Write the wrongs! 16 sketchy Arabic words that should be written off in 2015

Published December 13th, 2014 - 20:32 GMT

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Okay, the Arabic language is beautiful. It can sound musical and poetic, or exacting and fierce. It’s got metaphors that have lived through empires and colonialism, and ancient texts to boot.

But let’s admit it. By (almost) 2015, it’s also got some vocabulary that’s better off scratched clear out of the dictionary.

Politics, culture and a bit of good old fashioned ignorance have all played a big part in the way Arabic speakers refer to certain things. And some old dubious words seem like they’re harder to get rid of than your chatty next door neighbor.   Continue reading below »

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ʿAnis/ʿAnseh (female only) 'Spinster'- Like the Victorian usage of spinster, this word could do with a makeover to bring sexy back to single women still of a marriageable age. Step in ʿazibieh (bachelorette, singleton), and luckily the Arabs are poised to eradicate ʿAnis from the lexicon -- though as with all things ME standard time, inshallah!
Reduce

Image 1 of 16:  1 / 16ʿAnis/ʿAnseh (female only) "Spinster"- Like the Victorian usage of spinster, this word could do with a makeover to bring sexy back to single women still of a marriageable age. Step in ʿazibieh (bachelorette, singleton), and luckily the Arabs are poised to eradicate ʿAnis from the lexicon -- though as with all things ME standard time, inshallah!

Enlarge
ʿAbed 'slave', still borrowed as a dodgy term for black ('asmar') people, has been long overdue a blanket ban. As offensive as the N word, by now some Arabs do get it, but others are impervious or indifferent to the faux pas they commit. Candy manufacturers have seen sense, with choccie mallow treats reflecting a more PC label to 'slave's head'.
Reduce

Image 2 of 16:  2 / 16ʿAbed "slave", still borrowed as a dodgy term for black ('asmar') people, has been long overdue a blanket ban. As offensive as the N word, by now some Arabs do get it, but others are impervious or indifferent to the faux pas they commit. Candy manufacturers have seen sense, with choccie mallow treats reflecting a more PC label to 'slave's head'.

Enlarge
Moʿaq “disabled” or handicapped-- like its English counterpart, this term is starting to fall out of grace, seen to have inferior usage to modern substitutes like tahʿaddiyaat al harakiyeh (physically challenged, impaired). Moʿaq carries the same outdated nuance as cripple and gets abused as a slur, similarly to spastic or retard!
Reduce

Image 3 of 16:  3 / 16Moʿaq “disabled” or handicapped-- like its English counterpart, this term is starting to fall out of grace, seen to have inferior usage to modern substitutes like tahʿaddiyaat al harakiyeh (physically challenged, impaired). Moʿaq carries the same outdated nuance as cripple and gets abused as a slur, similarly to spastic or retard!

Enlarge
Mongoli-- 'Mongolian' but mis-appropriated as an unfortunate dated and damaging reference still alive in some swaths of Arab culture, for Down syndrome individuals. Thankfully, this one’s a dying breed in the more enlightened spots of the Arabian desert! Though there’s no telling what un-PC-speak a teta (gran) or jiddo (gramps) is capable of!
Reduce

Image 4 of 16:  4 / 16Mongoli-- "Mongolian" but mis-appropriated as an unfortunate dated and damaging reference still alive in some swaths of Arab culture, for Down syndrome individuals. Thankfully, this one’s a dying breed in the more enlightened spots of the Arabian desert! Though there’s no telling what un-PC-speak a teta (gran) or jiddo (gramps) is capable of!

Enlarge
Masri-- 'Egyptian' (variations of the theme include Syrian & Indian) but in the Levant region especially it can serve as an unfortunate byword for laborer. Used as a catch-all for janitor, door-man, concierge, gas station attendant...Need an errand run, find an ‘Egyptian’ to do it! What does your Dad do? He works as an ‘Egyptian’ in Jordan.
Reduce

Image 5 of 16:  5 / 16Masri-- "Egyptian" (variations of the theme include Syrian & Indian) but in the Levant region especially it can serve as an unfortunate byword for laborer. Used as a catch-all for janitor, door-man, concierge, gas station attendant...Need an errand run, find an ‘Egyptian’ to do it! What does your Dad do? He works as an ‘Egyptian’ in Jordan.

