Inshallah ya Habibi

I often get frustrated with the fact that the human race speaks so many different languages – we spend so much time, effort and brainpower trying to learn each other’s language, imagine if we could put all that effort into figuring out everything that’s messed up about the world?

But that was mostly before I started learning a second language. Arabic is really a beautiful language. Some people might not think so because there are some strange sounds in Arabic that aren’t in other languages, and one or two of them aren’t really all that sexy. But the language itself really has a wonderful grammar structure and is incredibly expressive. With a set of roots and patterns, you can use one word to easily make ten more.

And Arabic really has some great words and expressions that are somewhat untranslatable into English, or at least we don’t use their translations in nearly the same way, which makes me realize the usefulness of having multiple languages to be able to express more exact feelings. Some I find more confusing than useful (like there are different words for maternal uncle and paternal uncle) but some really are gems. Here are a few of my favorites.

Insha’allah (ان شاء الله) – Actually means “If God wills it” or more often translated “God willing” and Arabic speakers use it all the time. A lot of times it’s used as we would in English as more like “I hope that happens!” but has a much broader usage in Arabic. Will the rental car be ready by tomorrow? Insha’allah. No, but I need the car tomorrow, will it be ready? Yes, insha’allah. I don’t care if God wills it, just give me a yes or no!! I have learned that 40% of the time Insha’allah actually means probably not.

Habibi (حبيبي) – Habibi is a great word, it’s the ultimate Arabic pet name. You could translate it as dear, sweetheart, honey bunny, anything you want, but nothing in English really comes close. I call my students habibi, my co-workers might call me habibi, you would certainly call you spouse habibi, really anyone who is dear to you. I think it’s a word very emblematic of Arab culture because relationships between people are really strong and important here. It’s also a great word to know because it’s in every single Arabic pop song, without fail. If you know that, how to say “love”, “heart” and “I love you”, you can understand 80% of Arabic pop music.

Haram (حرام) – Literally means “something forbidden”, but it used a little bit more widely. True, you can say “haram” if someone punches an old lady, but you could also say it in many other situations, like I like to say it if someone plays a really good card while playing cards or when expressing displeasure about something in general.

Wallah (والله) – The Arabic equivalent of “I swear to God” but again, much more common, and much less sacrilegious. You can phrase it like a question (like “really?”) or use it to express that you are indeed telling the truth, or use it as almost emphasis. The student translation of wallah is a little different though – it usually translates roughly as “I’m lying to you right now”. I left my homework in my dorm, wallah; I wasn’t the one who threw the food, wallah; I’m going to do better next term, wallah…

I feel like there are so many others, but I’ll leave it at that for now…


Posted on December 8, 2009, in Arabic, Jordan, Living Abroad. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Honey Bunny is by far the most accurate translation. Speaking of, please tell Honey Bunny I say hi!

  2. “wallah” in the student sense sounds a lot like “wha’ha’happened was”

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