Syrian Salabina is a Facebook group that produces a lot of memes and short comedic videos. salabiina سلبينا is a slang term for somebody who makes jokes out of everything. It’s derived from the verb  سلبها على séléb-ha 3ala, which means something like ‘pretend not to know things in order to trick someone’ or ‘act stupid’. This suffix -iina – though I have no idea where it’s derived from – is apparently used to make pejorative nouns in a similar way to the suffix -ji. It occurs in at least one another word, fakhfakhiina, which you might translate as ‘posho’ or ‘stuck-up’ (from فخفخة fakhfakha, the maSdar of tfakhfakh ‘act posh’, ultimately derived from fakhkhaame ‘fancy, elevated’).

Anyway, this (quite dark) meme is characteristic of their humour and also contains some puns (woo!!! puns!!!!) which are always good in vocabulary building.

syrian salabina

الإعلامية: الجيوش المشاركة في الحرب السورية لم تحقق أهدافها بعد
ميسي: لك من كتر اهداف الجيوش يلي عم تقصف سوريا ما ضل في جمهور
al2i3laamiyyah: aljuyuushu lmushaarikatu fii l7arbi ssuuriyyati lam tu7aqqiq 2ahdaafa-haa ba3du
Meesi: lak min kitr ahdaaf ijjuyuush yalli 3am té2Sof suuriya maa Dall fii jémhuur
News presenter: The armies taking part in the Syrian war have not yet realised their goals
Messi: With all the goals scored by the armies striking Syria there’s no spectators left

The first line is in MSA and probably doesn’t need that much explanation. بعدُ is an adverb used quite a lot in MSA for ‘yet’ (although some teachers of Arabic/native speakers don’t like it, for some reason).

The second line depends on a number of football-related puns which I’ve tried (semi-successfully imo!!!) to transfer into English.

لك lak – very difficult to translate into English, but often prefixes emphatic or assertive statements. Useful to start using.

من كتر min kitr – here, and very often, من indicates the source of something (‘from’ can also do this in English sometimes). كتر is obviously from كتير and means ‘the large amount of’. It can be followed by a noun, as here, or it can have a ما suffixed to it and then be followed by a sentence: من كتر ما عم بحكي تعبت min kit@r ma 3am be7ki t3éb@t ‘I’ve got tired because of how much I’m talking’.

أهداف ahdaaf – the plural of هدف. You’ve probably learnt this as ‘goal’ or ‘aim’ in the sense of something that someone wants to achieve – the sense it’s used in the first line. In MSA coverage of football, however, it also means ‘goal’ in the football sense (it’s also used in 3aamiyye but I think gool is probably more common).

يلي yalli – a regional/personal variant of اللي. I don’t think there’s any particular reason why one is used over the other.

عم تقصف – the word قصف is used a lot in discussions of war and fighting, I think more than in English, and means ‘strike’ or I guess ‘attack with explosive weapons’. So قصف is the normal word used for mortar attacks, shelling, artillery fire and airstrikes. It’s also used in football terminology, as English ‘strike’, for goal-scoring.

ماضل في maa Dall fii – ضل means ‘to remain, to stay’. I suppose it’s derived from MSA ظلّ. The last word, في, is the في used to mean ‘there is’ or ‘there are’. They could equally have said فيّا or فيها ‘in it [fem]’, referring to Syria.

جمهور jémhuur – this is another pun. جمهور can be used for ‘audience’ or ‘spectators’ at a football match, but it’s also used for ‘the people’ (as in جمهورية).

So yeah. That’s dark.


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!

This is an episode of the excellent dark comedy أمل ما في There’s No Hope, which takes the form of short three minute dialogues between two unnamed characters dressed, for unclear reasons, like fishermen. Perhaps these outfits are read differently in a Syrian context, or perhaps fishermen are just famously miserable bastards. In any case. There’s no puns in this one, but it does have a positive take-home message and an upbeat theme tune you’ll be humming all day!

ما رح يزبط معك
maa ra7 yizboT ma3ak
It’s not going to work for you

يزبط zabaT/yizboT is a very useful verb which basically means ‘work’. Its causative, زبّط, means ‘sort out’, ‘fix’, ‘make work’.

