She learned it from her grandma in Jordan, when she was around 7 or 8. The first time she heard it was when her grandma asked her if she wanted to sleep over, to which she said that she had to go home. Her grandma then said “Rayahtni min fsak” (“You saved me from your farts”).
Original Script: بطلت انام بحضنك… ريحتني من فساك
Transliteration: Battalt anam bi hodnak… Rayahtni min fsak
Translation: I stopped sleeping on your lap… You saved me from your farts
I found this saying-response pair really funny, since not many people think of how often children fart while sitting on an adult’s lap. The first part (“Battalt anam bi hodnak”) sounds like it could be swapped out with any declaration of independence that would make the other person upset. The second part (“Rayahtni min fsak”) is a witty response to the declaration that essentially means “You were a burden to me.” The humor of the response makes it easier for the message to get across without sounding rude, since independence can be a touchy subject in a culture where families are tight-knit.
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.”
Original Script: بصلتك محروقة
Transliteration: Basiltak mahrou’a
Translation: Your onion is burnt
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.
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.”
Original Script: حماتك بتحبّك
Transliteration: Hamatak but-hibbak
Translation: Your mother-in-law loves you
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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
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.