Sneeze like an Arab: Onomatopoeias in the Middle East

Published October 4th, 2015 - 17:17 GMT

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Drip! Splash! BANG! These words convey sounds every English-speaker can identify. But how to communicate those sounds in Arabic? As if learning this language wasn’t enough of a challenge, turns out that describing how cats purr or balloons burst is a lexicon onto itself. It’s not just Arabic - sounds are said differently across languages. How will we ever achieve world peace when we can’t even agree on the sound of hiccups? Continue reading below »

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You placed a bet at the Dubai World Cup (online through the US, of course, since gambling is illegal in the emirate!) and the Godolphin-trained thoroughbred you backed comes in first. What do you say in Arabic as you jump from your seat? Subhan’allah!
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Image 1 of 12:  1 / 12You placed a bet at the Dubai World Cup (online through the US, of course, since gambling is illegal in the emirate!) and the Godolphin-trained thoroughbred you backed comes in first. What do you say in Arabic as you jump from your seat? Subhan’allah!

Enlarge
Breathless from belting out 'Enta Eih' on the latest Arabs Got Talent,  you realize the crowd has gone wild and you soak in their loud applause, which to Arab ears sounds like 'stah stah stah'. (Take that,Nancy Ajram!)
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Image 2 of 12:  2 / 12Breathless from belting out "Enta Eih" on the latest Arabs Got Talent, you realize the crowd has gone wild and you soak in their loud applause, which to Arab ears sounds like "stah stah stah". (Take that,Nancy Ajram!)

Enlarge
Eat too much foul mudammas in a Tel Aviv restaurant and you may emit what Hebrew-speakers call 'flotz'. Arabic-speaking diners will suffer through what they'd call your 'draat', or 'fassi', or 'tooz'. No matter how you say it, it stinks.
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Image 3 of 12:  3 / 12Eat too much foul mudammas in a Tel Aviv restaurant and you may emit what Hebrew-speakers call "flotz". Arabic-speaking diners will suffer through what they'd call your "draat", or "fassi", or "tooz". No matter how you say it, it stinks.

Enlarge
Want to describe your annoying kid sister stomping around in her new high heels? Embellish your story with some 'Takh takh takh' and your friends will get the picture.
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Image 4 of 12:  4 / 12Want to describe your annoying kid sister stomping around in her new high heels? Embellish your story with some "Takh takh takh" and your friends will get the picture.

Enlarge
TGIT! It's Thursday in Jordan, and the weekend has begun! Run out of the workplace shouting 'YAAAH!' (You won't be alone!)
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Image 5 of 12:  5 / 12TGIT! It's Thursday in Jordan, and the weekend has begun! Run out of the workplace shouting "YAAAH!" (You won't be alone!)

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Do we really imitate rainfall by saying 'pitter-patter' in English?  That seems more linked to the sound of little feet. Chapman's research says it's 'teef taf' in Hebrew, and our al Bawaba team says in Arabic it's a choice between, 'tik tik tik' or 'tok tok tok'.
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Image 6 of 12:  6 / 12Do we really imitate rainfall by saying "pitter-patter" in English? That seems more linked to the sound of little feet. Chapman's research says it's "teef taf" in Hebrew, and our al Bawaba team says in Arabic it's a choice between, "tik tik tik" or "tok tok tok".

Enlarge
Tired of cats crawling around your trash bin? In Cairo, tell them'kisht', and in Eilat they'll understand 'kishta'. Of course, splashing some water their way also works wonders.
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Image 7 of 12:  7 / 12Tired of cats crawling around your trash bin? In Cairo, tell them"kisht", and in Eilat they'll understand "kishta". Of course, splashing some water their way also works wonders.

Enlarge
Are you laughing with me or at me? Most Arabs cop the English 'ha ha ha', while Hebrew steals the name of a classic Cuban dance, and goes with 'cha cha cha'.
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Image 8 of 12:  8 / 12Are you laughing with me or at me? Most Arabs cop the English "ha ha ha", while Hebrew steals the name of a classic Cuban dance, and goes with "cha cha cha".

Enlarge
Bring your hat when you head to the Turkish Ski Resort of Konakli, or you'll end up sneezing ' ÖHÖ'
as you slide down the slopes. If winter sports bring you to Lebanon, go with the Arabic 'hatchoo' when you get the chills.
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Image 9 of 12:  9 / 12Bring your hat when you head to the Turkish Ski Resort of Konakli, or you'll end up sneezing " ÖHÖ" as you slide down the slopes. If winter sports bring you to Lebanon, go with the Arabic "hatchoo" when you get the chills.

Enlarge
'WISHHH!', you think as you watch Lewis Hamilton fly past Sebastian Vettel in the Bahrain Grand Prix.  Meanwhile, the thought bubble over your Budapest seatmate says, 'SHUU!'
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Image 10 of 12:  10 / 12'WISHHH!", you think as you watch Lewis Hamilton fly past Sebastian Vettel in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Meanwhile, the thought bubble over your Budapest seatmate says, "SHUU!"

Enlarge
You're exhausted and humbled by yet another challenging Arabic class, but at least now you know how to express your relief when it's over - 'HAAUH!'
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Image 11 of 12:  11 / 12You're exhausted and humbled by yet another challenging Arabic class, but at least now you know how to express your relief when it's over - "HAAUH!"

Enlarge
Your Moroccan grandmother whipped up a spiced lentil stew. Lift the lid, stick your nose in the pot and inhale the heavenly aroma. Careful! If she hears your 'shum shum' you'll be chased from the kitchen!
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Image 12 of 12:  12 / 12Your Moroccan grandmother whipped up a spiced lentil stew. Lift the lid, stick your nose in the pot and inhale the heavenly aroma. Careful! If she hears your "shum shum" you'll be chased from the kitchen!

