A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

are you conditioned?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 22, 2007

Like most of Lebanon, the office where I work has been subject to increasing power cuts this summer. When the power goes off, the generator goes on – which sounds like a good thing.

And it is, except that the generator runs everything except the air conditioning. So when the power goes out, all the “work” elements continue – lights, computers, internet – while the machine that makes working in 90+ degree heat feasible stops.

When the power goes off, the work slowly slows as the heat seeps in, and my online status changes to “missing the mukayif”.

Mukayif is the Arabic word for air conditioning – or so I thought.

What does ‘mukayif’ mean? one of my colleagues asked.

When I explained, he said: Oh. In Lebanon we just say “air conditioning”. Doesn’t ‘mukayif’ mean comfortable?

I had no idea, but I knew how to use my dictionary! As it turns out, neither ‘mukayif’ nor ‘air conditioning’ are the proper Arabic term. ‘Mukayif’ is short for ‘mukayif al-hawa2’: conditioning the air.

The literal translation made me wonder why we call it “air conditioning” in the first place. After all, when its hot outside, we want COOLED air, not conditioned air.

The Online Etymology Dictionary tells me: Air-conditioning first attested 1909, originally an industrial process; main modern use in residences and office buildings is from 1930s.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that air conditioning is: The process of cleaning air and controlling its temperature and humidity before it enters a room, building, etc., and in certain manufacturing processes. Hence air-condition v. trans.; air-conditioned ppl. a.; air-conditioner, an apparatus for conditioning the air (of a room or building).

It lists the following references as early instances in which the term was used:

1909 S. W. CRAMER Useful Information for Cotton Mfrs. (ed. 2) IV. 1395, I finally hit upon the compound word ‘Air Conditioning’..suggested by the use of the term ‘conditioning’ in the treatment of yarn and cloth. Ibid. 1411 Well-known ‘Air Conditioners’ of both individual and central station types.

1930 Engineering 11 July 34/2 Air-conditioning is dealt with fully, with the methods for washing, cleaning, humidifying, cooling and drying the air.

1930 Discovery Sept. 317/2 Tobacco leaf..is extraordinarily sensitive to changes of atmospheric humidity, and this has led in recent years to much development in the matter of air-conditioning.

Fascinating. I had never thought about the fact that “air conditioning” as a term refers to more than simple cooling.


4 Responses to “are you conditioned?”

  1. Med said

    Mhd used to use mkaifeh as a description of how he was feeling. i.e. “I’m cool”

  2. I’ve heard that too, Med, although not very frequently. When I ask people about using it for “I’m cool” or “I’m relaxed” people either say “yes, of course” or snort like I’ve just said something ridiculous. Who knows 🙂

  3. Nimrod said

    In Jordan the word ‘Mazgan’ is used for air conditioner – borrowed from Hebrew…

  4. Hi Nimrod, and thanks for your comment. I must say that I have several Jordanian friends, and I have never heard them use “mazgan” – but I googled it and found that it is increasingly common among Palestinians in Israel. Very interesting how language moves around!

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