كبر دماغك

kabbar dma3’ak”

How about some guesses as to what this actually means for those unfamiliar with the phrase? Perhaps a concise statement about the value of education, maybe a colloquialism praising the benefits of expanding your mind…something logical like that, right?

Nope, nerp, incorrect, not even a little bit close. It actually means, “take it easy.” Even Google Translate (!!!) was able to figure it out, and they’re usually pitiful with anything even remotely dialect related.

Nice job trying to figure out the meaning based on the words actually used in the phrase (LOL what were you even thinking??). M3lesh, better luck next time.

ابو شنب

abu shanab

This literally means ‘father of moustache’ but in reality is just a convenient way to point out an unknown man with enviable facial hair, aka ‘that guy with the moustache’ in English. If you’re referring to a guy walking down the street wearing a red shirt, for example, he may similarly become “abu a7mar,” and sometimes the phrase has a comical, “I’m kind of making fun of this person but not really,” type of feeling.

One of Egypt's more notorious moustaches, owned by Judge Nagy Shehata.

One of Egypt’s more notorious moustaches, which happens to be owned by Judge Nagy Shehata.

 

For demonstrative purposes, let’s assume that one particular father of moustache is being a douche and blocking the street or something. You could say ابو شنب دا وقف الدنيا كلها which literally means “this father of moustache stopped the whole world!!!” –this is obviously a little dramatic and could be translated more accurately as “moustache guy is blocking everything.” Definitely know that this phrase doesn’t come up all that often, but I found it amusing, and it also provided a convenient excuse to post pictures of Nagy Shehata’s stash on the Internet.

Hey don't have any nightmares llater or anything.

Hey don’t have any nightmares later or anything.

We took a bit of a break for travel and are back with arguably the most important post you have ever encountered & maybe WILL ever encounter on this blog: proper use of popular Egyptian swear فشخ (fashkh).

I’ve heard rumors that the original meaning of this word refers to the exact moment where a woman opens her legs, which, honestly, sounds about right. There are a multiplicity of forms of and uses for this word, with the basics explained below. As always with curse words, use with caution.

فشخ – Ex: الجو حار فشخ = ‘It’s really fucking hot.’ Here, فشخ works as an adverb, describing an adjective (har/hot). It’s basically a way to both swear and say the word ‘very’ at the same time. If you want to really emphasize the misery of how fucking hot it is, draw out the خ a little longer, like so: الجو حار فشخخخخخخخخخخخخخ

مفشوخ – fucked, as in: انا مفشوخ بجد – ‘I’m seriously fucked.’ Al-Kitaab friends–this is ism maf3ol! Think about it: the ism fa3el would be whatever is doing the fucking (the fucker, if you will–this can be school, work, the guy who gave you a parking ticket, etc.), while you–“the fucked”–are the object of the fucking.

فَشَخ (verb) – To fuck over or up, as in: الشغل فشخني = ‘Work fucked me over.’ هافشخك – ‘I will fuck you up.’

اتفشخ – To become fucked: اتفشخت من الضحك – literally ‘I became fucked from laughing’ or more accurately ‘I laughed soooooo fucking hard.’ Shout out to the awzan: Form five, reflexive.

فشيخ – This means ‘really fucking awesome.’ Like, الالبوم دا فشيخ = ‘This album is so fucking awesome.’

فشاخة  – This is the noun form of faskh. Thus: ايه الفشاخة دي – ‘What is this awesomeness?’

تفشيخ – Example: الشغل اليومين دول تفشيخ – ‘Work these days is a piece of cake.’ تفشيخ here means that something is easy and not tiring. (Looking at you, Form II.) Not super commonly used, but goes with the theme of this post.

افشخ – Superlative form of fashkh, aka, more fashkh that something else. مبارح كان افشخ من النهارده – ‘Yesterday was more fucked than today.’

And my personal favorite: فشخومية – A fake number expressing a fucking LOT of things. Ex: عندي فشخومية كتاب في اوضتي = ‘I have a shit ton of books in my room.’ I still don’t actually believe that this is a real thing that people say, but I encourage you all to casually drop it in conversation and report back on what happens.

And I think it’d be appropriate to add a note to the authors of Al-Kitaab here before we wrap it up: Mr. Batal et al., I am realizing right now that you had the chance of a lifetime to leave behind the legacy of legacies and use فشخ as an example to demonstrate the ten forms and all other grammar concepts throughout al-Kitaab, thereby revolutionizing how students retain qawa3ed. But you passed this opportunity up, and now, we’re forced just to remember you for Maha. Sad days.

