A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

“the pigs’ water trough”: mis-adventures in Arabic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 13, 2007

On Sunday afternoon I was invited to lunch at the house of a family whose eldest child I know from the states.

Their apartment building is in an area not too far from mine, in another well-known-to-be-Muslim neighborhood of West Beirut. On Saturday night my friend H drove me there so I would be able to find my way on Sunday. (In ‘typical Lebanese’ small-town Beirut fashion, H knew the building because their mothers are friends, and an uncle lives in an adjacent building.)

H’s instructions were excellent and much appreciated, but at one intersection I still hesitated, unsure whether I should turn left or go straight.

Beirut being Beirut, there were plenty of soldiers around, so I decided to ask two of them for help.

There are times in life that feel like “car accident” moments, in which I see the accident coming but am somehow powerless to stop it.

In this case, the accident was linguistic.

When my friends had called to invite me for lunch, they told me the name of their area: Sakiet al-Janzeer. Hmm, I remember thinking, that sounds quite a lot like khanzeer. I must be careful not to mix up the two.

Sakiet (saqiyya) means irrigation ditch or canal – some type of water trough.

Janzeer isn’t a word I know, but the dictionary tells me that it (jinzeer) means chain or track, like the chain of a necklace or the track of a tank.

Khanzeer, of course, means pig.

The direction of this particular misadventure may now be clear.

I walked up to the two soldiers lounging on the corner, pushed back my sunglasses, and asked pleasantly,

Where is the pigs’ water trough?

Oh, I could have killed myself – I was so embarrassed. As for the two men, they were killing themselves with laughter.

2 Responses to ““the pigs’ water trough”: mis-adventures in Arabic”

  1. Sietske said

    Well, I once bought ‘two underwear of cucumbers’.
    Since 1 car = seyara, and 2 cars = seyartayn, than 1 kilo (kilo) becomes kilotayn (2 kilos), no? Which does sounds very similar to kulotayn (2 pairs of underwear). And indeed, I asked for ‘kulotayn khiar’ (two pairs of underwear cucumbers). Only later did I learn that 2 kilos becomes ‘kiloyayn’, not ‘kilotayn’.

  2. intlxpatr said

    *dying laughing*

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