Last updated: May 1, 2022
I grew up with 56k modems, BBS (bulletin board systems) and Turbo Pascal. We were nerds and shared pretty much everything on BBSes. Every time, every generation has its media. I find it remarkable how today’s trending platforms like TikTok give rise to new art forms and create new forms of youth and pop culture.
I am well aware that social media, blending cultures and identities, rap and hip hop are changing languages at warp speed.
German has many weird dialects that are often not understood by each other (let alone by non-native speakers). Egyptian Arabic, in turn, is almost like a standard language, quite similar from Alexandria to Aswan. That always made it easy for learners.
Egyptian Arabic had previously developed in slow motion. It had embodied Turkish, French, and Italian words, later words from English. When cinema got big, films in particular had a great influence on the language, which remained quite cultivated and relatively tame. Now everything is changing dramatically – and without any control by the regimes.
Egyptians on TikTok
It is difficult to list names as the rankings are constantly changing. It also depends on the channel and the “target group”. To give you some examples, I checked the website Influcencer Marketing Hub. They list Egypt’s most important influencers by followers, engagement rate and authentic engagement. Here are some examples:
- Mayan el-Sayed: 4M followers, 14.2M likes
- Doongool: 3.3M followers, 48.5M likes
- Gehad Hassan: 7.5M followers, 174.4M likes
It is quite a challenge to produce social media content in Egypt. In April, Haneen Hossam, an Egyptian TikTok star, has been sentenced to three years in prison after a court found her guilty of human trafficking at a retrial.
Egypt’s crackdown on female influencers
Basically, she posted videos of her lip-singing to songs and dancing. The Egyptian authorities accused her of exploiting girls for money via video sharing platforms. She was first arrested in April 2020 after inviting her female followers to another video platform, Likee, which allegedly allows them to make money by broadcasting live videos. Human rights activists say she was persecuted as part of a crackdown on female social media influencers.
Arabic dictionaries for slang and youth language
Those who try to follow young Egyptians on social media will often fail because of the language. Incidentally, this is not only the case for non-native speakers.
I had once bought a dictionary explaining Egyptian youth language more than 15 years ago. Today, however, some terms seem to have fallen out of time, while some are still in use.
For the German language, for example, there are universities and professional websites that collect new words and explain their origin and usage (Jugendsprache). As so often in Arabic, there is no comparable offer. You have to google everything.
Common slang words among young Egyptians
I found some examples in a recent article in The National by Hamza Hendawi, a journalist from Cairo. I would like to reproduce and list some of his examples. As a non-native speaker of Arabic, it is hard to develop a feeling for such words as it is mostly impossible to tell whether such words are invented, re-discovered or express a new meaning.
“saahal” (root: سحل) used to describe the process of tying someone to a moving car as a punishment that could possibly lead to death. Now it means working long and hard unceasingly.
“bastef” (بستف): Interestingly, this verb is already listed in the old dictionary of Hinds/Badawy with the same meaning, but became forgotten. According to the article in The National, it is common now among young people in Egypt. It basically still means the same: telling someone off, putting them in their place or, less frequently, beating them up.
“fasheikh”: One of the most widely used words among young Egyptians these days. It is an adjective that originated in the Fosha Arabic verb fashakh (فشخ) which means to push a person’s legs so far apart that he or she is in great pain. Fashakh now means exhausting or tiring someone, while the adjective, fasheikh, means outstanding or excellent.
“nafaad” (ECA root: نفض): it literally means to dust furniture at home, also: to beat a carpet to get the dust out or brushing off a suit. Among young people, it means to ignore someone.
“medashmel”: It means something that has been smashed or someone who comes home drunk and unable to deal with anything.
“beyond”: You hear this word very frequently, also among (upper-class) adults, for example in the series Perfect Strangers. It is a bit weird because the English adverb is used as an adjective expressing “wonderful”, “fantastic”. For example: “The food is beyond”. Or: “We stayed at a hotel where the service was beyond”.
“crush”: The English noun is often used as a verb, which, I guess, may sound weird for native English speakers. For example: “I crushed on her” = “I have a crush on her”.
“halaa‘ telo”: Literally, it is the colloquial expression for giving someone a haircut. Now, it’s used to mean ignoring someone or standing them up.
Do you know of any other examples? Then please use the comment function to share them with readers. Thank you!