A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

I want to torture you: polite expressions in Arabic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 4, 2007

For the past few months a particular Arabic phrase has been slowly seeping into my consciousness. I began to understand how it was used, and in what context, but I wasn’t quite sure – or perhaps didn’t really want to know – exactly what it meant.

Finally, curiosity got the better of me. When I heard a colleague using the term on the phone, I waited until the call was over and then asked: Could I ask you … what you said on the phone … does that mean …?

Yes, my colleague laughed, cutting me off. You heard me correctly – I said “I want to torture you”.

Beddi a3zbek – its a fairly distinctive phrase, and technically it does mean anything from “I want to try/afflict you” to “I want to torment/agonize/torture you”.

But of course when my friend R asks the waiter at our favorite bar for another glass or the man ahead of me in line at the grocer’s asks the cashier to hand him a pack of cigarettes torture isn’t really on the agenda – even when they modify the phrase to “beddi a3zbek shwei”: I want to torture you a little.

For everyday Arabic speakers, the phrase works much like English’s “may I/sorry to bother you”. Its only 3SL speakers like me who find it fascinating – and very, very hard to adopt. In the wake of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, I don’t feel comfortable telling anyone in the region I want to torture you.

4 Responses to “I want to torture you: polite expressions in Arabic”

  1. intlxpatr said

    I have always loved the French “Je regrette beaucoup vous deranger” because while technically it only means “I am sorry to inconvenience you” I love the connotation of “I am sorry to make you crazy”

    You are learning such great phrases!

  2. Skiman said

    Unbelievably, I find this very sad and funny at the same time…

  3. r.m. said

    you are translating the word rather narrowly. 3azab, the origin of the verb, 3azbak, actually means – suffer, not torture. and, when it is used in the phrase you mentioned, it actually means, ‘inconvenience’

    so, a more accurate translation would be: “i want to inconvenience you”

    -Rania Masri

  4. its understandable and i hate it so much

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