ما في حدا يسمعك
maa fi 7ada yisma3ak
There’s nobody to hear you

يسمع doesn’t have a b- here because it’s in a relative clause with an indefinite noun (7ada). Generally speaking in constructions like ‘somebody to love me’ or ‘a window I could escape from’ we use a relative clause with a b-less verb: واحدة تحبني waa7de t7ebbni, شباك اهرب منه shibbaak ihrob minno.

يمكن ما في أمل!
yimkin maa fii amal!
Maybe there’s no hope!

بيعملو مؤتمرات… ما بيخلو مصروع الا بيبعتوه عليها
bya3milu mu2tamaraat… maa bikhallu maSruu3 illa byib3atuu 3aleyya
They do conferences… There’s not a single madman they don’t send to them.

مصروع is from صرع ‘madness’, which is also the medical term for epilepsy.

The second half of the sentence reads more literally ‘they don’t leave a single madman except that they send him to them [the conferences]’.

بيعملو bya3milu – the vowel in the prefix before 3ayn tends to change from i to a (so instead of byi3milu which probably some people say, you get bya3milu).

مؤتمرات شو؟
mu2tamaraat shu?
What conferences?

مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي. قال متخذين قرار بتخفيض عدد الجوعانين بالعالم للنص من هون للألفين وعشرة
mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami. 2aal mittakhiziin qaraar bi takhfiiD 3adad iljoo3aaniin bi l3aalam la nneSS min hoon la lalfeen w 3ashara
The World Conference on Food. It says they’ve decided to reduce the number of starving people in the world to half [their current number] between now and 2010.

متخذ is obviously from MSA اتخذ and means ‘having taken’. The ­prefix is mi-, though, which is an 3aamiyye form. Also notice that neither of the two men pronounce ذ ث ظ properly.

قرار – in Lebanese قرار is pronounced with a hamza, but in Syrian it always has a q. There are a few quite colloquial words like this: وقح weqe7 ‘rude’ for example (also pronounced with a hamza in Lebanon), or قنع qana3 ‘convince’ (and all its forms, pronounced with q in Lebanon as well).

من هون لـ min hoon la – in English we can’t use ‘here’ in the sense of ‘now’, generally, but you can in Arabic.

النص inneSS ‘half’. In Arabic numbers, figures and amounts like this tend to be definite – the English equivalent would be ‘reduce it to half’. This is probably the same reason that there’s an الـ on 2010, and the same reason that in that camel video she says ما بيسرع فوق العشرين ‘he doesn’t go above 20’.

ممتاز. شو اللي زعجك بهدا القرار؟
mumtaaz. Shu illi za3ajak bi haada lqaraar?
Great. What’s annoyed you about this decision?

مستحيل. مستحيل يتم تخفيضه للنص.يعني اذا قدرو يحافظو على عددهن هلأ, اي ممتاز! بس مستحيل, ما بتزبط.
musta7iil. Musta7iil ytamm takhfiiDo la nneSS. Ya3ni iza 2edru y7aafZu 3ala 3adadon halla2, ee mumtaaz! Bas musta7iil, maa btizboT.
Impossible. It’s impossible for it to be reduced by half. I mean, if they manage to maintain the number now, yeah, great! But it’s impossible, it won’t work.

مستحيل يتم تخفيضه – a fun mixture of MSA and colloquial constructions. Even if you’ve only dipped your toe into media Arabic, chances are you’ll have encountered the tamm passive before. But يتم here is conjugated as a normal 3aamiyye verb, and doesn’t take a b- because it’s after مستحيل.

اذا قدرو – normally اذا is followed by a present tense in colloquial, unless the reference is actually past (اذا طلعو امبارح ‘if they set off yesterday’) or if the speaker wants to add a tinge of uncertainty to what they’re saying. Saying اذا قدرو implies that it’s not very likely, but is probably not as straightforwardly hypothetical as لو قدرو.

لأ لأ, بتزبط بتزبط.
la2 la2, btizboT btizboT.
No, no, it’ll work, it’ll work.

