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.

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.

 

A few more dubious subtitling choices that were recently brought to my attention:

Alternative translation for “girlfriend” = صديقة حميمة (‘Intimate friend’)

“Stripper” = راقصة (‘dancer’ with no further elaboration)

“Hey, motherfucker” = يا سافل (‘Varmint’ or ‘ratfish’ according to the omnipotent Google)

 “Fuck no!” = كلا يا سيدي (No, sir!)

All this aside, I will say that I once heard the English word (just the word!) ‘kiss’ censored out of some Bruno Mars song playing at City Mall in Jordan, so it could be much worse. Five gold stars for effort, subtitlers, wherever you may be.