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.