مستحيل. لا تقللي استصلاح الأراضي الزراعية واستثمارها
musta7iil! Laa t2illi istiSlaa7 ilaraaDi izziraa3iyye w istismaarha
Impossible! Don’t tell me reclamation of and investment in agricultural land…

لا تقللي laa t2illi – we’ve mentioned before how hollow verbs get shortened before certain suffixes and how long uu becomes that mysterious neutral vowel that sounds different in different contexts before. Both لا and ما can be used to negate the imperative, and I don’t think there’s much of a difference in their meaning.

لأ, مو شغلة استصلاح الأراضي.
la2, muu sheghlet istiSlaa7 ilaraaDi.
No, it’s nothing to do with reclaiming land.

شغلة sheghle is a very useful word to know. It basically means ‘thing’ or ‘thingy’. In constructions like this, it can also mean ‘it’s a matter of’ or, as here, ‘not a matter of’.

ولا تقللي الدول الغنية بدها تعطي مساعدات للدول الفقيرة لإنه أصلا هاي الدول الغنية صارت غنية على حساب الدول الفقيرة.
w laa t2illi idduwal ilghaniyye bidda ta3Tii musaa3adaat la dduwal ilfa2iira, la2enno aSlan hayy idduwal ilghaniyye Saaret ghaniyye 3ala 7saab idduwal ilfa2iira
And don’t tell me rich countries are going to give assistance to poor countries, because in the first place the rich countries [only] became rich at the expense of poor countries.

بدها – although we’re taught بدي first and foremost, and perhaps exclusively, as a translation of ‘I want’, it’s probably used as much or more to add a range of different colourings to verbs. One sense is future, as here, where it translates as something like ‘going to’, and all of its other meanings are basically derived from this: شو بدي اعمل هلأ؟ shu biddi a3mil halla2?  What should I do now? بدي كون نسيت biddi kuun @nsiit ‘I must’ve forgotten’, شلون بدي افتحه؟ shloon biddi ifta7o? ‘How do I open it?’

لإنه la2enno – possibly slightly more formal or emphatic than using مشان or any of its relatives, but still perfectly 3aammi.

لأ مو بالمساعدات. لإن بحياته الفقير ما بيقتنع بالحسنات
la2 muu bi lmusaa3adaat. La2en bi 7ayaato lfa2iir maa byiqtane3 bi l7asanaat.
No, not through assistance. Because the poor man will never be convinced by charity.

لإن la2en is a variant of لإنه la2enno.

بحياته bi 7ayaato and the more common عمره, combined with a negative verb, are used to express ‘never’, ‘not in one’s life’.

بيقتنع byiqtane3 – some verbs have passives formed on form VIII instead of form VII. Also I told you قنع always had a q!

ولا تقللي من طريق حل النزاعات المسلحة وتحويل ميزانيات السلاح لميزانيات الأغذية… لأ, ما حتزبط! لإنه تجار الأسلحة مخططين لست ميت حرب أهلية لقدام لحتى ما يقعدو بلا شغل.
w laa t2illi min Tarii2 7all innizaa3aat ilmusalla7a w ta7wiil miizaaniyyaat issilaa7 la miizaaniyyaat ilaghziyeLa2, maa 7a-tizboT. La2enno tijjaar ilasli7a mukhaTTaTiin la sitt miit 7arb ahliyye la-2eddaam la7atta maa yi23odu bala shegh@l.
And don’t tell me by solving armed conflicts and transferring the arms budget to the food budget… No, it won’t work. Because the arms merchants have planned for six hundred civil wars in the future so they don’t [have to] sit around unemployed.

أغذية aghziye is the plural of غذاء and is maybe one of those cases where nouns that only exist in the singular in English have singulars and plurals in Arabic. It probably expresses there being a lot of something. أسلحة is the same deal – why not سلاح? I don’t really know, but تجار الأسلحة is a set phrase.

ست ميت حرب sitt miit 7arb – in colloquial the numbers are much simpler and less annoying. ميّة miyye becomes ميت miit when it is followed by a noun, and the forms of 3-10 without ـة appear almost exclusively before nouns, whilst the ones with ـة generally appear independently.

لحتى la7atta – used for both la- and 7atta (conveniently), which in any case are basically synonymous with one another in colloquial, both being used for ‘until’ and ‘in order to’.

ما حتزبط maa 7a-tizboT – you were probably once smugly told that in the Levant they use رح and in Egypt they use prefixed حـ, but in Levantine dialects حـ exists as a rarer variant of رح and, in parts of Syria, لح la7. In fact, almost all of the basic words you learn as characteristic of Egyptian are also used, albeit sometimes in much narrower contexts, in Syrian too.

