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Even a newly immigrated Moroccan child, knowing five languages, quickly learns that there is more to communication then knowing the words

The Gilded Serpent presents...
A Story Written with
Arabic Idioms;
Why it is Difficult to Translate Arabic songs into English

Story by Anonymous
Translations and interpretations by Rima El-Mouzayen
Introduction by Najia El-Mouzayen

Recently Rima, who is Palestinian Arabic, born in Beirut, Lebanon, forwarded a little story to me over the Internet that she had received from her cousin in Lebanon. Her cousin commented that he wanted to make her laugh and that she should “just try to read it in English and at the same time, think in Lebanese Arabic…if you can!” She sent it to me with the question, “Do you find that this is funny?”

I answered, “I can see it would be funny if I knew these Arabic idioms; I imagine that they are as peculiar as English idioms. Can you translate them all for me?”

“It’s hard a little bit,” she answered. So Rima and I interpreted them together. The result was so much fun that we have decided that they may also be of interest to you. If nothing else happens, you will come to understand why it is so difficult to translate some Arabic songs (and Arabic jokes) into English. It is often that idioms and poetic license are used in lyric writing, and I am not just referring to “sha-bee-dah-bee, ditty-wah-doo” lyrics, but the type that actually has words like “Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy”, or “I’m tearing my heart out over you.”

It currently appears that the “Gypsy milk has gone up” several places in the world and we all hope that “the evil can be broken”.

Now that I realize the power of idioms and the absurdity of the literal translations of them, it isn’t any wonder that my Arabic ex-husband and I had a three-day war (among our numerous other wars) over my sighing statement, “I wish I had a magic fairy wand that actually works!” Only he and the heavens will ever know what his Arabic translation of that wish was exactly, but whatever it was, it was not the meaning I gave it.

Rima and I hope you will enjoy our idiom-story interpretation:

From some two months three (for about two or three months), I recognized a girl in the Tooth of the Elephant (I recognized a girl who was from the city of Sin Al Feel). She was other look (She was really something else) and like the moon (so pale and stunning!)! Burn her religion, what beautiful! (swearing: G-- damn, how beautiful!) I tried to touch her pulse to see if there was space, (I attempted to find out if we had anything in common.) and it appeared that she was interested.

The first day I talked her on the phone (I called her right away) and the second day, she invited me on the lunch. (and she invited me to come to lunch the very next day.) I asked her, “What you kitchenized?” (“What have you cooked?”)

She answered, “Some of my mother’s yogurt on the walking.” (An easy-going meal based on some yogurt that her mom had prepared.) I liked her project (her idea) and before I arrived to her (on my way), I went to the Milker (Milker is a family name, like Hallab; or he who milks the cow.) and bought some “Ladies’ Arms” (Zroud Al Sitt, or Arms of Ladies, is a pastry.) and some “Eat and Say Thank You”. (Coal Wa Shkor, or Food with Thanks, is another kind of pastry.)

She opened me the door (She answered the door for me.) and when she saw the handsome (the dessert: Helawah) in my hand she said, “Yiiy! Your hands be safe! (“Wow! My Goodness!”) Why do you torture yourself, my uncle?” (“You shouldn’t have done that, my dear.”) While we are eating, rang the doorbell. She opened the door and entered her old boyfriend. (She answered the doorbell and admitted her former boyfriend.)

He asked her, “Who is he?”

She answered, “Not your entry!” (“That’s none of your business!”) I knew straight that he wanted to problemize it. (I realized instantly that he was looking for trouble.)

He said, “My eye on you and on him, I will count God not create you!” (I am really angry and I’ll smack your head!)

I said, “Look, my head does not carry me. (I’m warning you; I’m angry and I can’t stand this.) Break the evil before the gypsy milk goes up, huh! (Let’s not make problems today.)

"Go pave the sea (Something really impossible; go to Hell) and bleach from my face now!” (Get out of my face; go away!) The man felt on his blood (He realized that he was wrong.) and left the room. In truth, he poisoned

my body very much, (He drove me crazy.) but the girl gave breakfast to my nerves. (The girl calmed me down.)

She said to me, “Don’t carry worry, my life (“Don’t let him bother you, dear.); don’t carry worry. Put your hands in cold water!” (Cool off!)

I told her “Like my foot! (A terrible comparison that degrades somebody.) Don’t get a mind. (Don’t think about it.) Tell me, are you empty tonight?” (Are you available tonight?)

She answered, “Yes. I emptify myself for you.” (I will change my plans.)

I assured her, “Thank you, my Love; you are very digestible.” (Ma dumi: You are so cute.)

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