Team Nisreen video: أمل ما في (There’s no hope)

This is an episode of the excellent dark comedy أمل ما في There’s No Hope, which takes the form of short three minute dialogues between two unnamed characters dressed, for unclear reasons, like fishermen. Perhaps these outfits are read differently in a Syrian context, or perhaps fishermen are just famously miserable bastards. In any case. There’s no puns in this one, but it does have a positive take-home message and an upbeat theme tune you’ll be humming all day!

ما رح يزبط معك
maa ra7 yizboT ma3ak
It’s not going to work for you

يزبط zabaT/yizboT is a very useful verb which basically means ‘work’. Its causative, زبّط, means ‘sort out’, ‘fix’, ‘make work’.

ما في حدا يسمعك
maa fi 7ada yisma3ak
There’s nobody to hear you

يسمع doesn’t have a b- here because it’s in a relative clause with an indefinite noun (7ada). Generally speaking in constructions like ‘somebody to love me’ or ‘a window I could escape from’ we use a relative clause with a b-less verb: واحدة تحبني waa7de t7ebbni, شباك اهرب منه shibbaak ihrob minno.

يمكن ما في أمل!
yimkin maa fii amal!
Maybe there’s no hope!

بيعملو مؤتمرات… ما بيخلو مصروع الا بيبعتوه عليها
bya3milu mu2tamaraat… maa bikhallu maSruu3 illa byib3atuu 3aleyya
They do conferences… There’s not a single madman they don’t send to them.

مصروع is from صرع ‘madness’, which is also the medical term for epilepsy.

The second half of the sentence reads more literally ‘they don’t leave a single madman except that they send him to them [the conferences]’.

بيعملو bya3milu – the vowel in the prefix before 3ayn tends to change from i to a (so instead of byi3milu which probably some people say, you get bya3milu).

مؤتمرات شو؟
mu2tamaraat shu?
What conferences?

مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي. قال متخذين قرار بتخفيض عدد الجوعانين بالعالم للنص من هون للألفين وعشرة
mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami. 2aal mittakhiziin qaraar bi takhfiiD 3adad iljoo3aaniin bi l3aalam la nneSS min hoon la lalfeen w 3ashara
The World Conference on Food. It says they’ve decided to reduce the number of starving people in the world to half [their current number] between now and 2010.

متخذ is obviously from MSA اتخذ and means ‘having taken’. The ­prefix is mi-, though, which is an 3aamiyye form. Also notice that neither of the two men pronounce ذ ث ظ properly.

قرار – in Lebanese قرار is pronounced with a hamza, but in Syrian it always has a q. There are a few quite colloquial words like this: وقح weqe7 ‘rude’ for example (also pronounced with a hamza in Lebanon), or قنع qana3 ‘convince’ (and all its forms, pronounced with q in Lebanon as well).

من هون لـ min hoon la – in English we can’t use ‘here’ in the sense of ‘now’, generally, but you can in Arabic.

النص inneSS ‘half’. In Arabic numbers, figures and amounts like this tend to be definite – the English equivalent would be ‘reduce it to half’. This is probably the same reason that there’s an الـ on 2010, and the same reason that in that camel video she says ما بيسرع فوق العشرين ‘he doesn’t go above 20’.

ممتاز. شو اللي زعجك بهدا القرار؟
mumtaaz. Shu illi za3ajak bi haada lqaraar?
Great. What’s annoyed you about this decision?

مستحيل. مستحيل يتم تخفيضه للنص.يعني اذا قدرو يحافظو على عددهن هلأ, اي ممتاز! بس مستحيل, ما بتزبط.
musta7iil. Musta7iil ytamm takhfiiDo la nneSS. Ya3ni iza 2edru y7aafZu 3ala 3adadon halla2, ee mumtaaz! Bas musta7iil, maa btizboT.
Impossible. It’s impossible for it to be reduced by half. I mean, if they manage to maintain the number now, yeah, great! But it’s impossible, it won’t work.

مستحيل يتم تخفيضه – a fun mixture of MSA and colloquial constructions. Even if you’ve only dipped your toe into media Arabic, chances are you’ll have encountered the tamm passive before. But يتم here is conjugated as a normal 3aamiyye verb, and doesn’t take a b- because it’s after مستحيل.

اذا قدرو – normally اذا is followed by a present tense in colloquial, unless the reference is actually past (اذا طلعو امبارح ‘if they set off yesterday’) or if the speaker wants to add a tinge of uncertainty to what they’re saying. Saying اذا قدرو implies that it’s not very likely, but is probably not as straightforwardly hypothetical as لو قدرو.

لأ لأ, بتزبط بتزبط.
la2 la2, btizboT btizboT.
No, no, it’ll work, it’ll work.