قعد بلا شغل ‭‭2e3ed bala sheghl is a very common translation for ‘be unemployed’ or ‘be doing nothing’.

لأ مو حل النزاعات المسلحة لأ…
la2, muu 7all innizaa3aat ilmusalla7a la2.
No, not by solving armed conflicts, no.

طيب… رح يصنعو أدوية ويوزعوها ع الجوعانين يسفوها وتسد نفسهن ويبطلو جوعانين؟
Tayyib… ra7 yiS@n3u ad@wye w ywazz3uwwa 3a ljoo3aaniin ysiffuwwa w tsidd nafson w ybaTTlu joo3aaniin?
OK… they’re going to produce medicines and hand them out to the starving that they can down and they’ll lose their appetites and stop being hungry?

يصنعو – the underlying form here is yiSna3u, but Syrians have a predilection for rearranging consonants and vowels. Because there’s a suffix which begins with a vowel, the vowel previous to the suffix, yiSna3u, is dropped. But because it’s difficult to produce a three-consonant cluster, a new helping vowel is inserted between S and n to make it pronounceable. The stress stays where it always was, on the first syllable. This process can happen whenever a suffix beginning with a vowel is added, even if it’s -ak-ek or -o.

ادوية ad@wye – this is basically the same process as above. The underlying form is adwiye, with stress on the first syllable; w and y are contracted together, and then a helping vowel has to be inserted before w.

يوزعوها ywazz3uwwa – I vaguely remember learning وزّع either from al Kitaab or from an entry-level news article in the sense of ‘distribute’. It’s also used in colloquial in the same sense for ‘hand out’. The initial h of pronoun suffixes is dropped quite consistently by most Syrians and Lebanese people; when placed after a final long vowel like -i or -u, the vowel turns into a double consonant: –iyy-a-uww-a. There’s no b- because it’s following رح (not directly, of course, but  ‘distribute’ and ‘make’ are both future verbs here).

يسفوها ysiffuwwa – سف (saff ysiff) means ‘take without water’ or more generally ‘gulp down’. I think there being no b- is because this sentence is a relative clause of أدوية, like ‘they’ll distribute medicine to the poor that they can gulp down’.

سدّ نفسهن sadd nafson – سد (sadd ysidd) means ‘block’; you may have encountered the same word, if you’re particularly interested in north African  geopolitics, in the context of the Ethiopian Nile Dam (also called a سد). The word نفس nafs here isn’t ‘self’, but ‘appetite’ – مالي نفس maali naf@s means ‘I don’t feel like it’, ‘I’m not hungry’. This same word in Egyptian is pronounced nifs. سد نفسي is the term for loss of appetite. Literally, this sentence is ‘[the medicines] will block their appetite’.

يبطلو جوعانين ybaTTlu joo3aaniin – بطّل baTTal means ‘to stop [completely]’, ‘to stop being’ or ‘to no longer be’. It can take a verb in the subjunctive (يبطلو يشربو ybaTTlu yishrabu), a masdar (يبطلو شرب ybaTTlu sher@b) or, in the sense of ‘stop being’, a noun (يبطلو سكيرجية ybaTTlu sikkiirjiyye). In his next line he says يبطلو يصيرو جوعانين ‘they’ll stop becoming hungry’.

لأ مو شغلة أدوية مو شغلة أدوية
la2 muu sheghlet adwiye, muu sheghlet adwiye.
No, it’s nothing to do with medicines.

The second guy pronounces adwiye in a more MSA-ish way. He generally speaks a bit more MSA in this whole clip, possibly to emphasise his (albeit pessimistic) wisdom.

بيطلع ساحر, بيقول هرو مرو ، هرو مرو، ما فاتوها بيقومو وبيبطلو يصيرو جوعانين بسحر ساحر هيك؟
byiTla3 saa7ir, bi2uul herru merru herru merru maa faatuuha bi2uumu bibaTTlu ySiiru joo3aaniin bi se7r saa7ir heek?
A magician will appear and say abracadabra and they’ll all stop becoming hungry by some magic spell, something like that?

