13.4.11

Daily use: Abuse

Warning: This page is about explicit language, especially the last header, and may not be safe for work or delicate ears.

For the love of God, don't use these. Those rated "harmless" can be used with your friends if you're sure they'll take them in good humor, but don't use any on strangers. Being rude in any culture one is not thoroughly familiar with is idiotic and can have unpredictable consequences. This list is here first out of interest (they are rather fascinating and funny), second so that you don't accidentally use bad words (kiss is a prime example), and finally so that you have a clue in case you're ever on the receiving end of such words.

So you don't get the wrong idea, we have even more ways of thanking, blessing and complimenting people than we have of cussing them. I categorized the following insults under three categories, ranging from (relatively) harmless to gravely offensive.

Harmless:
Vivid and absurd, similar to English "you bum" or "you silly thing", they are toned down and even humorous ways of expressing mild annoyance or even amusement. As an idea of how harmless they can be, my high school teachers used some of these to address us, but note that if a new teacher had done the same before getting to know us, we'd have taken it personally. Even when used with aggressive intent, they are always on the safer end of the spectrum.
All of the following can be preceded by the vocative ya ("Ya lamba!")

Lamba!
"Lamp," from the French word. A lamp is supposed to be bright, but this is said of someone who's the reverse of that: The use is sarcastic, like calling someone Einstein.

3ab2ar!
"Genius," again sarcastically.

Trén!
"Train," as in the vehicle. Why would you want to call anyone a train? Well, they can only move in a single direction... This is used like Baghl "mule" but it's less offensive.

Jagal!

Jagal is a useful word. I believe it is derived from the word gigolo. Jagal is not an insult per se; actually its original meaning is rather positive, meaning a hunky young man. However, whether in addressing someone or in the course of conversation, it is almost exclusively used in a sarcastic way. What it denotes is a young man who is certain of his charm and equipped with all the accessories necessary to make the ladies drop into his arms (shades, rolex, mobile phone at the belt, sports car, toothpaste-ad smirk, narcissistic attitude, open shirt revealing a hairy chest – you get the picture).
The female equivalent is Shalkha, but I don't hear it used that way.

Tarazan!
"Hey Tarzan!" Enough said.

Antar!
Antar is a Hercules-like hero of Arabic literature. Same as Tarazan.

Tatar!
A Beduin tribe, and there's possibly a connection with the Tartars, these invaders from Central Asia who swept over the whole continent as far as Damascus a long, long time ago. This culture being rooted in urban society and an architecture reflecting a highly developed lifestyle since the dawn of history, nomads tend to be looked down upon for their (perceived) lack of taste, literacy and hygiene, which are implied in the word used as insult (like "barbarian" in the West.) Someone's taste in art can be said to be Tatari, for instance. Fellé7 "peasant" might be expected to express the same, but I don't think I ever heard it used: the archetypal Lebanese of the old days is the peasant from the mountains, and that position is seen with affection and nostalgia rather than disdain. (Even if it is, it's safer to call someone a Tatar, which they're very unlikely to have any connection with, than a peasant, which very likely describes their roots.)

Nawar!
Another nomadic Beduin tribe, see Tatar.

Zuzu!
Wazwaz!
Zuzu and Wazwaz are the same word under different forms. Hillbilly would be a good equivalent, but geek and nerd fit perfectly as well. In our Architecture department it was understood that this was the term to use when talking about the engineers next door -- that old feud between architects and engineers is international.

Bazawang!
I've never heard this but was told it existed. It means "drunk and stupid".

Khantarîsh!
A Turkish word denoting the stem of the cannabis plant, which offers little "buzz" and so is a disappointment, a failure to live up to pretense. Said of or to someone who's really not all that he's made to be.

Safastak!
Also a Turkish word, but I have no idea what it means.

Keshkesh!

Another mystery.

Curses:
These actual curses ("damn you") vary in offensiveness as some would no longer be taken seriously (though the intention behind them might be) and are only used tongue-in-cheek now, but some still sting. Most of them are variations on the same format: "Destructive verb – your – something dear to you". My favorites has been out of use for a while: "May your beard fall off" or "May God send you a razor". This was used exclusively against priests: the beard was and still is a most sacred part of their persons. Insulting the clerical beard in this way was an offense punishable by law!
This category leaves a lot of room for creativity...


Yel3an dînak!
"Damn your religion!"


Yel3an abúk!
"Damn your father!" This is very bad. Threatening or badmouthing someone's family is the quickest way to get in trouble. Variant: Yel3an dîn abúk "Damn your father's religion."

Yel3an 3ardak! 
"Damn your honor", i.e the family honor.

Yakhreb beytak!
"May your house crumble" i.e "Ruin to your family" (The word "house" is used to denote a lineage, a family)

Yakhreb zú2ak!
"May your taste crumble." (I think! Can't think what other word this could be.)
The "yakhreb" series, presumably more obsolete than the rest, are now used as compliments. This odd state of affairs, I feel, derives from a cultural avoidance of compliments because they were of old (and still now to an extent) believed to attract the evil Eye of envy on the complimented subject. It's particularly risky to compliment children and animals which have less defenses against it, so instead of hearing "Your baby girl is so beautiful" you're more likely to hear "yakhreb zú2a!"

