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5 Egyptian Language Quirks

Arabic is a beautiful, ancient language. Modern Egyptian Arabic, however, baffles us.

The Arabic language is a rich and ancient one, complicated and beautiful but difficult to master. English falls a little lower on the difficulty scale but is a great language all the same. But being the eternally lazy but simultaneously very resourceful nation that we are, we as Egyptians have forgone the mastery of both languages altogether and opted instead for a strange mix between Egyptian-Arabic dialect and English, creating an a strange new fusion of a language all its own; a bastard cross-breed of the two. Years from now, linguistics professors will analyse and teach this to masses of transfixed students at a Harvard class for Americans who want to join the CIA. For now, we will try and hone in on some of the central themes found in our language details which they can later pour over.

1. Egyptians tend to voluntarily add additional syllables to English words for no apparent reason. Sphinx is turned into 'Se-fin-kiss'. We're not entirely sure if it's because they can't pronounce the word or because they decided it needed enhancing and thought the extra syllables would add a little flair, but either way, if there's space for an extra syllable to be added, it WILL be added. Our personal favourite though, is when we called the cinema a few years back to ask what movies were playing, and were promptly told that 'American Gan-gastar' would be showing. We officially can no longer say gangster. It's gan-gaster or nothing.

2. Every few years, a whole new wave of slang terms and phrases finds its way into our vocabulary. Words which make very little sense and are largely irrelevant to their context but somehow become a staple of our 'language' for a certain period of time before they eventually fade out. Does everyone remember 'eshta'? We still can't get to the root of this word. It emerged out the blue and it stuck; a nifty little multi-faceted word used to express approval or joy. Translate it. Cream. You wanna go grab a drink? Cream! The more recent version of this word is 'peace', which we use basically after every single sentence ever uttered. El nezam? Peace. Did you like the movie? Peace. Would it be alright if I punched you? Peace. Anything, peace. WHERE DO THESE WORDS COME FROM? We must assume there is a Secret Society for the Creation of Creative Arabish. They meet on a monthly basis, reassess their strategy, then proceed to get severely stoned, à laThat 70s Show, and make up new words to infiltrate our society's language, laughing at our stupidity. But who is the ringleader? We will find you. And then we will waterboard you until you reveal to us the secret of spreading a new word across the nation. Do you think you'd be able to make fetch happen?

3. Now some Arabic words, once you translate them to English, sound completely ridiculous (i.e. cream) so we refrain from translating them. We do not however, refrain from translating other terms and phrases from Arabic directly into English and the reason for this is simply that we do not know any better. We realise that exclaiming 'CREAM' would make us look like backwards morons; we do not realise that phrases such as 'I'm under your house' (ana ta7t beitak), 'close the lights' (2e2fel el nour), or 'go down' (enzil), respectively, imply that I am trapped under your architectural structure much like the wicked witch of the east; is problematic because grammatically, lights cannot be closed, they aren’t boxes; and denote a slightly different meaning in English where 'go down' usually refers to a guy going down on a girl, which we hope you can deduce on your own without us getting too graphic. Direct translations have permeated ALL of our language; none of us, even the most adept English speakers, have managed to escape this disease.

4. Another language we have managed to effectively butcher is French. Here we refer you to a variety of 'Arabic' words, that everyone from Sawiris to the bawab definitely use in the everyday language. Words that are originally French but we have adopted as our own. Think ascenseur. And the transformation of commode to 'commodino'. Now add to that the Arabic accent ('assan-seer') and you can see how we have taken a word that will make you swoon if a Frenchman says it, and essentially bee2a-ed it up and incorporated it into the Arabic language. Its basterdisation is perhaps appropriate considering how most of our elevators (and Arabic counterparts for other words) look in Egypt versus in France.

5. We also have a tendency to verb-ify words that are already verbs – but we take the English version of them and infuse it with Arabic. So we transform 'cruise' into 'kar-wiz' and save into 'say-yev'. We are nothing if not innovative.


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