I’m absolutely certain that you, dear non-native Arabic speaker currently located in Cairo, want no part in anything that could jeopardize the delicate, spotless reputation that foreigners living in Egypt have worked so hard to maintain over the years. In the spirit of this sentiment, TeamMaha has compiled the following brief guide to commonly used titles in Egypt to help smooth out your day-to-day interactions with the population of om al-dunya.

Note that this list is by no means exhaustive; feel free to leave additions or suggestions in the comments section and I’ll adjust the post accordingly.

باشا basha – Originally a Turkish term used in reference to high-ranking political officials under the Ottoman empire, the word is now usually used by people working in the service industry and/or serving you in some way as a means to address you respectfully. This is most often used when speaking with men, but I’ve been called basha once or twice, and each time it was fantastic.

بي bey (bae?) – Similar to basha, above. Not much of a difference in usage as far as I can tell, although this was distinct from a basha back in the Ottoman days.

ريس rayes – Corrupted ammiya form of رئيس which literally means ‘President’ – here the meaning is closer to ‘boss’ (as in, you got it boss!); otherwise indistinguishable from basha and bey to my ears in terms of use.

فندم fendem – This one usually appears when you’re speaking to someone and didn’t hear something they said, but want to appear respectful: يا فندم؟ means something like ‘Sorry, come again?’ Also–you guessed it!–Turkish.

باشامهندس  bashamohandes A term of respect for engineers, which is a highly regarded career path in Egypt. Combination of basha + the word for ‘engineer’–a two-for-one title, if you will.

اوسطى osta – This is usually used when speaking to taxi/bus drivers, but an amiya teacher once told me its for anyone who works with their hands. When you want to get out of a taxi, you can say على جمب يا اوسطى (ala gemb yaosta – note that the ‘ya’ and ‘osta’ tend to kind of meld together).

برنس brins – aka, ‘prince’ in a super Egyptian accent. Usually comes out when someone has done something of note and the speaker wants to express his approval, or when greeting a good friend.

حاج\حاجة hag\haga – Title of respect used for the elderly, associated with the expectation that a Muslim who has gotten on in their years will have made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at least once. Use copiously and #respectyourelders.

أستاذ ustaz – Literally means ‘teacher’ and is similar to basha, but can be used as a title before someone’s name; for example, if I’m ordering food on the phone and the company has my name recorded in their database, they may ask if ‘ustaza Caitlyn’ is calling, to be polite. This is also used more often for women in place of basha.

آنسة anisa – Used for young women, and implies that they’re unmarried, if I’m not mistaken. The shami equivalent is صبايا.

حضرتك hadrtak/hadrtek – Not as much a title, but if you speak Spanish, it operates a bit like ‘Usted’–its a polite form of ‘you.’ So if you’re talking to your friend’s mom or a teacher, for example, you might say ازاي حضرتك instead of the more informal ازايك. When addressing a police officer–most often a situation in which you most likely want to be the politest of polite–you can call him/her حضرت الضابط.

Let’s see if you can make any sense of these questions and statements that are the most confusing and also just sound really oddly specific the first time you hear them:

Discussing an upcoming trip:

هتقعدي فين في الغردقة؟ – Where will you sit in Hurghada?

In a heated discussion with my landlord about an electrical problem that causes lightbulbs to burn out twice a week:

المفروض يعقدوا اكتر من تلات ايام!  – They should sit more than three days!

Inquiring as to a friend’s whereabouts:

هي قاعدة عنده – She is sitting at his place.

And the creme de la creme from our dear friend Jordanian Dialect:

 هو قاعد يمشي عالجامعة – He is sitting walking to university.

You may now be asking any of the following questions: How was I not aware all this time that Arab culture is so concerned with sitting? Have Jordanians really mastered the art of sitting and walking AT THE SAME TIME and managed to keep it quiet all these years? Or am I perhaps missing something that Team Maha is about to so graciously clarify for me?

The word for sitting in Egyptian & Shami Arabic (يقعد, اسم فاعل: قاعد\ة) is used abundantly and takes on wildly different meanings than that of its English counterpart, which is good news for anyone with a love of bizarre literal translations. يقعد often means ‘stay,’ as you might have guessed from the first and third examples, as well as ‘last’ in certain contexts (batteries, laptops, and so on). The final example given above employs a different usage than what we normally see in Egyptian, kind of working as a verb of being for a present progressive verb (aka, denoting that something is happening right now at this very second). That beautiful moment is where you get things like, ‘He is sitting walking,’ ‘The sun is sitting setting’ and so on.

