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.

Guest Post by Christ Hitchcock for #TeamNisreen

This expression – اسم على مُسَمّى – is apparently found everywhere in the Arabic-speaking world and is an excellent go-to compliment – as long as the person you are speaking to has a nice name. It basically means ‘your name describes you exactly’. If you meet someone called نادرة (rare), وسيم (handsome), باسم (smiler) or جميلة (beautiful), this will probably go down pretty well. I wouldn’t suggest citing it in response to a surname like عدوان (aggression), though, or to someone called غيث (light rain). I’m still working on finding out if this proverb was used in the days when people were called things like معاوية (bitch in heat).

Above is a video of the omnipresent Lebanese comedian Adel Karam beginning his talk show Hayda Haki (هيدا حكي) with a skit based on this saying. He introduces the section, as is usual for him, with a brief conversation with the frontman of his house band, Chady Nashef (a famous guitarist in his own right):

شو عدولة؟
Shu 3adduule?
What is it, Adel?

3adduule (also 3adduul, 3addaal, etc) is an affectionate nickname for someone called 3aadil – this pattern is used with lots of names (7ammuude, 7ammaad, 7ammuud).

سارد عليك هيك عم اطلع فيك
saarid 3aleek heek 3am iTTali3 fiik
I’m just lost [listening to your music], you know, looking at you

سارد means ‘lost in thought’, or ‘away with the fairies’.

اطّلع بـ means ‘look at’, and is the normal expression in Levantine. Bi- almost never appears with pronoun suffixes, being replaced with fii (as above) in most Levantine dialects.

What’s up?

This question is a useful one used when somebody looks ill or upset – it means something like ‘I hope everything’s all right?’ or just ‘what’s up?’

حبينا نسألك شغلة
7abbeena nis2alak sheghle
We want[ed] to ask you something.

7abb can be used in past and present in basically the same meaning: حبيته ‘I love him’. The first person plural is often used when a speaker is really only referring to themselves: ما تواخذنا maa twaakhiz-na ‘please excuse me’.

شغلة sheghle – thingy, thing

Ask away!

هلأ كل بيت الناشف متلك هيك وجههن بشوش ومهضومين؟
halla2 kill beet innaashif mitlak heek wijjon bashuush w mahDuumiin?
Are all the Nashifs [his surname] like you, with smiley faces and friendly?

بيت beet plus a surname, or in some places in the Levant دار + surname, refers to the extended family of that surname. I guess in a Game-of-Thronesy context, ‘house of X’ can be used the same way in English. بيت مين؟ or من بيت مين؟ are very common ways of asking ‘what’s your surname?’

وجه wijj or wishh is almost never, if ever, pronounced as wajh in the Levant; it’s either pronounced with a double j or a double sh. It’s singular here, and has a singular adjective, بشوش, agreeing with it, even though in English we say ‘their faces’, not ‘their face’. These sorts of constructions, where there are multiple people who each possess one of one thing, are generally singular in colloquial Arabic (like French): قلبكن, حياتكن… When you want every person to only raise one hand, you can say رفعو ايدكن! rfaa3u iidkon! ‘raise your hand(s)!’

كلهن مهضومين بس أنا اهضم واحد
killon mahDuumiin bass ana ahDam waa7id
They’re all friendly, but I’m the friendliest.

It’s often claimed by Arabic teachers that af3als can’t be formed from non-simple adjectives. This isn’t true in MSA and it’s not true in colloquial either!

عن جد؟ اي بس إنه… ما في واحد وجهه ناشف؟ منين اجت؟ يعني بيت الناشف…
3an jadd? Ee bass inno… maa fii 7ada wissho naashif? Mneen ijit? Ya3ni beet innaashif…
Seriously? Yeah, but I mean… isn’t there anyone whose face is grumpy? Where did it come from? I mean the name Nashif.

ناشف naashif – the first pun of a long, long string of bad puns. ناشف means ‘dry’, but it also means, of a person, ‘cold’, in the sense of keeping people at a distance. Somebody whose face is ناشف is someone who is unfriendly or austere.

هاي ما بعرف… جد جدي يمكن… بس لأ كلهن بشوشين
haay maa ba3rif… jidd jiddi yimkin… bass la2 killon bashuushiin
That I don’t know… maybe my great great grandfather. But no, all of them are smiley.

