Old Coinages and New

lebanons coins


This post gained new impetus after TBE came across a blog post at B-Side Beirut about an old Beiruti slang term/portmanteau (not technically the latter, but we’re not sure what to call this kind of word game) and an oft-overlooked museum.

At any rate, the word, or words, as it were, are انف العنزة (anf al-‘anza, for those following at home), which is a “goat’s nose,” but also a play on the word “influenza.” We tried to extend it out to include the old goat’s modern day counterpart, the pig, but the whole thing falls apart in a sea of idafa recriminations due to the necessity of ال in العنزة. At any rate, we adore this type of stuff. If you’re interested in reading an account of epidemics in Beirut’s history, please click here (Arabic).  Also, we believe Khaled Fahmy, author of the interesting if problematic All the Pasha’s Men, is doing a (similar?) type of historical epidemiology, but with Egypt, not Lebanon, as its subject, if that’s your bag.

For those among you who aren’t prudish, we also learned that goat’s nose is a slang term in Jamaica.

mauritania coins


Also, for those whose Arabic is better than ours, TBE’s Puritan Hermeneutics correspondent (title subject to change), Lady HaSha, sent in the following quote:

فكنت بادئاً بقلب البدء إذ هو معال البدء

We’re too thick to explain it in any great detail but the crux of the matter is a play on the following words, قلب, meaning “heart” but also “inversion” or “flip” (from which انقلاب is derived), and the fact that when one does flip the next word البدء, it turns into الأدب (in this case meaning manners, not literature, we are led to believe). Anyhow it’s something thought provoking and verily beautiful. Sorry we don’t know who wrote it, but word on the street is that it was a Mauritanian Sufi.

Egypt coins


One summer a few years back TBE’s Rural Affairs correspondent spent a couple months working on a desert farm in Beheira governorate. Aside from learning how to drive tractors on some Soviet-era Belarussian models, TBE also spent many days with peasants from the surrounding villages. Our Arabic was probably better then than it is now, but we still had some problems communicating, necessitating the creation of a pidgin.

The best word to come out of the whole experience, which TBE would recommend to anyone since it was amazing, was the verb root “هكرك or maybe حكرك” which means to make fun of someone, have fun at someone’s expense or just to have fun.

Sample usage: One of TBE’s colleagues, Walid, used to carry a battery-powered radio with him, because, aside from working with the regular crew, he was responsible for a large grove of banana trees, which he tended alone. Said radio kept him company during his brief forays into the serpent-strewn banana groves. This was in the early days of America’s efforts to “engage” with the Middle East (engaged for 8 long years and still no wedding? So sad…), and Radio Sawa was one of the three stations that had reception, along with one that played classic Arabic songs and one doing Quranic recitation. After finishing lunch but before returning to work we would often listen to Radio Sawa, and TBE would sometimes be asked to translate song lyrics. This was difficult, and one day Cindi Lauper’s timeless paean to girl fun-having, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” came on. A reasonable translation escaped our correspondent, so he just said “هي عيزة تهكرك و باس,” which was understood perfectly.

As an aside, Walid was engaged to, then married, a girl named Mabrooka from his village. Her name was the source of much hilarity to the assembled wits, فبيهكركو عليها كتير و على وليد كمان . That’s another usage.



Filed under Academics, Lebanon, Linguistics

4 responses to “Old Coinages and New

  1. Lady HaSha

    Dearest Readers,

    Due to poor Internet connection plaguing the TBE Hermeneutics Department, I haven’t been able to confirm the correct name of the author of the quote. But as TBE boss says, he was known as Sheikh al-Mauritani who wrote a book on Adab or good manners _ the backbone and stepping stone to the study of the purification of the heart in Islam. The scholar begins his book with the quote above.

    The main words to focus on are:

    قلب which means HEART or TO FLIP
    البدء which means BEGINNING, but when flipped over the Arabic letters spell the word MANNERS.
    So it is ONE sentence but has TWO meanings: :

    I begin with the heart of beginnings, for it is the best of beginnings.


    I begin with flipping the word “beginning,”, for it (ie good manners) is the best of beginnings.

    Stay tuned for our next assignment: how words gain strength and different meanings based on their location in a sentence.

  2. nottooshaabi

    Thank you, Lady HaSha, for that timely, yet timeless, intervention. We look forward to reading more from you when your internet is off the fritz.

  3. Ms. Tee

    I am curious, does the work هكرك take direct objects:
    هَكْرَكَها فَهكْرَهَتهُ فهُكْرِكَ مُهكْرَكاً
    Or, to recast the Lebanese saying (“scratch me, so that I scratch you”) in the spirit of hakraka:
    هَكْرِكلي تَهكْرِكلَكْ

    I would also be interested to know why the TBE finds All the Pasha’s Men problematic.

  4. Ms. Tee

    “does the word” not “work”

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