مستحيل. لا تقللي استصلاح الأراضي الزراعية واستثمارها
musta7iil! Laa t2illi istiSlaa7 ilaraaDi izziraa3iyye w istismaarha
Impossible! Don’t tell me reclamation of and investment in agricultural land…

لا تقللي laa t2illi – we’ve mentioned before how hollow verbs get shortened before certain suffixes and how long uu becomes that mysterious neutral vowel that sounds different in different contexts before. Both لا and ما can be used to negate the imperative, and I don’t think there’s much of a difference in their meaning.

لأ, مو شغلة استصلاح الأراضي.
la2, muu sheghlet istiSlaa7 ilaraaDi.
No, it’s nothing to do with reclaiming land.

شغلة sheghle is a very useful word to know. It basically means ‘thing’ or ‘thingy’. In constructions like this, it can also mean ‘it’s a matter of’ or, as here, ‘not a matter of’.

ولا تقللي الدول الغنية بدها تعطي مساعدات للدول الفقيرة لإنه أصلا هاي الدول الغنية صارت غنية على حساب الدول الفقيرة.
w laa t2illi idduwal ilghaniyye bidda ta3Tii musaa3adaat la dduwal ilfa2iira, la2enno aSlan hayy idduwal ilghaniyye Saaret ghaniyye 3ala 7saab idduwal ilfa2iira
And don’t tell me rich countries are going to give assistance to poor countries, because in the first place the rich countries [only] became rich at the expense of poor countries.

بدها – although we’re taught بدي first and foremost, and perhaps exclusively, as a translation of ‘I want’, it’s probably used as much or more to add a range of different colourings to verbs. One sense is future, as here, where it translates as something like ‘going to’, and all of its other meanings are basically derived from this: شو بدي اعمل هلأ؟ shu biddi a3mil halla2?  What should I do now? بدي كون نسيت biddi kuun @nsiit ‘I must’ve forgotten’, شلون بدي افتحه؟ shloon biddi ifta7o? ‘How do I open it?’

لإنه la2enno – possibly slightly more formal or emphatic than using مشان or any of its relatives, but still perfectly 3aammi.

لأ مو بالمساعدات. لإن بحياته الفقير ما بيقتنع بالحسنات
la2 muu bi lmusaa3adaat. La2en bi 7ayaato lfa2iir maa byiqtane3 bi l7asanaat.
No, not through assistance. Because the poor man will never be convinced by charity.

لإن la2en is a variant of لإنه la2enno.

بحياته bi 7ayaato and the more common عمره, combined with a negative verb, are used to express ‘never’, ‘not in one’s life’.

بيقتنع byiqtane3 – some verbs have passives formed on form VIII instead of form VII. Also I told you قنع always had a q!

ولا تقللي من طريق حل النزاعات المسلحة وتحويل ميزانيات السلاح لميزانيات الأغذية… لأ, ما حتزبط! لإنه تجار الأسلحة مخططين لست ميت حرب أهلية لقدام لحتى ما يقعدو بلا شغل.
w laa t2illi min Tarii2 7all innizaa3aat ilmusalla7a w ta7wiil miizaaniyyaat issilaa7 la miizaaniyyaat ilaghziye. La2, maa 7a-tizboT. La2enno tijjaar ilasli7a mukhaTTaTiin la sitt miit 7arb ahliyye la-2eddaam la7atta maa yi23odu bala shegh@l.
And don’t tell me by solving armed conflicts and transferring the arms budget to the food budget… No, it won’t work. Because the arms merchants have planned for six hundred civil wars in the future so they don’t [have to] sit around unemployed.

أغذية aghziye is the plural of غذاء and is maybe one of those cases where nouns that only exist in the singular in English have singulars and plurals in Arabic. It probably expresses there being a lot of something. أسلحة is the same deal – why not سلاح? I don’t really know, but تجار الأسلحة is a set phrase.

ست ميت حرب sitt miit 7arb – in colloquial the numbers are much simpler and less annoying. ميّة miyye becomes ميت miit when it is followed by a noun, and the forms of 3-10 without ـة appear almost exclusively before nouns, whilst the ones with ـة generally appear independently.

لحتى la7atta – used for both la- and 7atta (conveniently), which in any case are basically synonymous with one another in colloquial, both being used for ‘until’ and ‘in order to’.

ما حتزبط maa 7a-tizboT – you were probably once smugly told that in the Levant they use رح and in Egypt they use prefixed حـ, but in Levantine dialects حـ exists as a rarer variant of رح and, in parts of Syria, لح la7. In fact, almost all of the basic words you learn as characteristic of Egyptian are also used, albeit sometimes in much narrower contexts, in Syrian too.

