As I was discussing Arabic grammar over some Stellas with friends the other day (before you think to yourself ‘wow this girl is a total nerd’: 99% of you have done this before. do not lie.), I said that during my year with CASA I discovered a love for words with 4 letter roots in Arabic, like يهمهم and يوشوش (both onomatopoeias for whispering) as well as يدغدغ (MSA for ‘to tickle.’ not entirely sure how this came up in a graduate level Arabic class, but. you know.). Then my friends informed me that in Egyptian, يدغدغ means ‘to smash’ as in ‘I’m going to smash your head in.’ Probably something you wouldn’t say in an actual fight, but definitely lies within the realm of siblings threatening to beat each other up.

Via arabicproblems.tumblr.com

    Via arabicproblems.tumblr.com

So what is the takeaway here? LEARN. DIALECT. Imagine yourself telling a small child that you’re going to tickle them and watching them burst into tears BECAUSE THEY THINK YOU’RE GOING TO SMASH THEM. Obviously you won’t get it right all the time, and learning a dialect is process, but don’t be the guy that says ‘I’m only interested in learning MSA because I just don’t have the time to learn amiyya.’ Because what you’re really saying is: ‘I can’t be bothered to learn how to interact with actual human beings. I would rather bury my head in books and listen to speeches and watch the news. Oh, and I also suck.’

If you’re interested in learning the basics of any dialect of Arabic, you’d be wise to start here or here.

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.)


Watching TV in Arabic is a fantastic way to get more listening practice and generally improve your vocabulary and comprehension, and I highly suggest all Arabic learners do this during their down time whenever possible. But when you get sick of that, or when there’s nothing to watch except Saudi men practicing falconry and Amr Adeeb flailing his arms about / having his weekly heart attack on air, you’ll inevitably find yourself flipping over to an English language movie. And I’m here to tell you how to make this experience quadruple the fun: pay attention to the subtitles.

This guy.

This guy. Amirite?

There are two things you’ll notice watching foreign films, especially those shown by MBC, which happens to be Saudi-owned: very obviously censored kissing scenes and highly suspect translations. In reality most channels have their own issues in this regard, like Mazzika, which made the questionable (yet also fantastic) decision to provide lyrics translations for all the music videos it shows–in Ke$ha’s Timber (خشب) “It’s going down,” is translated انها سوف تسقط while Alicia Keys’ This girl is on fire becomes هذه الفتاة متحمسة جدا (lit. ‘This girl is very excited.’) The salacious line ‘She say she love my lolly’ from Maejor Ali’s Lolly video is rendered simply انها تحبني كثيرا (lit. ‘She loves me very much’). In short, you have stumbled upon a pure gold mine of Fusha fails.

In terms of MBC subtitling, the sentence ‘He’s gay’ is consistently translated to انه غريب الاطوار (roughly ‘He’s whimsical/eccentric’) despite the fact that a word (مثلي) does, in fact, exist to express this concept in Modern Standard Arabic. The word girlfriend is expressed through the flat صديقة while “Wanna make out?” is butchered into هل تريدين الاستمتاع؟ (lit. ‘Do you want to enjoy?’), which, let’s be real, sounds way more sexual than the original.

And the colorful spectrum of English swears–every single permutation of inappropriate speech you could think of–is reduced to one of two options: تبا لك (screw you) and اللعنة عليك (‘damn you.’ Google translate also purports this to mean ‘by gosh!’).

In this way, taking care to read the subtitles while consuming foreign media in Egypt becomes an exercise in critiquing translations of cultural concepts that are fraught with controversy (romantic relationships before marriage, sexuality, even swearing). Fusha, in my opinion, will never be capable of accurately transmitting the gist of colloquial speech in any language, a sampling of its failings detailed above. Instead of carrying out its intended purpose–actually, you know, translating the text–the use of Modern Standard Arabic to subtitle foreign films and music ends up providing another unintentional layer of entertainment on top of your regularly scheduled program. And I guess that may not be such a terrible thing after all.


BREAKING: #TeamMaha has received reports that one Facebook user has seen the actress who played Al-Kitab’s “Maha” multiple times over the past year in the Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt.

The woman claimed that she often sees “Maha” out with her family, asserting that the actress does not, contrary to the expectations of many, seem particularly lonely.

A large number of American Arabic students familiar with “Maha” have been under the impression for many years that the actress was killed in a fiery car crash soon after the textbook was published. As a result, the news may come as a shock to some.

Check back later for updates on this developing story.


As we all know, literally no one on the planet speaks Modern Standard Arabic as their native language, and as such, using MSA in normal, daily sounds unnatural and strange. Following is a list of words that FusHa learners often use in conversation while transitioning to colloquial Arabic that are quite abrasive on Egyptian ears.

What I’m really trying to say is: you literally sound like you are reciting Canterbury Tales right now. Stop. Please.

1. من فضلك

This means ‘please’ in MSA, but in Egypt, it is not often used. If you’re trying to get someone’s attention or order something, you can say لو سمحت. If you’re trying to say please in the “please come in,” sense, you can say تفضل to a man and تفضلي to a woman. (Anote: Arabic is a SUPER gendered language which can present d obvious ifficulties for trans* and gender non-conforming folks. Power to you for navigating this language.)

2. س or سوف to mark future tense

NOPE. Nope nope nope.

In Egyptian, you can talk about the future by adding a هح (I’ve seen it written out both ways) before a conjugated verb.

Example: هنسافر المانيا في ديسمبر = We’ll travel to Germany in December.

Levantine does almost the exact same thing to mark future tense, but using راح instead of هح. So: راح اروح = I’m going to go…

3. أعطيني

This word works just fine in Levantine Arabic, but in Egyptian, if you want you say ‘give me’ you should say اديني or هات (the latter also appears alongside أعطيني in Levantine). Anything else sounds off.

4. ولكن

I know, I know, it really does just roll off the tongue…but you hear this word only very rarely in Egyptian Arabic. بس is the widely accepted translation for ‘but,’ and also conveniently means ‘only.’

An example: sentence انا جعانة بس هاطلب واحد بس = “I’m hungry, but I’ll just order one.” The first بس here means ‘but’ while the second means ‘only/just.’

A note: This is an extremely versatile word that has been known to infiltrate Arabic learners’ English speech patterns (aka, I somehow produce this word ALL THE TIME no matter what language I’m speaking). Even when highly educated Egyptians–and other Arabs of different nationalities–speak English, their speech is often littered with ‘bs.’ It’s fantastic, I think.

5. هل

Albeit a very useful question word, هل is virtually non-existent in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. Most questions, in fact, don’t involve a question word at all–if you want to say “Are you going?” All you have to say is: هتروح؟

One exception, though, includes questions that start with “Weren’t you…”

Example: “Weren’t you going to read this book?” امش كنت هتقرا الكتاب دا؟ –In this case, امش marks ‘were you not.’ This is a very useful little tip it took me a while to internalize

6. الى for ‘to’

This sounds super weird when you say it in Egyptian. In MSA, to say that you’re going to go the university, for example, you would say سوف اذهب الى الجامعة. In Egyptian, the same thought is expressed as: “هاروح للجامعة”

ل is most often used to replace الى in the ‘going to’ sort of sense, although this is a bit flexible. In Levantine, على replaces الى for this specific context.



Stay tuned for more of these types of lists as I encounter more foreigners awkwardly speaking FusHa while ordering stuff.

Tell me what you would add to this list in the comments!