بيقومو بيبطلو bi2uumu bibaTTlu – 2aam ‘to get up’ is often used in this sort of narrative sense. It doesn’t really mean anything per se; it’s a bit like ‘went’ in ‘he only went and switched the light off!’

لأ ما شغلة ساحر لأ.
la2 maa sheghlet saa7ir la2.
No, nothing to do with a magician, no.

Although مو is as a rule much more common to negate nouns and adjectives and ما to negate verbs, ما can sometimes negate nouns, too. In certain dialects (like that of Latakia, or, apparently, the Sudan) this is basically the rule.

طيب شلون؟ كل شغلة لأ لأ لأ! شلون!
Tayyib shloon? Kill sheghle la2 la2 la2! Shloon!
OK, so how? Everything is ‘no no no!’ How?

يا سيدي, مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي ما اتخذ قرار بتخفيض نسبة الجوعانين إلى النصف… مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي أعلن خبر.
yaa siidi, mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami maa ittakhaz qaraar bi takhfiiD nisbet ijjoo3aaniin ila nniS@f. Mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami a3lan khabar.
Look, man, the World Conference for Food hasn’t decided to reduce the percentage of starving people to half. The World Conference for Food has announced some news.

يا سيدي yaa siidi­ – often used at the beginning of a declaration to a friend or a social equal, even though it means ‘sir’; I guess it also means ‘Mr’ (although calling someone ‘mister’ in English is either flirtatious or infantilising).

شلون خبر؟
shloon khabar?
What do you mean news?

مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي حسبها من هون للألفين وعشرة… بيكون النصف الأول من الجائعين بالعالم أكل النصف التاني. وهيك بتنزل النسبة للنص.
mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami 7asabha min hoon la lalfeen w 3ashara… bikuun inniSf il2awwal mn iljaa2i3iin bi l3aalam akal inniSf ittaani. W heek btinzil innisbe la nneSS.
The World Conference for Food has worked it out that from now up to 2010, the first half of the starving people in the world will have eaten the second half. And that’s how the percentage will drop by half.

حسبها ‪7‪asabha – the -ha is a meaningless ‘it’, referring to the situation.

بيكون… أكل bikuun akal – ‘will have’ is intuitively formed by the future of ‘to be’ plus a past tense verb.

جائعين jaa2i3iin – this is very MSA. You probably learnt جوعان for ‘hungry’ from al Kitaab, but the forms with -aan – تعبان etc – are generally frowned upon in proper MSA writing. The real participle of جاع ‘get hungry’ is جائع.


العمى literally means ‘blindness’, but it’s really just a general, not-very-sweary ‘damn!’. I guess it’s probably originally contracted from العمى بقلبك il3ama bi 2elbak ‘blindness in your heart’ whose wording does not do justice to the long and fertile intellectual tradition of Arabic medical science.


Apparently أبدا (which you may know from MSA can also mean ‘forever’) can also mean ‘precisely’.

ولله ما عم تخطر على بال الجن الأزرق
waLLa maa 3am tikhTor 3ala baal iljinn ilazra2
You wouldn’t have thought of it in a million years.

I hadn’t encountered this expression before, though I had heard references to the blue genies before, and it can be used in fuSHaa with the appropriate grammatical changes. Apparently, nobody knows what the blue genies are, and so saying that something ‘would never occur to’ (ما بتخطر على بال) a blue genie – when blue genies themselves have supernatural powers, and are a symbol of unknowingness, means that you would never have thought of it. Another similar expression is لا… ولا عرفيت أزرق laa… walla 3ifriit azra2 ‘neither… nor a blue genie!’ which means ‘neither that nor anything at all!’

لكان شلون
lakaan @shloon
You’re exactly right.

لكان is a really useful word you should learn as soon as possible in Syrian and Lebanese (in some dialects, la3aad is used instead, though this may now be dated). It means ‘that’s how it is’ or ‘if that’s how it is’ or ‘if that’s not how it is, then how is it?’ This sentence hovers somewhere between the second and third usage. It can also be used on its own in the first and third usages:

هنن مصريين؟ – hinen maSriyyiin? – Are they Egyptians?
لأ مو مصريين – no, not Egyptians.
لكان؟ – then what?

