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.


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.




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.