Yo2sof 3omrak!
"May your life be blasted!"

Yahre2 deenak!
"May your religion burn!"

Ye2ta3 3omrak!
"Your life be cut short!"

Bad:
Here we reach dangerous territory. They're not the worst, or even terribly vulgar, but still shocking to hear.


Kalb! 
"Dog!" I think everyone is familiar with the way people feel about this insult in the Middle-East. Centuries of use haven't made it any less offensive.

Hayawan!
"Animal!" The same as above. Not all animal words are insults (Ghazál "gazelle" is quite complimentary) but those that are used that way are really offensive.

Khara! 
 "Shit!" This isn't used as an expletive, as in French and English; you are actually calling someone a shit.

3akroot!
"Pimp". The strange thing about this one, and also about az3ar, "demon" is that parents use them affectionately with their children (like "little devil!"), and yet would be shocked if these same children used them on strangers. Also, the female form of az3ar, za3ra"demoness" seems to have lost its original meaning completely and is solely used like French "coquine" to describe an impish little girl with a mind of her own (I should know.)

Baghl!
"Mule!" Like a train, a mule has a limited range of movement (whether they're used to pull something or carry loads) and they can also wear blinders. A variant that I find more fun is the more refined Baheem ("bovine creature").

Hmar!
"Jackass!"

Tîz!
"Ass" – this time anatomically. For some reason babies are fawned upon with a diminutive of the same (taztúz, "little butt"). Adults do not take it like an endearment term.

Ibn haram! 
"Son of sin!", i.e "bastard"

Gravely offensive:
These are only used when seriously angry and ready for a fight – because they may well start one. again, don't use them. I'm in no way responsible for what could happen to you if you insulted someone.

Kiss emmak/ Kiss ekhtak!
Let's get the very worst ones over with. "Kiss" is the word for female genitalia*, followed by "your mother" or "your sister." The implication is "F*** your mother/sister". This is a very serious insult, but it's very popular for "absent abuse" – cursing a situation, the government, or some other entity – and so this expression underwent all sorts of evolutions that are interesting to look at.


* You don't have to avoid using the word kiss altogether as it is understood to be harmless in an English context. Don't insert it in a Lebanese sentence, however.

The first kind of evolution is elaboration:
Kiss ekht yalle khala2ak: "F*** the sister of the one who conceived you"
Kiss emmon kellon sawa: "F*** all their mothers together"
Kiss ekht shaklak: "F*** the sister of the looks of you"
Etc.
The people of Zahle are said to be so skilled at such constructions that they can curse you non-stop for 10 minutes. Here's just one example of long-winded abuse, provided by a friend who seems to know his stuff: T7ash ejre btîzak w mshî a3raj bi-lél ma fiya daww 2amar! ("Stuff my foot up your ass and walk limping in a night without moonlight!")

Another evolution is on the contrary a way to tone it down. Grown ups might play with the pronunciation or say it with a foreign accent when they're not using it out of anger. In my family we lean towards a French (kès èkhta) or Egyptian accent (kusummik!), but anything goes as long as it makes it obvious that you mean it to have a comic effect.
A widely-used alternative that makes it child-appropriate (in a way) is: Kiss me again. Even people who can't put together two words of English can be heard to use this substitute. This version however is not suitable for insulting someone. It specifically replaces the Kess ekhta used to vent frustration without a definite target.


Eyre fîk!
"My dick in you." Like the kiss series, only men are supposed to use it, for obvious reasons.  This form seems to only be used by men against other men; I don't recall ever hearing it used towards a woman. I do however hear women using it, tongue-in-cheek. The palm for bad taste and brutality may go to Eyre bi-2afass seder emmak, which was reported to me: "My dick in your mother's rib cage". Ouch!
As a variation you can simply call a man an Eyr.

Manyak!
This is not a Lebanized pronunciation of "maniac." Maniak is the past participle of the verb nîk "to f***," so it means something like "arsed". The French have a literal equivalent: "Enculé!" This means it's not safe to call someone a maniac, especially in French, since the pronunciation is so close there.
Variant: Manyúk. Never mind the subtle difference in meaning. Same idea.

Akhu sharmúta!
"Brother of a whore", our equivalent of "son of a bitch."
To continue our astonished observations on cussing-turned-endearment, I was very surprised the day I went with a friend to his home village to hear the priest's wife greet him with a resonant "Akhu sharmúta! I missed you!"
A woman would be called straight out, a Sharmúta, or whore.

Ahbe
In contrast to a sharmúta,  an ahbe is a slut, i.e a woman who enjoys sleeping around, but doesn't take money for it.

Gra3ú
"Blow me". Popular in the Beqaa.

Mal3úb bi asfalak
Expresses that the person's "bottom was played with". I can only assume it means "buggered".

(If I forgot anything, feel free to supply...)