In this sense, Jordanians (and maybe Palestinians) say willa? ‘Instead?’ instead. Instead instead instead.


هنن مصريين؟ ‪– Are they Egyptians?
لكان! – yes, exactly!

أخي ما في مشكلة الا بيلاقولها حل. فورا
akhi maa fii mish@kle illa bilaa2uulla 7all. Fawran
Brother, there isn’t a problem they can’t find a solution for. Straight away.

لقى يلاقو la2a ylaa2u is an irregular verb which acts like a form I in the past and a form III in the present. Here it has a suffixed -lha or, in his pronunciation, -lla, which means ‘for it’.

مشكلة mish@kle is another example of the same lose-a-vowel-gain-a-vowel process – mushkile > mishkile (because the stressed u becomes the neutral vowel, which here is pronounced i), then the i is dropped because there’s a vowel after the last consonant of the root, then a helping vowel is inserted to make it more pronounceable, but the stress remains in the same place. Mishkile exists as a variant.

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!


Shami and Egyptian are not so far apart. In fact, thanks to Team Maha and my own adventures in Egypt, I’ve discovered to my disappointment that many of the expressions I thought were quintessential Syrianisms were in fact perfectly normal Egyptianisms as well. Since going back through all the posts ever and editing them to include a section about their Syrian relevance would be a lot of effort, this post is intended to be a super quick one-stop shop for all of the expressions that have turned up on here which have direct Shami equivalents.

Enlarge your brain

In the Levant (or Syria, at least), كبر عقلك, kabbir 3a2lak.

دماغ is not generally used for ‘brain’ in the Levant – مخ mukhkh, mekhkh and its plural مخاخ mkhaakh are used instead with basically interchangeable meaning. But the equivalent of this particular expression doesn’t use دماغ but rather عقل, which you may recognise as a Fusha word. You could write a whole, probably quite interesting post about the different bits of the mind in Arabic, but generally your عقل is your rational bits – I guess it’s something like your superego. So كبر عقلك means something like ‘control yourself!’, ‘enlarge your superego!’ ‘CONTROL THAT ID!!!’

Father of moustache

This usage of أبو, and of ام imm for women, is also found in Levantine, though such prodigious moustachioes would be referred to as shwaareb شوارب in Syrian, not شنب. أبو and ام in many cases can translate English ‘the one with’ or be used as a colloquial equivalent for MSA ذو and ذات, with abu and imm being used even for inanimate objects depending on their grammatical gender:

الكولا ام الميت ليرة ilkoola imm ilmiit leera – the 100-lira cola (as opposed to the one for 200 liras)

ابو النضارات abu nnaDDaaraat – the guy with the glasses

ام الازرار imm lizraar – the one with the buttons

A lovely example of how unintuitively (or intuitively?) they can be used is the expression ناس ام وجهين naas imm wishheen ‘two-faced people’. Why is it ام? Because ناس often takes feminine singular agreement.

It would be missing a great opportunity to not to mention Mashrou’ Leila’s song Imm ij-Jaakeet here.

أبو plus various root-and-pattern based deformations of names are also used as nicknames by young men: أبو اللول abu lluul and أبو صطيف abu STeef are nicknames for men called Waa2il and MuSTafa respectively.


My etymological explorations around this word have found some interesting results. The word فشخ (fashakh, yifshakh, fashkha) also exists in Syrian and Lebanese, at least, but as far as I’m aware it has no swear-y or NSFW connotations whatsoever – it means ‘step’. In fact, in Hans Wehr it says it means ‘take a large step’, ‘open wide [one’s mouth]’, or ‘spread apart one’s legs’. It’s probably not that difficult to work out from here how it ended up becoming a catch-all profanity, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in this sense in Levantine. فشخة فشخة, which I suppose would be somewhat offensive in Egyptian, means ‘step by step’.