Enlarge

1

You placed a bet at the Dubai World Cup (online through the US, of course, since gambling is illegal in the emirate!) and the Godolphin-trained thoroughbred you backed comes in first. What do you say in Arabic as you jump from your seat? Subhan’allah!

Image 1 of 12You placed a bet at the Dubai World Cup (online through the US, of course, since gambling is illegal in the emirate!) and the Godolphin-trained thoroughbred you backed comes in first. What do you say in Arabic as you jump from your seat? Subhan’allah!

2

Breathless from belting out 'Enta Eih' on the latest Arabs Got Talent,  you realize the crowd has gone wild and you soak in their loud applause, which to Arab ears sounds like 'stah stah stah'. (Take that,Nancy Ajram!)

Image 2 of 12Breathless from belting out "Enta Eih" on the latest Arabs Got Talent, you realize the crowd has gone wild and you soak in their loud applause, which to Arab ears sounds like "stah stah stah". (Take that,Nancy Ajram!)

3

Eat too much foul mudammas in a Tel Aviv restaurant and you may emit what Hebrew-speakers call 'flotz'. Arabic-speaking diners will suffer through what they'd call your 'draat', or 'fassi', or 'tooz'. No matter how you say it, it stinks.

Image 3 of 12Eat too much foul mudammas in a Tel Aviv restaurant and you may emit what Hebrew-speakers call "flotz". Arabic-speaking diners will suffer through what they'd call your "draat", or "fassi", or "tooz". No matter how you say it, it stinks.

4

Want to describe your annoying kid sister stomping around in her new high heels? Embellish your story with some 'Takh takh takh' and your friends will get the picture.

Image 4 of 12Want to describe your annoying kid sister stomping around in her new high heels? Embellish your story with some "Takh takh takh" and your friends will get the picture.

5

TGIT! It's Thursday in Jordan, and the weekend has begun! Run out of the workplace shouting 'YAAAH!' (You won't be alone!)

Image 5 of 12TGIT! It's Thursday in Jordan, and the weekend has begun! Run out of the workplace shouting "YAAAH!" (You won't be alone!)

6

Do we really imitate rainfall by saying 'pitter-patter' in English?  That seems more linked to the sound of little feet. Chapman's research says it's 'teef taf' in Hebrew, and our al Bawaba team says in Arabic it's a choice between, 'tik tik tik' or 'tok tok tok'.

Image 6 of 12Do we really imitate rainfall by saying "pitter-patter" in English? That seems more linked to the sound of little feet. Chapman's research says it's "teef taf" in Hebrew, and our al Bawaba team says in Arabic it's a choice between, "tik tik tik" or "tok tok tok".

7

Tired of cats crawling around your trash bin? In Cairo, tell them'kisht', and in Eilat they'll understand 'kishta'. Of course, splashing some water their way also works wonders.

Image 7 of 12Tired of cats crawling around your trash bin? In Cairo, tell them"kisht", and in Eilat they'll understand "kishta". Of course, splashing some water their way also works wonders.

8

Are you laughing with me or at me? Most Arabs cop the English 'ha ha ha', while Hebrew steals the name of a classic Cuban dance, and goes with 'cha cha cha'.

Image 8 of 12Are you laughing with me or at me? Most Arabs cop the English "ha ha ha", while Hebrew steals the name of a classic Cuban dance, and goes with "cha cha cha".

9

Bring your hat when you head to the Turkish Ski Resort of Konakli, or you'll end up sneezing ' ÖHÖ'
as you slide down the slopes. If winter sports bring you to Lebanon, go with the Arabic 'hatchoo' when you get the chills.

Image 9 of 12Bring your hat when you head to the Turkish Ski Resort of Konakli, or you'll end up sneezing " ÖHÖ" as you slide down the slopes. If winter sports bring you to Lebanon, go with the Arabic "hatchoo" when you get the chills.

10

'WISHHH!', you think as you watch Lewis Hamilton fly past Sebastian Vettel in the Bahrain Grand Prix.  Meanwhile, the thought bubble over your Budapest seatmate says, 'SHUU!'

Image 10 of 12'WISHHH!", you think as you watch Lewis Hamilton fly past Sebastian Vettel in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Meanwhile, the thought bubble over your Budapest seatmate says, "SHUU!"

11

You're exhausted and humbled by yet another challenging Arabic class, but at least now you know how to express your relief when it's over - 'HAAUH!'

Image 11 of 12You're exhausted and humbled by yet another challenging Arabic class, but at least now you know how to express your relief when it's over - "HAAUH!"

12

Your Moroccan grandmother whipped up a spiced lentil stew. Lift the lid, stick your nose in the pot and inhale the heavenly aroma. Careful! If she hears your 'shum shum' you'll be chased from the kitchen!

Image 12 of 12Your Moroccan grandmother whipped up a spiced lentil stew. Lift the lid, stick your nose in the pot and inhale the heavenly aroma. Careful! If she hears your "shum shum" you'll be chased from the kitchen!

Reduce

British physicist James Chapman is pursuing his doctoral degree and, in his down time, he draws adorable cartoons that show how different languages convey the common sounds that things make. Said differently, he illustrates onomatopoeia, issuing new comics every week on his tumblr site (chapmangamo) and his Facebook page (Soundimals). He’s now fundraising on Kickstarter hoping to publish a new book of illustrations titled How to Sneeze in Japanese. Al Bawaba brings you a sampling of his work for the lingo of this region. Did he get it right? BAM!  

 

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