قعد بلا شغل ‭‭2e3ed bala sheghl is a very common translation for ‘be unemployed’ or ‘be doing nothing’.

لأ مو حل النزاعات المسلحة لأ…
la2, muu 7all innizaa3aat ilmusalla7a la2.
No, not by solving armed conflicts, no.

طيب… رح يصنعو أدوية ويوزعوها ع الجوعانين يسفوها وتسد نفسهن ويبطلو جوعانين؟
Tayyib… ra7 yiS@n3u ad@wye w ywazz3uwwa 3a ljoo3aaniin ysiffuwwa w tsidd nafson w ybaTTlu joo3aaniin?
OK… they’re going to produce medicines and hand them out to the starving that they can down and they’ll lose their appetites and stop being hungry?

يصنعو – the underlying form here is yiSna3u, but Syrians have a predilection for rearranging consonants and vowels. Because there’s a suffix which begins with a vowel, the vowel previous to the suffix, yiSna3u, is dropped. But because it’s difficult to produce a three-consonant cluster, a new helping vowel is inserted between S and n to make it pronounceable. The stress stays where it always was, on the first syllable. This process can happen whenever a suffix beginning with a vowel is added, even if it’s -ak, -ek or -o.

ادوية ad@wye – this is basically the same process as above. The underlying form is adwiye, with stress on the first syllable; w and y are contracted together, and then a helping vowel has to be inserted before w.

يوزعوها ywazz3uwwa – I vaguely remember learning وزّع either from al Kitaab or from an entry-level news article in the sense of ‘distribute’. It’s also used in colloquial in the same sense for ‘hand out’. The initial h of pronoun suffixes is dropped quite consistently by most Syrians and Lebanese people; when placed after a final long vowel like -i or -u, the vowel turns into a double consonant: –iyy-a, -uww-a. There’s no b- because it’s following رح (not directly, of course, but  ‘distribute’ and ‘make’ are both future verbs here).

يسفوها ysiffuwwa – سف (saff ysiff) means ‘take without water’ or more generally ‘gulp down’. I think there being no b- is because this sentence is a relative clause of أدوية, like ‘they’ll distribute medicine to the poor that they can gulp down’.

سدّ نفسهن sadd nafson – سد (sadd ysidd) means ‘block’; you may have encountered the same word, if you’re particularly interested in north African  geopolitics, in the context of the Ethiopian Nile Dam (also called a سد). The word نفس nafs here isn’t ‘self’, but ‘appetite’ – مالي نفس maali naf@s means ‘I don’t feel like it’, ‘I’m not hungry’. This same word in Egyptian is pronounced nifs. سد نفسي is the term for loss of appetite. Literally, this sentence is ‘[the medicines] will block their appetite’.

يبطلو جوعانين ybaTTlu joo3aaniin – بطّل baTTal means ‘to stop [completely]’, ‘to stop being’ or ‘to no longer be’. It can take a verb in the subjunctive (يبطلو يشربو ybaTTlu yishrabu), a masdar (يبطلو شرب ybaTTlu sher@b) or, in the sense of ‘stop being’, a noun (يبطلو سكيرجية ybaTTlu sikkiirjiyye). In his next line he says يبطلو يصيرو جوعانين ‘they’ll stop becoming hungry’.

لأ مو شغلة أدوية مو شغلة أدوية
la2 muu sheghlet adwiye, muu sheghlet adwiye.
No, it’s nothing to do with medicines.

The second guy pronounces adwiye in a more MSA-ish way. He generally speaks a bit more MSA in this whole clip, possibly to emphasise his (albeit pessimistic) wisdom.

بيطلع ساحر, بيقول هرو مرو ، هرو مرو، ما فاتوها بيقومو وبيبطلو يصيرو جوعانين بسحر ساحر هيك؟
byiTla3 saa7ir, bi2uul herru merru herru merru maa faatuuha bi2uumu bibaTTlu ySiiru joo3aaniin bi se7r saa7ir heek?
A magician will appear and say abracadabra and they’ll all stop becoming hungry by some magic spell, something like that?

بيقومو بيبطلو bi2uumu bibaTTlu2aam ‘to get up’ is often used in this sort of narrative sense. It doesn’t really mean anything per se; it’s a bit like ‘went’ in ‘he only went and switched the light off!’

لأ ما شغلة ساحر لأ.
la2 maa sheghlet saa7ir la2.
No, nothing to do with a magician, no.

Although مو is as a rule much more common to negate nouns and adjectives and ما to negate verbs, ما can sometimes negate nouns, too. In certain dialects (like that of Latakia, or, apparently, the Sudan) this is basically the rule.