Enlarge
Sirilankiyyeh: Some Arab perpetrators of this crime against language deserve a national a slapped wrist. Meaning female Sri-Lankan, and borrowed brazenly to refer to house-help or maid from any nationality under the sun. Where’s your Sirilankiyyeh? She could be Arab, Ethiopian or Scandinavian and still get branded this misnomer for ‘servant’.
Reduce

Image 6 of 16:  6 / 16Sirilankiyyeh: Some Arab perpetrators of this crime against language deserve a national a slapped wrist. Meaning female Sri-Lankan, and borrowed brazenly to refer to house-help or maid from any nationality under the sun. Where’s your Sirilankiyyeh? She could be Arab, Ethiopian or Scandinavian and still get branded this misnomer for ‘servant’.

Enlarge
Ra-aasah - ‘Dancer’ but a euphemism for loose woman! A professional dancer-- from ballet to belly to ballroom or veritable strippers -- are all written off as 'sluts'.  The term is usually a reference to the Egyptian variety. The art of belly-dancing gets looked over, as when ‘actress’ got used as a byword for prostitute in 1920s Europe.
Reduce

Image 7 of 16:  7 / 16Ra-aasah - ‘Dancer’ but a euphemism for loose woman! A professional dancer-- from ballet to belly to ballroom or veritable strippers -- are all written off as 'sluts'. The term is usually a reference to the Egyptian variety. The art of belly-dancing gets looked over, as when ‘actress’ got used as a byword for prostitute in 1920s Europe.

Enlarge
Shauffair taxi -- A 'Taxi driver', this trade gets a whole line of abuse of its own as a by-word for vulgarity, sleaziness and trashiness. A close cousin of our chauffeur  is “ʿhafartali” - meaning riff-raff, somebody of inferior caliber, coarse and scruffy. Cabbie can get borrowed loosely and interchangeably with ʿhafartal and vice versa.
Reduce

Image 8 of 16:  8 / 16Shauffair taxi -- A "Taxi driver", this trade gets a whole line of abuse of its own as a by-word for vulgarity, sleaziness and trashiness. A close cousin of our chauffeur is “ʿhafartali” - meaning riff-raff, somebody of inferior caliber, coarse and scruffy. Cabbie can get borrowed loosely and interchangeably with ʿhafartal and vice versa.

Enlarge
Iben Mukhayyam or Mukhayyamji are the 'untouchables' of the Levant. 'Child of the Camps' (ergo refugee) carries a derogatory connotation.  One might get called this term to imply a perceived ill-breeding or rough behavior. Given the ongoing refugee crises upon the region, terms that encourage a  social stigma should be redressed or eschewed.
Reduce

Image 9 of 16:  9 / 16Iben Mukhayyam or Mukhayyamji are the 'untouchables' of the Levant. "Child of the Camps" (ergo refugee) carries a derogatory connotation. One might get called this term to imply a perceived ill-breeding or rough behavior. Given the ongoing refugee crises upon the region, terms that encourage a social stigma should be redressed or eschewed.

Enlarge
ʿHaamil or ʿHaamleh (♂/ ♀): A mild to malignant insult, cousin of loser, school dropout, flunkie. Evolved from the classroom to reference unsuccessful, party animal, under-achiever, it begs a fresher, less socially stigmatizing approach when mis-applied to mature students or late-bloomers, waylaid in worthy works rather than dilly-dallying.
Reduce

Image 10 of 16:  10 / 16ʿHaamil or ʿHaamleh (♂/ ♀): A mild to malignant insult, cousin of loser, school dropout, flunkie. Evolved from the classroom to reference unsuccessful, party animal, under-achiever, it begs a fresher, less socially stigmatizing approach when mis-applied to mature students or late-bloomers, waylaid in worthy works rather than dilly-dallying.