A lot of the puns are not really that funny and largely target Lebanese politicians and singers (it’s always possible that if I knew more about the careers of these individuals I’d find them funnier) but some highlights include:

1:00: أو مثلا… سعد حريري مية بالمية لا بوليستر لا خيطان نايلون
Aw masalan… Sa’d 7ariri miyye bilmiyye laa bulyester la khee6aan naayloon
Or for example… Saad Hariri is one hundred per cent neither polyester or nylon thread

حرير is silk. حريري means ‘made from silk’.

1.03: عندك تمام سلام عليكم بلا زغرة آدمي وتمام
3indak Tammaam Salaam 3aleekum bala zeghra aadami w tamaam
There’s Tamam Salaam Aleikum, without any disrespect, friendly and good

Tammaam and tamaam are of course nearly homophones; the rest of the joke is predicated on turning his surname, salaam, into a greeting (salaam 3aleekum).

آدمي (pronounced in Lebanese like eedami) is obviously from آدم and means ‘friendly, polite’. Its plural is أوادم awaadim. 

بلا زغرة is ‘without disrespect’ – زغرة is from صغير (you may have noticed that it is pronounced zghiir in colloquial; I guess before the advent of mass literacy this left its root open to being reinterpreted as z-gh-r). بلى زغرة, depending on who you ask, is either outdated and only used as a joke or very common. To me it’s associated with quite a conservative style of politeness. You can ask, for example, مين انت بلا زغرة؟ if you want to remove some of the directness of the question.

ليش عند مثلا جورج عدوان تموز
leesh… 3indak masalan juurj 3adwaan tammuuz
For example, you’ve got Georges Adwan Tammuuz.

عدوان تموز – the ‘July aggression’ (I’m not sure this is the typical English translation), a term for the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

1.13 أو زميله مثلا بطرس حرب الإلغا
aw zamiilo masalan BuTros 7arb il-ilgha
Or his colleague, for example, Boutros [Harb] Dissolution War.

I don’t think حرب الإلغاء actually has a Wikipedia article in English, but there’s a short explanation in Arabic here. The joke is extended by the similarity or closeness implies by ‘his colleague’ and the closeness of the two concepts.

عندك علاء حكيم وفهيم ومش لئيم
3indak 3ala 7akiim w fahhiim w mish la2iim

عندك حكمت ديب ولا عفنا الغنم

1:31: أحمد فتفت الجفصين
A7mad fatfat ijjafSiin!
Ahmad [Fatfat] took off the plaster [cast]!

This pun is probably based on Ahmad Fatfat’s previous career as a doctor.

فتفت fatfat is derived from فتّ ‘crumble’ on the pattern fa3fa3, which normally – along with a number of other patterns that are used to produce new verbs, like fa3wal, foo3al etc – either produces a meaning of ‘doing X again and again’, or lessens the impact of the verb.

جفصين jafSiin is the Lebanese word for ‘plaster’ (the stuff you put on a broken arm – in Fusha جِصّ and in Syrian جبصين jabSiin).

خالد ظاهر من الكتلة
khaalid Daahir min ilkitle

غازي زعيتر وزيت مع بصلة هيك وورق نعناع
ghaazi z3ayter w zeet ma3 baSle heek w wara2 na3naa3

أميد رحمة من السماء
amiin ra7me mn issama

وأمين جمايل وغزايل وجبايل بيي
w amiin @jmaayel w @ghzaayel w@jbaayil bayyi

2:00: ميشيل فرعون الأشرفية مش الجيزا
Misheel Far3uun ilashrafiyye mish ilgiiza
Michel [Pharaon] is Pharaoh of Achrafieh not of Giza

One for the Egyptians. Achrafieh is a famous area of Beirut. Pharaon’s family are very rich Christians; Achrafieh is, I think, a predominantly Christian area.

علي عمار الحوري هينين ككوبل
3ali 3ammaar il7oori hayyiniin ka kuupl


2:12: عندك… الياس بو صعب هين؟
3indak… Ilyaas bu Sa3b hayyin?
There’s… is Elias Bou Saab easily overcome?

هين is ‘easy’ (not promiscuous but easy to deal with or ignore – don’t misunderstand if someone describes someone else as سهل, either).

عندك خالد حدادة وبويا  وش بوليش
3indak khaalid @7daade w buuya wijj poolish

2:22: سليمان فرنجية بيلعب محبوسة
Sleemaan Franjiyye byil3ab ma7buuse
Suleiman Frangieh plays mahbuseh…

Ma7buuse and franjiyye are different kinds of backgammon.