طيب شلون؟ كل شغلة لأ لأ لأ! شلون!
Tayyib shloon? Kill sheghle la2 la2 la2! Shloon!
OK, so how? Everything is ‘no no no!’ How?

يا سيدي, مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي ما اتخذ قرار بتخفيض نسبة الجوعانين إلى النصف… مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي أعلن خبر.
yaa siidi, mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami maa ittakhaz qaraar bi takhfiiD nisbet ijjoo3aaniin ila nniS@f. Mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami a3lan khabar.
Look, man, the World Conference for Food hasn’t decided to reduce the percentage of starving people to half. The World Conference for Food has announced some news.

يا سيدي yaa siidi­ – often used at the beginning of a declaration to a friend or a social equal, even though it means ‘sir’; I guess it also means ‘Mr’ (although calling someone ‘mister’ in English is either flirtatious or infantilising).

شلون خبر؟
shloon khabar?
What do you mean news?

مؤتمر الغذاء العالمي حسبها من هون للألفين وعشرة… بيكون النصف الأول من الجائعين بالعالم أكل النصف التاني. وهيك بتنزل النسبة للنص.
mu2tamar ilghazaa2 il3aalami 7asabha min hoon la lalfeen w 3ashara… bikuun inniSf il2awwal mn iljaa2i3iin bi l3aalam akal inniSf ittaani. W heek btinzil innisbe la nneSS.
The World Conference for Food has worked it out that from now up to 2010, the first half of the starving people in the world will have eaten the second half. And that’s how the percentage will drop by half.

حسبها ‪7‪asabha – the -ha is a meaningless ‘it’, referring to the situation.

بيكون… أكل bikuun akal – ‘will have’ is intuitively formed by the future of ‘to be’ plus a past tense verb.

جائعين jaa2i3iin – this is very MSA. You probably learnt جوعان for ‘hungry’ from al Kitaab, but the forms with -aan – تعبان etc – are generally frowned upon in proper MSA writing. The real participle of جاع ‘get hungry’ is جائع.


العمى literally means ‘blindness’, but it’s really just a general, not-very-sweary ‘damn!’. I guess it’s probably originally contracted from العمى بقلبك il3ama bi 2elbak ‘blindness in your heart’ whose wording does not do justice to the long and fertile intellectual tradition of Arabic medical science.


Apparently أبدا (which you may know from MSA can also mean ‘forever’) can also mean ‘precisely’.

ولله ما عم تخطر على بال الجن الأزرق
waLLa maa 3am tikhTor 3ala baal iljinn ilazra2
You wouldn’t have thought of it in a million years.

I hadn’t encountered this expression before, though I had heard references to the blue genies before, and it can be used in fuSHaa with the appropriate grammatical changes. Apparently, nobody knows what the blue genies are, and so saying that something ‘would never occur to’ (ما بتخطر على بال) a blue genie – when blue genies themselves have supernatural powers, and are a symbol of unknowingness, means that you would never have thought of it. Another similar expression is لا… ولا عرفيت أزرق laa… walla 3ifriit azra2 ‘neither… nor a blue genie!’ which means ‘neither that nor anything at all!’

لكان شلون
lakaan @shloon
You’re exactly right.

لكان is a really useful word you should learn as soon as possible in Syrian and Lebanese (in some dialects, la3aad is used instead, though this may now be dated). It means ‘that’s how it is’ or ‘if that’s how it is’ or ‘if that’s not how it is, then how is it?’ This sentence hovers somewhere between the second and third usage. It can also be used on its own in the first and third usages:

هنن مصريين؟ – hinen maSriyyiin? – Are they Egyptians?
لأ مو مصريين – no, not Egyptians.
لكان؟ – then what?

In this sense, Jordanians (and maybe Palestinians) say willa? ‘Instead?’ instead. Instead instead instead.


هنن مصريين؟ ‪– Are they Egyptians?
لكان! – yes, exactly!

أخي ما في مشكلة الا بيلاقولها حل. فورا
akhi maa fii mish@kle illa bilaa2uulla 7all. Fawran
Brother, there isn’t a problem they can’t find a solution for. Straight away.

لقى يلاقو la2a ylaa2u is an irregular verb which acts like a form I in the past and a form III in the present. Here it has a suffixed -lha or, in his pronunciation, -lla, which means ‘for it’.

مشكلة mish@kle is another example of the same lose-a-vowel-gain-a-vowel process – mushkile > mishkile (because the stressed u becomes the neutral vowel, which here is pronounced i), then the i is dropped because there’s a vowel after the last consonant of the root, then a helping vowel is inserted to make it more pronounceable, but the stress remains in the same place. Mishkile exists as a variant.