Monthly Archives: October 2011

Faiseliya tower at sunset


Arabic in practice

In Victor Maire’s piece about Pinyin in the Language Log the other day, several examples were given of Chinese written with the Latin alphabet, along with the observation that “not using Chinese characters or English is making some kind of statement”.

Here in Saudi it’s the opposite, English words rendered phonetically, sort of, in Arabic. The first word here was easy, “coffee”, and I was even more sure of the intention since I had seen actual tea and coffee exiting from this room. But the second word, might it be “shob” Arabic for “hot”? or maybe something like “shub”, since ﻭ has to stand for both u and o? Neither, explained a white-gowned and red-scarfed dude floating by. The sign says “coffee shop”.

There is probably a statement here as well.

Java: A passion for perfection

Ordinarily I don’t pay much attention to English typos; they’re a halala a dozen here.  But Java is a huge chain.  You would think they could spend the money for a proofreader.

“Careful the beverages you’re about to enjoy is extremely hot.”

Plural much? Commas can be a challenge even for native speakers, so I won’t say anything about the punctuation.

This one got the punctuation right, but the plural is still elusive.
Finally, someone got the plural right, but the capitalization is lost at sea.

“Bring home a fresh bags of beans.” And “espresso truths”? Is this a play on words or an eccentric translation of something else?

An eccentric translation, apparently. At this point, you might as well stop trying to guess the meaning and just sit back and enjoy the flavor of the fractured English.
“We are not an environmentalist, We are Earth warrior. Protect the Environment. Keep Your City Clean.”

822 words for camel

From With Lawrence In Arabia (1924) by Lowell Thomas:

The people of Arabia are exceedingly ornate and poetical in expressing themselves. They swear by the splendor of light and the silence of night and love to talk in imagery as rich as the colors in their Turkoman prayer-rugs.

An American typewriting concern startled some people by advertising that more people use the Arabic alphabet than use either Roman or Chinese characters. They are very proud of their language and call it the language of the angels; they believe it is spoken in heaven.  It is one of the most difficult languages in the world to master.  According to our way of thinking the Arabs begin at the end of a sentence and write backward. They have 450 words meaning “line”, 822 words meaning “camel”, and 1037 words meaning “sword”.

The splendor of light and the silence of night, huh. Well, if it’s not true, it should be.

Language logger peeving about Eskimos notwithstanding, I rather enjoy this genre of writing. At least as much as, say, Mickey Spillane.

But what about the 822 words?

Google Translate only recognizes two words for camel, جمل (pronounced jamal) and جمللإنتشال السفن القديمة (tool to pick old ships??!?) So what are the other 820 words? And what’s with the hyphen in “Turkoman prayer-rugs”?

“Line” is a little more promising. Having experienced many a chaotic wait for various things – visas, food – in various Arab countries, I would have guessed that Arabs have no word for “line”, or as the Brits would have it, “queue”. But the translate mechanism identifies both nouns:

حد فاصل
خط بحري
صف من الجنود
سلسلة متصلة
القوات المتقاتلة
خط جوي

and verbs:

إصطاد بالصنارة
شكل صفا

As for “sword”, we have:
سيف ,حسام, قوة عسكرية ,على إستعداد للهجوم المتبادل
(Sword, Hossam, Military force, to ready reciprocal attack)
Sometimes it’s better not to look too closely at these things.


Wikipedia identifies karela as bitter melon.


This is not a zenga. (see my earlier comments on the Gaddafi rap oeuvre)

Originally I was told this was a zenga, as it is a small road that ends at a group of houses, but after some discussion it was decided that a zenga had to be urban.

The angle of the photograph is deceptive; the road is on a hill with about a 30-degree incline. This is the long way to the houses, up and down the valley. The short way is to have the serveese drop you on the side of the road, then scamper across the highway and climb up the hill, following the pipes that supply the water.

This is a zenga.

This is another part of the same zenga (it is quite long).

Location: Amman, Jordan and surrounding countryside. There are many more photos of this zenga, it’s part of an interesting series of stairways on Jebel al-Webdeh. Maybe later if I have the time.