2:25: أو علي بزي… طبيعي مش سيليكون!
aw 3ali bazzi… Tabii3i mish silikoon
Or Ali Bazzi… natural, not silicon!

بزي evokes بزة bazze ‘breast’, and for some Lebanese people they’re homophones. As one of the world’s biggest centres of cosmetic surgery, Lebanon really has the market cornered on breast implant humour (no, really).

هلأ هي القصة مش بقى وفقت بس ع السياسيين يعني… في الفنانين
halla2 hiyye il2iSSa mish ba2a wef2et bass 3a ssiyaasiyyiin ya3ni… fii lfannaaniin

الفنانين كمان نفس الجو… لبستهن اساميهن لبس
ilfannaaniin kamaan nafs ijjoww… libsiton asaamiyyon lib@s

2.43: قليلة كاظم الساهر ليلية؟  بيبجبجو عيونو يا شيخ
2aliile kaaZim issaahir leeliyye? Bibajbju 3ayuuno yaa sheekh
Doesn’t Kadhim al-Sahir stay up late? His eyes are swelling up, man

قليلة aliile is literally ‘a small amount’ or ‘not worth considering’. It’s used a lot in contexts like 2aliile yitzawwaj 3aleyyi? ‘[are you saying it’s a] small thing that he should marry [a second wife, having married] me?’ – it is used, generally, in questions, with a rhetorical ‘it certainly isn’t a small thing!’ kind of meaning. Here it’s being used with the following pun kaaZim issaahir leeliyye to mean ‘isn’t this name very accurate’/’isn’t this pun very appropriate’?

سهر sahar (yishar) is ‘to stay up late’; ساهر is its active participle, so Kadhim al-Sahir literally means ‘Kadhim who stays up late’, which is the basis of the joke.

ليلية leeliyye is a Lebanese expression meaning ‘every night’. This completes the name – kaaZim issaahir leeliyye ‘Kaazim who stays up every night’.

بجبج bajbaj is ‘to become puffy’, of eyes, either from sleepiness or crying too much. It’s plural here agreeing with ‘eye’. It took me ages to work out what he was saying because bibajbiju is contracted to bibajbju and then has a vowel reinserted to become bibajibju, with the stress staying in the same place, which messes with your perception of word boundaries.

2.52 هيفا وهبة أعضاءها بعد عمر طويل
heefa wehbe a3Daa2a ba3d 3omr Tawiil
Hayfa [Wehbe] has donated her organs after a long life.

The pun here is based on وهبة, which is related to the word وهب ‘to donate’. The normal term for ‘organ donation’ is وهب أعضاء wehbe sounds like the active participle waahbe ‘has donated’.

3.16 راغب علامة عالية… عجب كبير
Raaghib 3allaame 3aalye – 3ajab kbiir

Ragheb Alama – described by Wikipedia as a Lebanese ‘singer, dancer, lover, fighter, composer, television personality and philanthropist’. Raaghib is ‘desiring, wanting’, and 3allaame is a mark – as in a mark in a test.

Incidentally, Nisreen نسرين is a kind of beautiful flower, and Maha مها means ‘wild cows’. Yeah, that’s right. Just mull that over.




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.

Today’s guest post includes a very exciting announcement made by our new friend Chris.

Nisreen frustrated about the perennially high degree of humidity in her native New York

Nisreen frustrated about the perennially high degree of humidity in her native New York

This is Nisreen. Nisreen is a chronically lonely Syrian-American living in New York, with a Syrian father and a Palestinian mother. She is, in fact, Maha’s doppelganger – and Maha’s falling in love with her cousin out of sheer loneliness, and Nisreen’s parallel love story with her own paternal cousin, might well have been avoided if they’d only managed to meet one another instead of spending all their time looking woefully into a camera and monologuing about their respective misery.

In case you hadn’t guessed or seen her before, Nisreen is Maha’s Syrian double from the super rare Levantine edition of the عامية videos from al-Kitaab, the Arabic resource everybody loves to hate and hates to study from. Nisreen – poor, neglected, Nisreen – has been forgotten for too long. I am not Team Maha. I am, proudly, Team Nisreen! In this spirit, I’ll be contributing some Levantine posts to this blog, trying to give Levantine colloquial expressions some of the same great exposure Caitlyn has been giving to Egyptian.

