“You’re beating water in a mortar” – Arabic Saying


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.