Something else useful to know is that قاعد also plays a role in expressing the concept of ‘sitting around’ just like English: هو قاعد ما بيعملش حاجة – ‘He’s sitting around doing nothing.’ I find it so incredibly satisfying to learn that two languages express a concept in nearly the exact same manner, and these are rare gems for the English/Arabic combo. Another important note: after some, I don’t know, two years of using this word literally every day of my life, I still can’t pronounce the damn thing correctly half the time thanks to the formidable qaf/hazma + 3ayn combo. My best advice is to listen to a native speaker saying this word on repeat and then practice pronouncing it in the mirror until you successfully master the sound of choking on your own tongue twice in a row.

أي كلام

ay kalam

Please note that TeamMaha is committed to bringing you insults on the regular because they never teach you how to say something or someone is absolute shit in school, DO THEY?

Anyways: this phrase has nothing to do with speech, and everything to do with quality. For example: شغل اي كلام (sho3’l ay kalam) means ‘a crappy job’ (as in someone did a crappy job of something), بيقول اي كلام means something to the effect of ‘he’s just saying whatever’ and رحلة اي كلام means ‘a lousy/low-quality trip’ (literally ‘an any speech trip’ which just makes no goddamn sense at all).

The opposite of اي كلام is often نظيف (ndeef) which literally means ‘clean’ and implies that something is done well–hence:  انا مش عايزة رحلة اي كلام يعني, عايزة رحلة نظيفة= “I don’t want just any trip, I want a good one.”

Other colloquial uses of كلام that come to mind right now:

الكلام دا = ‘that sort of thing’ (ماليش في المذاكرة والكلام دا = I’m not one to really study and that sort of thing)

هو بتاع كلام = ‘He makes shit up all the time.’ Another related word: بيحوّر, a verb meaning basically the exact same thing. I could actually give you like five more synonyms for this right off the top of my head (why are there so many different ways to say ‘he’s a bullshitter?’ in Egyptian) but these will hopefully suffice you for now.

 

The other day I stumbled upon a commercial so masterfully stuffed with euphemisms that I had to write about it on the internet. It’s about a guy named بدري (“Early”) who has an issue that affects both him and his ladyfriend. I’ve written out a transcription & translation of the commercial and discussed a few useful words in Egyptian Arabic at the end of the post so you all can have a productive laugh. Also, anyone with insight as to why a man appears on the back of the motorcycle in a fuzzy animal costume around 0:15 gets five gold stars.

 

Transcription & Translation:

بصي يا فتحية انا لمعتلك المكنة, ومليت التنك, وهنتفسح النهارده طول اليوم

Look Fatheya, I polished the machine for you and filled the tank, so we’re going to go out and have fun all day!

!يااااا دا انا من زمان نفسي اتفسح

Wow, I’ve wanted to go out and have fun for a long time!

وأنا كمان. يلا اركبي يلا يلا

Me too! Come on, get on, come on come on!

انت على طول كدا مستعجل…يا بدري هو انا لحقت اركب؟؟

You’re always in such a hurry…Badry, did I even get on?!

ولا يهمك, الحل في الهرم

It’s alright! The solution is Haram.

مع الهرم, بدري بطل يجي بدري

With Haram, Badry stopped coming early. (Literally. This is literally what the video says.)

استشر طبيب أو صيدلي على الدواء المخصص لعلاج سرعة القذف

Consult a doctor or pharmacist on medicine specialized for treating early ejaculation.

 

Useful words:

لمّع – The word يلمع, without the shadda, means ‘to shine.’ So the causative form II used in the video means ‘to make shine’ or polish. Hence لمعتلك المكنة = I made the machine shine for you.

يتفسح – This word is often used to talk about travelling and generally being out and about and having fun. Someone out there might have a better English translation for this word than the one I used, but I don’t think it really has a one word equivalent in English.

ياااا — An extended يااااااااا is often used to express surprise in Egyptian. Alternatively: يووووووووووو, always said with the same down-up-down intonation.

نفسي –This is a stronger way to say ‘I want’ than عايز, usually meaning something closer to ‘I desire’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to…’

لحق –This is a verb used most often in the context of ‘making’ a train or bus, for example. So هتعرف تلحق would mean, ‘Will you be able to make it?’ Here Fatheya is saying she didn’t get the chance to get on…if you know what I mean (insert winky face here).

يركب — Literally means ‘to ride’ and used to describe getting in a car, the metro, or a bus: ركبنا المترو مش تكس = We rode the metro, not a taxi.

