Tag Archives: Arabic folk speech

“The monkey in his mom’s eye is a gazelle” – Arabic Proverb

Context:

She learned it from her mom and grandma in Jordan. She said that the proverb means that a mom never finds a fault in her child.

Text:

Original Script: القرد بعين امه غزال

Transliteration: El ‘ird bi aine immo ghazal

Literal Translation: The monkey in his mom’s eye is gazelle

Smooth Translation: The monkey in his mom’s eyes is a gazelle

Thoughts:

I found this proverb to be really funny because although I’ve seen moments like what the proverb describes, it’s generally the opposite in my family: it’s usually the aunts and grandmas that see the child as better than they really are, and it’s usually the moms who are quick to tell their children their faults. The background information that one must have to understand the proverb is that monkeys are seen as ugly, but gazelles are seen as beautiful (there are love poems called ghazals because of that connection). Thus, the proverb implies that even if someone is as ugly as a monkey, their mom would see them as beautiful as a gazelle, which comments on the strength of family ties: the love of a mother would gloss over all the child’s faults.

“Do not put me in front of the cannon” – Arabic Saying

Context:

He heard this in Jordan when he was a teenager. He said that “this comes [up] when there is a crucial discussion, and someone wants to know who is responsible for something. The person volunteered by the group would say ‘Ma t-hotni bi bouz el madfah’ because they are going to see the person’s first reaction.”

Text:

Original Script: ما تحطني ببوز المدفع

Transliteration: Ma t-hotni bi bouz el madfah

Literal Translation: Do not put me in face of cannon

Smooth Translation: Do not put me in front of the cannon

Thoughts:

I found this saying really funny, since it compares a person’s potentially unpleasant reaction to a loaded cannon. Although today was the first time I heard this, I remember experiencing the same feeling when there was bad news that had to be told to someone. People generally don’t like to be the bearer of bad news because of how the person might react. I find this saying to be similar to the English saying “Don’t shoot the messenger,” which is what the person would tell the recipient of the bad news. “Ma t-hotni bi bouz el madfah” captures the cross-cultural dislike of witnessing the first reaction of someone who was told bad news, since they might direct their anger or frustration towards the messenger. This may put a strain on the relationship between the messenger and person, and most people would not want to put unnecessary strain on their relationships.

“The hit of the blind is on target” – Arabic Saying

Context:

He was in Jordan when he learned it as a kid from his Syrian neighbor, who has a proverb or saying for every single occasion. She would say this when she did not expect someone to do something right, but they do it right.

Text:

Original Script: ضربة الاعمى صيب

Transliteration: Darbet el ama saib

Literal Translation: The hit of the blind on target

Smooth Translation: The hit of the blind is on target

Thoughts:

Although I found the saying strange, it made sense after hearing the explanation; the probability of the person doing it right is like the probability of a blind person hitting a target. Because of its similarity to the English saying “Beginner’s luck,” this saying may be used to prevent someone from thinking too highly of themself. Since Arabic cultures are past-oriented,* this saying could be used to make sure that respect for elders who consistently do that task well is not lost.

*Alan Dundes talks about past-oriented and future-oriented cultures in his “Thinking Ahead: A Folkloristic Reflection of the Future Orientation in American Worldview.”Dundes, Alan. “Thinking Ahead: A Folkloristic Reflection of the Future Orientation in American Worldview.” Anthropological Quarterly 42, no. 2 (April 1969): 53–72. https://doi.org/ 10.2307/3316639.

“Your onion is burnt” – Arabic Saying

Context:

He heard it at his grandma’s house in Jordan when he was around 6 years old. He says that the saying means “You are impatient.”

Text:

Original Script: بصلتك محروقة

Transliteration: Basiltak mahrou’a

Translation: Your onion is burnt

Thoughts:

This saying made little sense to me until I was told by someone else that onions burn quickly when being cooked. With that in mind, I made the connection that the impatient person is like a cooking onion: neither can wait for long. The purpose of this saying is to point out another person’s error in such a way that would have been easier to take than if it had been said plainly (“You’re impatient”). Although not technically a proverb, this saying does give a piece of advice in an indirect way.

“Your mother-in-law loves you” – Arabic Saying

Context:

He “heard it from almost everyone [he] knew when [he] was a kid” in Jordan. You would say this “to someone who is lucky enough to show up just in time to share the food of the people he’s visiting.”

Text:

Original Script: حماتك بتحبّك

Transliteration: Hamatak but-hibbak

Translation: Your mother-in-law loves you

Thoughts:

I did not understand the saying until I realized that the only way for it to make sense was if Arab mothers-in-law rarely like their children-in-law. I find this quite odd, since it goes against the general tendency of Arab families to be tight-knit. After that realization, I was able to connect the saying and its meaning. Generally, Arab families like to eat together, and tend to prepare more than enough food, so if someone is lucky enough to visit someone as they are eating, they are likely to have some with the family. The comparison is that the luck of someone that shows up coincidentally at mealtime is as lucky as one who is loved by their mother-in-law.