Enlarge
Iben ʿharaam-- 'bastard', someone born out of wedlock. Used predominantly to describe someone who behaves badly or who is not straight-laced but crooked. As for the outmoded sense pertaining to parentage, it needs a rehabilitation to something more fitting for the 21st Century when a child shouldn’t be held to account for the sins of the father.
Reduce

Image 11 of 16:  11 / 16Iben ʿharaam-- "bastard", someone born out of wedlock. Used predominantly to describe someone who behaves badly or who is not straight-laced but crooked. As for the outmoded sense pertaining to parentage, it needs a rehabilitation to something more fitting for the 21st Century when a child shouldn’t be held to account for the sins of the father.

Enlarge
Somali/eh-- A short-hand for skinny-plus and another no-no for Arab PC stakes, this nationality tag gets borrowed by parents urging their young to eat, or telling dieters they have gone too far. You are looking ‘Africa’ levels of starving or famine-stricken! Shouldn't it be swapped for calling the svelte or waifs among us cat-walk models?
Reduce

Image 12 of 16:  12 / 16Somali/eh-- A short-hand for skinny-plus and another no-no for Arab PC stakes, this nationality tag gets borrowed by parents urging their young to eat, or telling dieters they have gone too far. You are looking ‘Africa’ levels of starving or famine-stricken! Shouldn't it be swapped for calling the svelte or waifs among us cat-walk models?

Enlarge
Falaaʿh/eh 'Peasant' (or not) is a pretty charged subject. An offensive tag for vulgarity, less education or coarse manners, falaaʿh shames the oft-impoverished folks from the countryside. Arabs love to remind those whose dialect or spoon-use betrays their humble origins, and chances are they've hiding their own country accent. Khalas already!
Reduce

Image 13 of 16:  13 / 16Falaaʿh/eh "Peasant" (or not) is a pretty charged subject. An offensive tag for vulgarity, less education or coarse manners, falaaʿh shames the oft-impoverished folks from the countryside. Arabs love to remind those whose dialect or spoon-use betrays their humble origins, and chances are they've hiding their own country accent. Khalas already!

Enlarge
Nouri / Nawari 'Gypsy'-- If you’re dressed badly, enjoy a rainbow of color in your attire, look a little unkempt; or should you exhibit tacky taste in just about anything, or, behave in a wild manner, you might get landed with this traveling branding.
Reduce

Image 14 of 16:  14 / 16Nouri / Nawari "Gypsy"-- If you’re dressed badly, enjoy a rainbow of color in your attire, look a little unkempt; or should you exhibit tacky taste in just about anything, or, behave in a wild manner, you might get landed with this traveling branding.

Enlarge
tant: This is Arabic slang for a male who is mollycoddled-- put another way, a 'sissy boy' --playground abuse supreme! 'Tant' effectively gets used to connote perceived 'gay' or effeminate behaviors. To put it more crudely, an English cousin word would be the provocative ‘pussy’, or 'puff'. Like puff, the tactless term needs to go take a hike!
Reduce

Image 15 of 16:  15 / 16tant: This is Arabic slang for a male who is mollycoddled-- put another way, a 'sissy boy' --playground abuse supreme! 'Tant' effectively gets used to connote perceived 'gay' or effeminate behaviors. To put it more crudely, an English cousin word would be the provocative ‘pussy’, or 'puff'. Like puff, the tactless term needs to go take a hike!

Enlarge
Yahudi ‘Jew’ has a Medieval-style undercurrent in Arab quarters still today. This racial slur has forever been at the vanguard of linguistic abuse, pre-dating Israel (while gaining in insult premium after 1948). A nasty byword for cunning, dishonest, greedy, business smart, stingy, isn’t it high time the Jewish faith got an Arab Spring-clean?
Reduce

Image 16 of 16:  16 / 16Yahudi ‘Jew’ has a Medieval-style undercurrent in Arab quarters still today. This racial slur has forever been at the vanguard of linguistic abuse, pre-dating Israel (while gaining in insult premium after 1948). A nasty byword for cunning, dishonest, greedy, business smart, stingy, isn’t it high time the Jewish faith got an Arab Spring-clean?

