see him tomorrow’.

raa7 la-3éndo – he went to him. 3éndo is generally ‘by him’ or ‘at his (house)’. La- can then be attached to indicate motion towards.


هداك قلو اي المهم عرفوا بعض وسلموا واعدو يحكوا قلو ليش هيك حالتك شو عملت بلامنيات
hadaak 2él-lo ee. élmohumm 3érfu ba3D w sallamu w 2a3adu yé7ku. 2él-lo leesh heek 7aaltak shu 3émel@t bi-l2umniyyaat?
The guy said ‘yes’. Anyway, they recognised one another and they said hi and they sat down to talk. He said to him why are you in such a bad state? What did you do with your wishes?hadaak – literally ‘that one’, used to mean ‘the other guy’.

mohumm – who knows why, but in Syrian mohimm is often pronounced mohummélmohumm ‘the important thing’ on its own often means ‘anyway’ or ‘in any case’ and is used to move the narrative along.

3érfu ba3D – 3éref in the past tense doesn’t mean ‘knew’ but rather ‘recognise’ or ‘come to know’. maa 3réftak means ‘I didn’t recognise you’.

sallamu – sallam originally means ‘to say as-salaamu 3alaykum‘, but now means (more broadly) ‘greet’.

2é3du yé7ku ‘they sat down to talk’. In colloquial you can follow a verb with another verb in the subjunctive (i.e. without b-) and this gives the meaning ‘did X in order to Y’. This is the same structure as ruu7 shuuf above or, for example, 2ana faayet naam ‘I’m going in [to the bedroom] to sleep’, i.e. ‘I’m going to bed’.


شوفني انا عل عز والجاه والمال تبعي ليش هيك انتة حكيلي
shuufni 2ana 3a-l3ézz w éljaah w élmaal taba3i leesh heek inte? @7kii-li.
I mean, I’m living in luxury with my power and wealth – why are you working here? Tell me.
3a- can mean about a thousand different things which deserve a detailed treatment. Here in particular it’s tricky to translate into English, but it’s similar to ‘with’, or ‘living according to/living on’.taba3i – possessive particle similar to Egyptian bitaa3 (and probably related to it). I don’t think there’s a particular difference in meaning here from having the pronouns attached directly to 3ézz, jaah and maal.

leesh heek inte? The closest English translation is probably ‘why are you thus?’ or ‘why are you like this?’ but this is not very idiomatic for the context. heek is ‘like this’ or ‘in this way’.

قلو والله يا ابو شريك حظي وبتعرفو رحت عل بيت اجيت بدي إكسر اول بيضة
2él-lo waLLa yaa 2abu shariik 7aZZi w bta3@rfo ra7@t 3a-lbeet éjiit béddi éksir 2awwal beeDa
He said man, you know how my luck is. I went home and was about to break the first egg.2abu shariik – literally ‘father of partner’, but generally a friendly term of address similar to ‘man’ in English.

7aZZi w-bta3@rfo
– literally ‘my luck, and you know [how] it [is]’.

éjiit béddi éksir… – literally ‘I came wanting to break…’ béddi éksir here indicates the future again, but the action is simultaneously in the past – i.e. the futureness here is relative to the time described in the story (I was going to). éjiit is an alternative form of jiit ‘I came’ and here helps move the story along.

أم وقعت مني وانا عصبت وقلتلها واييير أم طلعلي المارد وقلي لبيك وساواني كلي ايورا من فوق لتحت
2aam wé23et ménni w 2ana 3aSSab@t w 2élt-élla w-2eeeeeeeeeer! 2aam Téle3li lmaared w 2él-li labbeek w saawaani kélli 2yuura mén foo2 la ta7@t
It slipped out of my hand and I got really annoyed and said ‘diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiicks!’ The genie came out and said ‘your wish is my command’ and turned my whole body into dicks from top to bottom.wé23et ménni – we’ve seen this in the meaning ‘I dropped it’ before.

3aSSab@t – I got really angry, I got really annoyed. m3aSSeb (the active participle) means ‘annoyed’, ‘angry’.

w-2eeeer! – a swearword equivalent to shouting ‘shit!’ or ‘fuck!’ when you drop something in English. Under normal circumstances you wouldn’t translate this with ‘dicks’ but to keep the meaning of the joke we have to.
saawaani kélli 2yuura – literally ‘made me all of me dicks’. saawa (sawwa in some areas, including Palestine and Jordan) is largely a synonym of 3émel and means ‘do’ or ‘make’, including in the sense ‘make X into Y’. The object is obviously -ni ‘me’, which is then reinforced by kélli ‘all of me’. This structure is very common.2yuura – the plural of 2eer is 2yuura. This plural pattern – f3uule/f3uula – occurs with a few nouns Levantine, although it has no equivalent in MSA. Three other examples are bank/bnuuke (‘bank’), kart/kruute (‘card’), and fard/fruude (‘gun’). Although my friend has spelt it with an alif, this –turns into -t in iDaafa.

 رحت دغري كسرت التانية وقلتلو دخيلك شيل هل ايورا من عليي قلي لبيك وشالون وشال تبعي الأصلي كمان
ra7@t déghri kasart éttaanye w 2élt-éllo dakhiilak shiil hal-@2yuura mén 3aliyyi! 2él-li labbeek w shaalon w shaal taba3i l2aSli kamaan
Straight away I broke the second one and said I beg you, take all these dicks off me! He said ‘your wish is my command’ and took all of them, including the original.


déghri – straight away, literally ‘directly’ or ‘straight on’. Also used in directions. This is a Turkish borrowing.dakhiilak – ‘I beg you’, or sometimes just ‘please’. A polite and (depending on context) pleading way of beginning a request.shiil hal-@2yuura mén 3aliyyi – shaal/yshiil means ‘remove’, ‘take off/out’, ‘lift up’. mén 3aliyyi means literally ‘from on me’ and serves as a nice example of how we can combine prepositions in colloquial (in a way we can’t in MSA).

taba3i l2aSli – again like Egyptian bitaa3taba3 can be used as a euphemism for dicks (‘my thingy’, I guess?). This video suggests that it is also used by (some) women. In this case, anyway, it means ‘my original dick’.

kamaan – probably derived from kama 2anna (‘in the same way’ or ‘and as well’) in CA, means ‘as well’ or ‘also’. You’ve probably encountered it before. Amusingly a homophone of kamaan ‘violin’.

أم كسرت التالتة وقلتلو رجعلي ايري وتيتي تيتي متل ما رحتي متل ما اجيتي
2aam kasart éttaalte w 2élt-éllo rajjé3-li 2eeri w tiiti tiiti mét@l ma ra7ti mét@l ma 2éjiiti
So I broke the third one and said ‘give me my dick back’ and there I was – right back where I started.rajja3/yrajje3 – ‘return’ (transitive), ‘put back’, ‘bring back’ etc. The causative of réje3.

tiiti tiiti mét@l ma ra7ti mét@l ma éjiiti– this is a set phrase which means something like ‘right back where I started’ – tiiti tiiti, you went like you came. The repetition of mét@l here would be impossible in English (‘like you came like you went’), but in Arabic it’s similar to the structure métli métlak ‘like me like you’ which means ‘I am like you’. The -ma here (pronounced short, unlike negative ma) turns the preposition into a conjunction which can be followed by a sentence rather than just a noun. Mét@l ma in this sense is the equivalent of kama in MSA (which if you think about it is just ka- ‘like’ plus -ma).


  1. This is wonderful in every possible way. Is there any sound recording of the joke that might be embedded for reference?

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