A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

al-kalimat al-`Arabiya al-mufaddala: favorite Arabic words

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 27, 2006

Taking attendance in university classes is an art form. No instructor wants to go through a checklist of names (and then, what, follow it up by asking who is taking hot lunch and who has brought their own?), but knowing who is present is critical for assessing grades. As a consequence, many at the university have adopted a more ‘adult’ manner of attendance taking: they send around a blank piece of paper, and ask everyone present to sign his or her name.

I think this is a bit dull, so I try to make attendance taking work double, by asking students to answer a question each week (the weekly “poll”). it turns a checksheet into a means of communication – I learn something about each of them, and they learn (I hope) that I am interested in them, genuinely.

Because this is an Arabic class, I try to make my questions course-specific. Last week, I asked them all to tell me their favorite word in Arabic. They don’t yet know all that many words, so the available pool was somewhat limited, but … I love their answers. Many are words that are fun to say, particularly for a beginner. Djaj, which means chicken, is a total hoot – and was the most popular choice among my 90 students. Other words are those that they have heard from friends or visits to Arabic speaking countries, and know are “real” (as opposed to formal) Arabic – but not words that they have learned in class. Habibi, `ayb, and y`ani all fall into this category. Some students choose words that they learn in class, words that either recur frequently in lessons, like the expression fil-haqiqa, which means in reality or in truth and is gravely overused in the text book we use, or that appeal to them for some reason, like hadhihi, the feminine “this” marker. Finally, some students choose words that reflect their faith – several chose Allah or bismallah, or their heritage – one girl wrote Lubnan wa Djibouti, reflecting her Lebanese-by-way-of-Africa family history.

The questions I ask make my attendance sheets special to me. I keep them, folded in half and ordered by date, in a manila envelope, as memories of my teaching and mnemonics for my students.

Poll results: favorite words

autobees (autobus)

waraqa (paper)

bab (gate or door)

jami`a (university)



`ayb (shame)


sabah (morning)

kuliyya (college)

maktab (office)

doktur (used for anyone with a BA … )

Lubnan wa Djibouti

harr (heat/warmth)

raqs (dance)

al-sharq al-awsaT (the Middle East)

Talib (student)

laHam (meat)

shatranj (chess)

masr (Egypt)

al-layl (night)

mustaHeel (impossible)

shams (sun)


bayt (house)


fikra (idea)


khala (maternal aunt)


khubz (bread)

mushmas (sunny)


mutakhasas (specializing)

mabrouk (congratulations)

fi al-Haqiqa

al-Huquuq (law)

ustadh (teacher)

mutaHida (united)

tawla (table)

wajibat (homework)


meshghoul (busy)

sufuuf (classes)

mustimti`a (listener)

siksoukeh (goatee)

shubbak (window)

shurTa (police)


mumtaz (excellent)



ya`ni (an all-purpose expression, literally “it means” and used for “that is”, “I mean”, and other colloquial sentence bridgers like “you know” and “um”)

jar (neighbor)


3 Responses to “al-kalimat al-`Arabiya al-mufaddala: favorite Arabic words”

  1. intlxpatr said

    Little Diamond, I love your blog, I love it. I am learning so much. You are an inspiration to me, habibti!

  2. Med said

    I have many favourites. But I love:
    bit jennin
    I am loving your blog. Keef btool “little diamond” bil 3arabi? masa sgheereh? or is there some cute way of making diamond diminutive.

  3. andrew said

    what does “y’ ani” mean?

    thank you,

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