Any speech

أي كلام is also used in Syrian: هاد مو باسبور أي كلام ‘this isn’t just any old passport’. A synonym – whilst slightly less silly – still doesn’t make an enormous amount of sense to an English speaker: كيف ما كان or كيف من كان kiif maa/man kaan, ‘however’. The slightly more standard maa can be replaced by من in many Syrian dialects when saying ‘however’, ‘whatever’ etc. Note that it doesn’t conjugate:

هو مترجم كيف من كان – huwwe mtarjim kiif man kaan – he’s a mediocre translator

هي سيارة كيف من كان – hiyye siyyaara kiif man kaan – it’s a pretty rubbish car

Another similar expression is هات ايدك والحقني haat iidak wil7aq-ni ‘give-me-your-hand-and-catch-me-up’:

ترجمة هات ايدك والحقني – a bad translation

I will not know you again

The most similar expression to this is:

ما لح اتعرف عليك maa la7 it3arraf 3aleek

Another more idiomatic equivalent is:

انت من طريق وانا من طريق inte min Tarii2 wana min Tarii2  – you go your way, I’ll go mine’

A related expression with a similar meaning is لك ما عرفتك! Lak maa 3rift-ak! ‘I don’t know you!’ This might more idiomatically be translated as ‘who are you and what have you done with…’ in response to an unexpected behaviour from your friend, but seems to be used more aggressively.

Give a mouth

Ba22 ybe22 is a folksy way of saying ‘spit out’ in Syrian. Although you might hear it in dramas from very Old-City-Damascus men – especially be22 meaning ‘spit it out!’ in the metaphorical sense of ‘say what it is you’re not saying!’ – I am informed that it’s a bit dated and not used much by young people. The equivalent of ‘give me a bite’ is the sensible هات شواي or the more… unusual هات شئفة haat shi2fe ‘give me a rag’ (شئفة is used for small pieces of anything).

A cold came to me:

Syrian Arabic does not generally use برد in the sense of ‘getting a cold’ (although people might understand it), and neither does it use ‘came to me’. Instead, it tends to use ‘I have’ (معي or عندي) with illnesses:

عندي كريب – ‭‭3indi griib – I have the flu

معي سكري – I have diabetes

For ‘catch’, you can use the catch-all change-of-state verb that Syrian loves so much: صار (there will probably be another post on صار at some point):

صار معي كريب – I caught flu

صار معي سكري – I developed diabetes

For colds specifically, there is a different word, رشح rash[i]7, which comes with its own verb rashha7 and active participle mrashhi7:

انا مرشحة – ana mrashh7a – I have a cold

رشحت – rashha7[i]t – I’ve caught a cold, I’ve got a cold

You can say أخدت برد akhad[i]t bard but it means something like ‘be out in the cold’ – I actually think that ‘catch cold’, in English, originally has this meaning – so it makes perfect sense to say:

اخد برد وقام رشح – akhad bar[i]d w2aam rassha7 – he was out in the cold and got a cold

This is a thing and this is a thing:

Eitherهاي شي وهاي شي or هاد شي وهاد شي (depending on the gender of the thing in question), or sometimes هاي شغلة وهاي شغلة i.e. a literal translation between the dialects.

He is sitting walking:

قعد is not as much-beloved by Syrians as it apparently is by Egyptians. It exists in the meaning ‘stay’ (with someone or at someone’s house, for example), and in the meaning ‘sit down’; قاعد means ‘sitting down’ or ‘sitting’. Its conjugation is 2e3ed yi23od, and if you want to sound Syrian or Lebanese, you should get used to dropping that hideous hamza-3ayn combination in the imperative and shouting insistently 3ood ya zalame 3ood 3ood whenever anyone tries to get up and leave. Another usage which makes sense but might not immediately seem obvious to English speakers is the use of قعدة in the sense of ‘atmosphere’ (in a café):

نروح على <<علاء الدين>> القعدة أحلى هنيك – nruu7 3ala 3alaa2uddiin il2a3de a7la hniik – let’s go to Aladdin [café], it has a nicer atmosphere (a nicer sitting)

قاعد يمشي and its related forms I have heard in real life, but only from Jordanians, Egyptians and Bedouins, as well as people from the Arabian peninsula. قاعد in this continuous sense is not used in urban Syrian, which has عم 3am as a convenient continuous particle. قعد is also not used in the sense of ‘last’ for batteries or lightbulbs, for which بقي (bi2i yib2a) or ضل (Dall yDoll) – both meaning ‘stay’, are used instead:

البطريا ما لح تضل خمس دقايق حتى – ilbaTariyya maa la7 itDoll kham@s da2aayi2 7atta – the battery won’t even last five minutes

You broke the world

خربت الدنيا kharrabt iddinye. Also used in a similar sense is قومت الدنيا, pronounced 2awwamt iddinye. قوم here is from 2iyaame, قيامة, which you might recognise as the word used in يوم القيامة ‘resurrection day’, one of the names of Judgement Day in Arabic. 2iyaame means ‘chaos, bedlam’, and the verb 2awwam derived from it hence means ‘ruin, mess up’.

