He heard it a few times when he was a teenager in Jordan. According to him, someone trying to “break up the fight or reconcile the parties” would use this saying to calm the people down.
Original Script: امسحها بلحيتي
Transliteration: Imsa-ha bi lihiti
Translation: Wipe it on my beard
This saying intrigues me because it does not sound like anything meaningful at first, but it starts making some sense when given some thought. The mediator, by telling the two people/groups to “wipe it on [his] beard,” is saying to leave their grievance there with him. When you wipe dirt from your hand onto another surface, the dirt is no longer on your hand, and it stays on the wall. The fact that there is saying for this shows that Arabs, like many people, commonly act as mediators.
She heard it a lot in her childhood from her aunts when she was in Jordan. If someone is restless, and can’t sit still, they would ask that person, “Fi doodeh bi teezak?”
Original Script: في دودة بطيزك؟
Transliteration: Fi doodeh b-teezak?
Literal Translation: Is there worm in your butt?
Smooth Translation: Is there a worm in your butt?
This was a saying I heard when I was a kid, and I still find it funny to this day; it has the listener imagine someone unable to sit still because of the discomfort of having a worm in their butt. Because that situation would be considered abnormal, and it is being compared to a person who can’t sit still, the saying implies that Arabs see it abnormal for someone to not sit still and rest.
She first heard this saying from her grandma when she was in elementary school in Jordan. She says that you would say this when “somebody keeps talking about a problem and trying to solve it a different way, but you know there is no other answer.”
Original Script: بدق المي بالهاون
Transliteration: Bido’ el my bil hawen
Literal Translation: Beat the water in mortar
Smooth Translation: You’re beating water in a mortar
When my informant first told me this several years ago, I realized from the imagery that I was doing something in a way that no progress could be made. The comparison lies in how you do nothing to the water if you beat it in a mortar with a pestle; you just waste time and energy. This saying shows that Arabs value efficiency, since this is a warning said to those who are wasting their time.
She said that her mom would always say this to her. They were both still in Jordan when she first heard it. According to her, you would say this “when somebody is hoping for something that you know won’t happen,” or “when somebody is hoping for somebody else to do something, but you know they won’t do it.”
Original Script: قلبك ابيض
Transliteration: Albak abyad
Translation: Your heart is white
When I first heard this saying, I thought that it meant that someone was acting naïve. I clearly remember when I asked my family if there was any dessert left from the day before, only to be told “Albak abyad”; I was naïve to assume that they had not eaten it all. Even after I heard my informant’s explanation, I find it interesting how the saying associates the color white with naïveté instead of purity (the usual association). It shows that innocence to a fault (naïveté) is seen as a problem in Arabic cultures, encouraging those who hear the saying to not be overly hopeful.