Enlarge

1

ʿAnis/ʿAnseh (female only) 'Spinster'- Like the Victorian usage of spinster, this word could do with a makeover to bring sexy back to single women still of a marriageable age. Step in ʿazibieh (bachelorette, singleton), and luckily the Arabs are poised to eradicate ʿAnis from the lexicon -- though as with all things ME standard time, inshallah!

Image 1 of 16ʿAnis/ʿAnseh (female only) "Spinster"- Like the Victorian usage of spinster, this word could do with a makeover to bring sexy back to single women still of a marriageable age. Step in ʿazibieh (bachelorette, singleton), and luckily the Arabs are poised to eradicate ʿAnis from the lexicon -- though as with all things ME standard time, inshallah!

2

ʿAbed 'slave', still borrowed as a dodgy term for black ('asmar') people, has been long overdue a blanket ban. As offensive as the N word, by now some Arabs do get it, but others are impervious or indifferent to the faux pas they commit. Candy manufacturers have seen sense, with choccie mallow treats reflecting a more PC label to 'slave's head'.

Image 2 of 16ʿAbed "slave", still borrowed as a dodgy term for black ('asmar') people, has been long overdue a blanket ban. As offensive as the N word, by now some Arabs do get it, but others are impervious or indifferent to the faux pas they commit. Candy manufacturers have seen sense, with choccie mallow treats reflecting a more PC label to 'slave's head'.

3

Moʿaq “disabled” or handicapped-- like its English counterpart, this term is starting to fall out of grace, seen to have inferior usage to modern substitutes like tahʿaddiyaat al harakiyeh (physically challenged, impaired). Moʿaq carries the same outdated nuance as cripple and gets abused as a slur, similarly to spastic or retard!

Image 3 of 16Moʿaq “disabled” or handicapped-- like its English counterpart, this term is starting to fall out of grace, seen to have inferior usage to modern substitutes like tahʿaddiyaat al harakiyeh (physically challenged, impaired). Moʿaq carries the same outdated nuance as cripple and gets abused as a slur, similarly to spastic or retard!

4

Mongoli-- 'Mongolian' but mis-appropriated as an unfortunate dated and damaging reference still alive in some swaths of Arab culture, for Down syndrome individuals. Thankfully, this one’s a dying breed in the more enlightened spots of the Arabian desert! Though there’s no telling what un-PC-speak a teta (gran) or jiddo (gramps) is capable of!

Image 4 of 16Mongoli-- "Mongolian" but mis-appropriated as an unfortunate dated and damaging reference still alive in some swaths of Arab culture, for Down syndrome individuals. Thankfully, this one’s a dying breed in the more enlightened spots of the Arabian desert! Though there’s no telling what un-PC-speak a teta (gran) or jiddo (gramps) is capable of!

5

Masri-- 'Egyptian' (variations of the theme include Syrian & Indian) but in the Levant region especially it can serve as an unfortunate byword for laborer. Used as a catch-all for janitor, door-man, concierge, gas station attendant...Need an errand run, find an ‘Egyptian’ to do it! What does your Dad do? He works as an ‘Egyptian’ in Jordan.

Image 5 of 16Masri-- "Egyptian" (variations of the theme include Syrian & Indian) but in the Levant region especially it can serve as an unfortunate byword for laborer. Used as a catch-all for janitor, door-man, concierge, gas station attendant...Need an errand run, find an ‘Egyptian’ to do it! What does your Dad do? He works as an ‘Egyptian’ in Jordan.

6

Sirilankiyyeh: Some Arab perpetrators of this crime against language deserve a national a slapped wrist. Meaning female Sri-Lankan, and borrowed brazenly to refer to house-help or maid from any nationality under the sun. Where’s your Sirilankiyyeh? She could be Arab, Ethiopian or Scandinavian and still get branded this misnomer for ‘servant’.

