February 22, 2006

Holy linguistics!

Religion often colours the language in the countries where it has played an integral part in society. The Bible itself contains many proverbs that are today integrated in e.g. both the English and Swedish language. "There is nothing new under the sun", is a proverb used today that has its origin in the Bible.

Wether you adhere to a certain faith or not, it is interesting to see how religious texts become an integrated part of society and language, and thus further forms new proverbs based on those very same religious ideas or texts. In "The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce, a new saying is coined based on the old Biblical one; "There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don't know".

Same is the case with Arabic and Islam. A very descriptive example lies in a saying commonly used in the Levant area; "yesoom yesoom wa yefter 3ala basale" which means "he fasts and fasts and breaks it with an onion".

Usually this saying is used in the case of a man (or indeed woman) wanting to get married to someone who is, in the eyes of the mother or anyone else, not good-looking enough, or simply not good enough. To understand the context of this saying, and indeed, to have a good laugh at it, one can look to Islamic traditions for an answer.

Men and women, in general, who are not married have been recommended by the Prophet Mohammad* to fast every now and then, in order to avert ones focus from desire of the opposite sex. Thus, in this case, the man fasted and fasted, and when time came for him to be able to marry, he chose someone not "worthy enough", or metaphorically, opened his fast with an onion instead of choosing something else from all fruits and vegetables and foods available.

Think about your own language (or indeed languages), do you find any similar examples?
What are some of your favourite expressions or proverbs?

Ps. Don't hold back...

*May peace and blessings be upon him


BuJ said...

interesting.. i heard the onion proverb before but never knew this was its origin!

might be useful to run the spell checker Shaira :)

how about: la kullu ma yureeduhu al mar2 yudrikuh, tajri al riya7 bima la tashtahe al sufun

English: Not all what one wants one gets, the wind blows not in the way that ships want.

on a different topic, one of my favorite funny ones is:

beini wo bein jari, sho khass 7maari?

english: this is between me and my neighbour, what's my donkey got to do with it?

you say this when you're talking to someone and get interrupted by an annoying muppet.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

lol! Never heard that one before, wallah mod7ik. Spell check, check.

Actually I heard the onion proverb and started reflecting upon it, and thus was led to the idea of it being derived from a religious context. Perhaps there are other dimensions to it...

moryarti said...

one of my favorites is:

El khat el a3waj, min el toor el kbeer

The skewed line is caused by the older Ox, it used when a young one makes a mistake, blame should be directed towards the supervising adult.

BuJ said...

prof that's a great quote!!! i'll have to remember it :)

how about "al tuyoor 3ala ashkaliha taqa3"

"birds come in all shapes and sizes"

what this really means i'll leave it to you prof :)

moryarti said...


Destitute Rebel said...

This might be a little of topic, but what does al-baal mean? curiosity caught this cat!

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

D rebel, glad you asked. You can read about the reason for the choice of name in my first post. Baal in arabic means alot of things; whale, attention, care, concern,thought, mind. The latter two are the meanings that I had in mind while naming the blog Al-Baal.

kaya said...

there is a punjabi saying that goes, "bahu aanta goondtay hillti hai"
Transalated that means "the daughter in law shakes when she kneads dough."
A daughter in law traditionally can not ever do anything right. So the saying goes that she even shakes(which any normal person would do anyway) when she kneads dough. It means to unneccesarily pick faults about someone whom you do not like.

BuJ said...

there is a saying in arabic that is :

"wala 3al baal wala 3al khatir"

thus : not on one's mind and not in one's feelings.

for example if it was your mom's birthday and u totally forgot about it then someone might scold u by saying this.

UaE MaX said...
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UaE MaX said...

i disagree with your explanation ! you are right it sometimes used to describe getting married to an unworthy women, but it is also used in many other occasions. its just used where a person spend alot of time and effort to do something then ends up with a bad result which is not worth all that.

buj, "al tuyoor 3ala ashkaliha taqa3" means birds usually go or hang out with their look alikes, used to describe a bad person who hangs out or go to other bad people or people similar 2 him/her.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Welcome uae max!

Perhaps I didn't express myself clearly enough. Thank you for your reminder. I am aware that the saying is used in other cases as well however it must have been derived from somewhere, and since it is used alot (in marriage terms), I made the connection with the islamic traditions (of fasting before marriage if one should need it etc).

Naturally I could be all wrong, however perhaps you can shed some light on where the saying was derived from, if not from the idea of fasting to "control ones desire"?

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Buj: I have been scolded with exactly that saying by my friend in syria... I don't recall what I forgot... loll

BuJ said...

shaira, hehe.. i'm sure ur friend meant it in the most endearing of ways.. if u want something stronger then there are other expressions as u know :)

u forgot what u forgot? hehe typical!

kaya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kaya said...

Heres another one

The head of the SARDAAR is BIG and the foot of the villager/uncouth/uncultured is BIG.

The reference to Sardaar's is obvious because they are known for their foolishness and stupidity - naivete and you would label; someone a sardaar for their being silly.
The reference to the villager is in the olden days when brides were selected they were made to walk around a few steps and their hands/feet were inspected. It was beleived that generally people of high birth had soft delicate hands and small highly arched feet.
The saying is generally used to point out the origin of a persons genes. ie no matter how expensive a suit you will dress the sardaar/villager in he will remain true to his nature by displaying at any given point a characteristic only to him.


Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Creative way to choose a bride lol