What is behind you tomorrow?

Used in pretty much exactly the same way in Levantine: شو وراك بكرا shu waraak bukra, وراك شي؟ waraak shi?

He screwed me over

ضحّك علي Da77ak 3aleyyi. Or تضحك علي tDa77ak 3aleyyi. The same, pretty much. Form I, form II and form V can be used; Da77ak is used in Syrian for both the standard ‘make laugh’ (هالشي بيضحك ‘this thing is really funny’) and also in the sense of form I, for some reason.

Towards the metaphorical end, there’s also the somewhat rude خري علي khiri 3aleyyi ‘he shat on me’ and the very Syrian (???) كتالي مي باردة kattaa-li moyy baarde ‘he poured cold water on me’.

There are also a few other synonyms: the generic غشني ghassh-ni ‘he cheated me’ (ghassh ygheshh) and the Syrian خورفني khooraf-ni and خاوزني khaawaz-ni. The former – which I thought was from خرافة, ‘fantasy’ – is apparently actually derived from the word for sheep, خروف kharuuf, and literally means ‘slaughter’.

He is a seer of himself

The same expression exists in Levantine, but the reflexive pronoun is normally حال, not نفس. So we say شايف حاله shaayif 7aalo. ‘Arrogance’ is شوفة حال shoofet 7aal ‘sight of oneself’ – بالعاصمة في شوفة حال bil3aaSime fii shoofet 7aal ‘in the capital there’s a lot of arrogance’.

He hits hash

Yep, also used in Levantine.

I don’t know how to sleep

Also used in Levantine, though in Levantine it’s more common to use a continuous verb – ما عم بعرف نام, ما عم بعرف احكي, ما عم بعرف افتح الباب. Other Levantine expressions for ‘I couldn’t sleep’ include the Damascene ما احسنت نام maa a7sant naam ‘I was not good at sleeping’ (a7san byi7sin is used for ‘be able to’) and the pleasantly folksy ما عم بيجيني نوم maa 3am bijiini noom ‘sleep isn’t coming to me’.

You do not have an invitation

This seems to be an equivalent to مالي علاقة بـ maali 3alaa2a b- in Syrian, ‘I have no connection with’ = ‘I have nothing to do with’. If you want to pointedly tell someone to keep their nose out, there’s always شو دخلك بالموضوع؟ shu dakhalak bilmawDuu3? – what’s your entry (??) in the issue? Or شو خصك؟ shu khaSSak? – what’s it to do with you?

She is lacking

مو ناقصني muu naa2i9ni. You can be lacking specific things, too: مو ناقصني مصايب muu naa2i9ni m9aayib! I don’t need any more problems!

We were in your biography

كننا بسيرتك kinna b-siirtak – we were talking about you

لا تجيب سيرتو laa tjiib siirto – don’t bring it/him up!

ما تفتح معي السيرة بنوب maa tifta7 ma3i ssiire bnoob – don’t even mention that to me

على سيرة – on the subject of…

I die in you

Also used in Levantine.

Drink a cigarette

You drink cigarettes in Levantine, as well as shisha (known as various variations on the word أركيلة argiile in the Levant) and, in some dialects, medicine: شربت دوا؟ shrib[i]t dawa? For shisha the Syrian equivalent to the Egyptian verb shaayash ‘smoke shisha’ is أركل ‭2argal:

بتأركل شي؟ bit2argil shi? – do you smoke shisha?

The world is crowded:

الدنيا عجقة iddinye 3aja2a. دنيا is in fact a convenient stand-in for the meaningless ‘it’s’ in a lot of expressions in English – ‘it’s crowded’, ‘it’s night’, ‘it’s cold’, ‘it’s Ramadan’ (الدنيا رمضان). In Palestinian and Jordanian, ازمة- literally ‘crisis’ – is used for traffic and crowding.