Image 6 of 16Sirilankiyyeh: Some Arab perpetrators of this crime against language deserve a national a slapped wrist. Meaning female Sri-Lankan, and borrowed brazenly to refer to house-help or maid from any nationality under the sun. Where’s your Sirilankiyyeh? She could be Arab, Ethiopian or Scandinavian and still get branded this misnomer for ‘servant’.

7

Ra-aasah - ‘Dancer’ but a euphemism for loose woman! A professional dancer-- from ballet to belly to ballroom or veritable strippers -- are all written off as 'sluts'.  The term is usually a reference to the Egyptian variety. The art of belly-dancing gets looked over, as when ‘actress’ got used as a byword for prostitute in 1920s Europe.

Image 7 of 16Ra-aasah - ‘Dancer’ but a euphemism for loose woman! A professional dancer-- from ballet to belly to ballroom or veritable strippers -- are all written off as 'sluts'. The term is usually a reference to the Egyptian variety. The art of belly-dancing gets looked over, as when ‘actress’ got used as a byword for prostitute in 1920s Europe.

8

Shauffair taxi -- A 'Taxi driver', this trade gets a whole line of abuse of its own as a by-word for vulgarity, sleaziness and trashiness. A close cousin of our chauffeur  is “ʿhafartali” - meaning riff-raff, somebody of inferior caliber, coarse and scruffy. Cabbie can get borrowed loosely and interchangeably with ʿhafartal and vice versa.

Image 8 of 16Shauffair taxi -- A "Taxi driver", this trade gets a whole line of abuse of its own as a by-word for vulgarity, sleaziness and trashiness. A close cousin of our chauffeur is “ʿhafartali” - meaning riff-raff, somebody of inferior caliber, coarse and scruffy. Cabbie can get borrowed loosely and interchangeably with ʿhafartal and vice versa.

9

Iben Mukhayyam or Mukhayyamji are the 'untouchables' of the Levant. 'Child of the Camps' (ergo refugee) carries a derogatory connotation.  One might get called this term to imply a perceived ill-breeding or rough behavior. Given the ongoing refugee crises upon the region, terms that encourage a  social stigma should be redressed or eschewed.

Image 9 of 16Iben Mukhayyam or Mukhayyamji are the 'untouchables' of the Levant. "Child of the Camps" (ergo refugee) carries a derogatory connotation. One might get called this term to imply a perceived ill-breeding or rough behavior. Given the ongoing refugee crises upon the region, terms that encourage a social stigma should be redressed or eschewed.

10

ʿHaamil or ʿHaamleh (♂/ ♀): A mild to malignant insult, cousin of loser, school dropout, flunkie. Evolved from the classroom to reference unsuccessful, party animal, under-achiever, it begs a fresher, less socially stigmatizing approach when mis-applied to mature students or late-bloomers, waylaid in worthy works rather than dilly-dallying.

Image 10 of 16ʿHaamil or ʿHaamleh (♂/ ♀): A mild to malignant insult, cousin of loser, school dropout, flunkie. Evolved from the classroom to reference unsuccessful, party animal, under-achiever, it begs a fresher, less socially stigmatizing approach when mis-applied to mature students or late-bloomers, waylaid in worthy works rather than dilly-dallying.

11

Iben ʿharaam-- 'bastard', someone born out of wedlock. Used predominantly to describe someone who behaves badly or who is not straight-laced but crooked. As for the outmoded sense pertaining to parentage, it needs a rehabilitation to something more fitting for the 21st Century when a child shouldn’t be held to account for the sins of the father.

Image 11 of 16Iben ʿharaam-- "bastard", someone born out of wedlock. Used predominantly to describe someone who behaves badly or who is not straight-laced but crooked. As for the outmoded sense pertaining to parentage, it needs a rehabilitation to something more fitting for the 21st Century when a child shouldn’t be held to account for the sins of the father.

12

Somali/eh-- A short-hand for skinny-plus and another no-no for Arab PC stakes, this nationality tag gets borrowed by parents urging their young to eat, or telling dieters they have gone too far. You are looking ‘Africa’ levels of starving or famine-stricken! Shouldn't it be swapped for calling the svelte or waifs among us cat-walk models?