Of course, Levantine is spoken in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and encompasses a huge number of local accents and varieties. A lot of words – especially slang, but also very normal terminology – have several different local variations. And some words, as you might expect, will not even be understood in other parts of the same country (try calling a curtain a jlaale to a Latakian and see how far it gets you). The dialects I’m most familiar with are those of urban Syria and Lebanon – which are more similar to one another than they are to urban Jordan and Palestine, generally speaking – but I’m going to try and include stuff from as many major dialects as possible, and point out specific regionalisms and features of particular dialects. As a rough guide and for people who are familiar with only one Levantine dialect or not at all, here is a list of the major differences:

  • Kint vs kunt: most Lebanese and Syrian urban dialects (there are exceptions, like Homsi) do not have distinct i and u sounds in stressed syllables. Words like كنت are pronounced kint, قدام as eddaam, شفت as shift. Exactly what the vowel here sounds like depends on the consonants around it and the dialect of the speaker – some Lebanese people, like the lead singer of Mashrou’ Leila, pronounce kint more like Most Jordanians and Palestinians, meanwhile, have distinct vowels and say kunt, shuft etc (an exception to this is Galilee Arabic).
  • -a vs -e vs -i: With the exception of people from the southernmost areas of the Levantine area, most urban Levantine speakers pronounce final ـة not as –a, but as some kind of –e sound. Some speakers, particularly of Lebanese dialects – see Marcel Khalife or Feyrouz, for example – pronounce it –i. This also applies to some –a sounds which are not, in MSA, ـة – شتى is shite or shiti (have you heard the song حبيتك بالصيف by Feyrouz?), for example, and some people say soode or soodi for سودا. Some speakers who pronounce the –i say something closer to –e for ـي to keep the sounds separate! Also, many Syrians and Lebanese use inte for their masculine ‘you’, and some Lebanese say ane for ‘me.’
  • Aa vs ee: Aleppan and many Lebanese dialects have very ee-ish long aa sounds similar to a long version of the e in English pet – Egyptian has a similar sound – and these are sometimes so similar to ee that they can be rhymed with long e, as in the Mashrou’ Leila rhyme:

واذا كنتو اتنين يا اهلين شي فلتان w-iza kentu tneen ya ahleen shi falteen ‘and if there’s two of you, oh wow! What a scandal!’

  • Byiktob vs biktob – most Palestinian and Jordanian dialects, and some Syrian dialects (e.g. Homsi) use aktob/baktob and yiktob/biktob for ‘I write’ and ‘he writes’. Most Syrian and Lebanese dialects, meanwhile, use iktob/biktob and yiktob/byiktob. This can be very confusing at first when meeting speakers of other dialects. Most Syrian and Lebanese dialects also drop the ‘I’ prefix before single consonants: biddi ruu7 ‘I want to go’.
  • I6la3 vs 6laa3 – most Syrian and Lebanese dialects have an imperative of form one verbs which works by lengthening the internal vowel – طلع becomes طلاع, كتب becomes كتوب ktoob and نزل becomes نزيل nzeel! Jordanian and Palestinian dialects, however, form the imperative in the same manner as MSA.
  • The qaaf: most urban speakers pronounce the ق as a glottal stop, but many Ammanis, particularly men, pronounce it with a g sound, as do many speakers of non-urban dialects. Some Palestinians instead pronounce a k, whilst Druzes and Alawites often pronounce it as a q! Almost all speakers preserve a qaaf in some words, like ثقافة or موسيقى, although even here there are exceptions (especially for Lebanese people for some reason).
  • -aan words: All of us who have studied al-Kitaab or Egyptian 3aammiyyah are familiar with words like تعبان for ‘tired’, even if they’re not strictly speaking proper MSA. Levantine dialects have a lot more of these than any other dialect, particularly in the Syrian/Lebanese area, and within that, most specifically within parts of Syria itself, where many, many verbs form their active participle this way. Some specifically Syrian examples are وصلان for واصل, عرفان for عارف and my personal favourite, فطران fa6raan for فاطر – i.e. ‘having had breakfast.’
Upset because she’s not fatraane

Upset because she’s not fa6raane

That’s all from Team Nisreen for now – but stay tuned for more guest posts (ان شاء الله) that will finally give Nisreen the platform she’s been forced to concede for so long to her sinister Egyptian doppelganger.

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.