ولا يهمك is what you usually say when someone accidentally bumps into you and apologizes.

When I first moved to Egypt I used to be able to tell whether I was having a good Arabic day or not judging by the nationality people guessed I was: Syrian/Lebanese meant I had thrown a Shami word or two into the conversation, but was generally doing okay; Moroccan meant that my speech was mostly unintelligible but still coding as Arabic; and American meant that I should probably take a nap before trying to use real words again. The spectrum of compliments I’ve received on my Arabic ability over the years has also been quite broad, ranging from delight to suspicion to spontaneous marriage proposals.

But my favorite type of confidence-boost is the conversation I had with a tired Mogamma employee while renewing my visa yesterday:

الاصل ايه؟

(What’s your original nationality?)

امريكية

(American)

بس الاصل

(No, your original nationality)

امريكية امريكية يعني

(I’m American American)

طب انتي بتتكلمي عربي حلو كدا ليه

(Okay, but why do you speak such good Arabic?)

This is one of the great self-confidence related benefits of mastering Arabic as a foreigner, although it is certainly a double-edged sword: after a certain point, people assume that you must be half-Arab, because the number of foreigners–and I use this word mainly in reference to white foreigners–who can actually speak fluent, colloquial Arabic is so, so little. And this, to me, is quite sad.

The Mogamma, an ancient Egyptian temple built to please the bureaucracy gods.

The Mogamma, an ancient Egyptian temple built to please the bureaucracy gods.

Of course, there are reasons why this happens: the majority of Egyptians do speak some English, and if most of your Egyptian buddies received their schooling under the American or British systems, you can reasonably get by living in Egypt with only around 50 words in Arabic (“One Stella please” “Turn left” “Your mother’s privates” and so on). Learning any variety of Arabic is also a very objectively strenuous task, and even if you become skilled in speaking MSA to some extent, you essentially have to start from scratch in order to become capable of speaking like a normal human being in colloquial Arabic. If you pick up and move to another Arabic-speaking country after mastering one dialect, the process repeats. The whole thing is quite daunting.

But still–it is unsettling that people who speak English much better than I speak Arabic receive so little praise for their hard work. Here, I am also thinking about people who learned English out of necessity–people who had no racial or passport privilege to fall back on when words failed them in their new country of residence, and who were denied even occasional affirmations of their efforts and improving abilities. I chose to learn a language that Arabs themselves are often told is second to English (Exhibit A: AUC students who don’t have Arabic keyboard functions installed on their laptops). For that, my efforts are rewarded far more than those of the rest of the world who struggled to master my native language because speaking English is widely considered a pre-requisite for being a valuable human being.

Although receiving periodic praise, surprise, and sometimes absolute bewilderment at my whiteness juxtaposed with my colloquial Arabic ability is very much a satisfying experience, I am constantly aware that race, power, and privilege are all hopelessly entangled in the process of learning a foreign language and living in someone else’s country. No matter how fluent I become–no matter how many swears I know or how many times I nearly convince someone I’m from Mansoura–I’ll always be a white person navigating Arabic. And that journey will always be a political one.

 

Following up on our earlier explanation of a bunch of MSA words that sound ridiculous when used in real life, here are a few more:

1. بدون

Albeit a nice sounding word, no one says this in real life. In some dialects of Shami you might order your coffee من دون سكر (without sugar) but in Egypt من غير is most common.

2. أحيانا

The Egyptian word used to express ‘sometimes’ is actually ساعات (sa3at) which literally means ‘hours.’ Which sort of makes sense.

3. ادرس

If you’re trying to say that you want to study a bit, this would fly in Jordan if I’m not mistaken, but in Egypt, it sounds off. Instead, you would say: عايزة اذاكر شوية (ayza azaker shwaya). However, the root of this word appears in questions like, دراستك ايه؟ which means ‘What do you study/What is your field of study?’ The word اذاكر refers more to the actual act of sitting in the library and studying for a test rather that the more general concept of going to college and taking classes, if that makes sense.

4. كيف حالك \ انا بخير

Unless you are the real-life incarnation of Maha or Khaled or committed some horrible crime and were sentenced to a life of expressing yourself only in Al-Kitaab sentences, please spare us. Pro tip: Before you visit whatever Arab country you’re headed to, TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN THE GODDAMN GREETINGS. It will literally take twenty minutes, and you won’t sound like a dick. (Ala fekra, ya gam3a, stay tuned for a post on ‘How Not To Be An Asshole In Egypt,’ which will cover similar topics.)