Image 12 of 16Somali/eh-- A short-hand for skinny-plus and another no-no for Arab PC stakes, this nationality tag gets borrowed by parents urging their young to eat, or telling dieters they have gone too far. You are looking ‘Africa’ levels of starving or famine-stricken! Shouldn't it be swapped for calling the svelte or waifs among us cat-walk models?

13

Falaaʿh/eh 'Peasant' (or not) is a pretty charged subject. An offensive tag for vulgarity, less education or coarse manners, falaaʿh shames the oft-impoverished folks from the countryside. Arabs love to remind those whose dialect or spoon-use betrays their humble origins, and chances are they've hiding their own country accent. Khalas already!

Image 13 of 16Falaaʿh/eh "Peasant" (or not) is a pretty charged subject. An offensive tag for vulgarity, less education or coarse manners, falaaʿh shames the oft-impoverished folks from the countryside. Arabs love to remind those whose dialect or spoon-use betrays their humble origins, and chances are they've hiding their own country accent. Khalas already!

14

Nouri / Nawari 'Gypsy'-- If you’re dressed badly, enjoy a rainbow of color in your attire, look a little unkempt; or should you exhibit tacky taste in just about anything, or, behave in a wild manner, you might get landed with this traveling branding.

Image 14 of 16Nouri / Nawari "Gypsy"-- If you’re dressed badly, enjoy a rainbow of color in your attire, look a little unkempt; or should you exhibit tacky taste in just about anything, or, behave in a wild manner, you might get landed with this traveling branding.

15

tant: This is Arabic slang for a male who is mollycoddled-- put another way, a 'sissy boy' --playground abuse supreme! 'Tant' effectively gets used to connote perceived 'gay' or effeminate behaviors. To put it more crudely, an English cousin word would be the provocative ‘pussy’, or 'puff'. Like puff, the tactless term needs to go take a hike!

Image 15 of 16tant: This is Arabic slang for a male who is mollycoddled-- put another way, a 'sissy boy' --playground abuse supreme! 'Tant' effectively gets used to connote perceived 'gay' or effeminate behaviors. To put it more crudely, an English cousin word would be the provocative ‘pussy’, or 'puff'. Like puff, the tactless term needs to go take a hike!

16

Yahudi ‘Jew’ has a Medieval-style undercurrent in Arab quarters still today. This racial slur has forever been at the vanguard of linguistic abuse, pre-dating Israel (while gaining in insult premium after 1948). A nasty byword for cunning, dishonest, greedy, business smart, stingy, isn’t it high time the Jewish faith got an Arab Spring-clean?

Image 16 of 16Yahudi ‘Jew’ has a Medieval-style undercurrent in Arab quarters still today. This racial slur has forever been at the vanguard of linguistic abuse, pre-dating Israel (while gaining in insult premium after 1948). A nasty byword for cunning, dishonest, greedy, business smart, stingy, isn’t it high time the Jewish faith got an Arab Spring-clean?

Reduce

The ugly

An Arabic speaker might, for example, refer to someone who is cunning as “Yahudi,” which is Arabic for Jewish. *Sigh* Maybe we haven’t found peace for Palestine and Israel, but perpetuating racist terms like that one sure isn’t helping. And, unfortunately, there are many more like it.

This isn’t only an Arabic problem, though. Plenty of words in Latin and Germanic languages have been revamped to take on more enlightened connotations, or booted out altogether in the last 30 years or so. And Arabs have already made inroads in the mission to make linguistic progress!

Yalla, let’s get it right!

The good news is that the Middle East is on a clean-up operation with campaigns advocating for positive or trendier substitutes to promote tolerance and attitude shifts. 

We’ve got enough problems in the region without these ignorant phrases giving Arabic a bad rap. So get yourself together, and be careful the next time you open your mouth!

Un-PC words for the trash can!

Here are some words and phrases we wish we could smoke out the Arab vocabulary.  Some tired terms need to be rehabilitated with 'nicer' versions or binned altogether and consigned to the scrap heap. Inshallah our deck of dodgy Arabic words becomes history so that we can bust into 2015 with dignity!

 

 

 

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