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cropped hitler 2

The Arabic verb: “to behave like Adolf Hitler”

Have you ever had a look at the Arabic root tahatlara ه-ت-ل-ر in Hans Wehr’s dictionary? You will be surprised: It means to behave like Adolf Hitler.

Last updated: 1 year ago

There is a verb in Hans Wehr, the famous dictionary of Modern Standard Arabic, that you will hardly ever encounter in the Arab world.

The weird Arabic verb tahatlara

تَهَتْلَرَ“tahatlara” to behave like Adolf Hitler. To imitate Adolf Hitler

Remark: In the , it is: يَتَهَتْلَرُ‏‎ (“yatahatlaru”).

To be honest, I never came across this weird verb in daily talks.

I also have never encountered it in newspapers or books. I quickly checked with my Arabic-Arabic dictionaries and couldn't find it. So don't ask me why the editors of Hans Wehr's dictionary have included it. I don't even want to imagine what “to behave like Hitler” should express.

This “root”, which of course is not an Arabic root, is found in the enlarged 5th edition of the German edition (1,452 pages) of Hans Wehr:

root hitler german 1
screenshot dictionary hans wehr german edition

It is also included in the enlarged 4th edition of the English version (page 1194)  of Hans Wehr:

Adolf Hitler Arabic
screenshot hans wehr english edition

Nevertheless, there is something interesting about it – the morphology of the verb. The verb تَهُتْلَرَ is the second form of a quadriliteral root derived from the name Hitler, in Arabic: هِتْلِر.

The verb balshafa – to Bolshevize

Quadriliteral roots – which by the way means consisting of 4 root letters – are occasionally used for foreign names or things.

For example another weird verb found in Hans Wehr: “balshafa” (بَلْشَف) – to Bolshevize – which also forms the II-form “tabalshafa” (تَبَلْشَفَ) to be Bolshevized.

hans wehr to bolshevize
screenshot hans wehr

This verb is certainly not common in English nowadays. For all readers who are not sure what it means – Colin's dictionary explains the verb as follows: to bring into line with Communist ideology.

The nature of Arabic quadriliteral verbs

FORM I (فَعْلَلَ) quadriliteral verbs follow the conjugation of form II triliteral verbs (فَعَّلَ).

The only difference: You have two different radicals in the quadriliteral verb at the position where you would have two identical radicals (with شَدّة) in a triliteral verb.

One of the most common quadriliteral roots is تَرْجَمَ (to translate). Let's use this root and compare it to a triliteral II-verb:

number of root lettersmeaningpast tensepresent
4 root letters I translateتَرْجَمْتُأُتَرْجِم
3 root lettersI teachدَرَّسْتُأُدَرِّسُ

Two more important patterns of 4-roots

  • The مَصْدَر of a quadriliteral root follows the pattern فَعْلَلَةٌ; occasionally also فِعْلالٌ is used. Thus, a translation is called تَرْجَمة in Arabic.
  • The active (اِسْم فاعِل) follows the pattern مُفَعْلِلٌ, thus a translator is a مُتَرْجِم.

What does form I of an Arabic 4-root-verb express?

  • A few form I quadriliteral “roots” are derived from famous expressions in Arabic:
  • the verb بَسْمَلَ conveys: to say “in the name of Allah” (بِسْمِ اللهِ). From this root, the مَصْدَر is an important word for Muslims: the (بَسْمَلة).
  • Furthermore, you can use two letters and duplicate them to express a certain sound: to cough (كَحْكَح), to roar (جَعْجَع), to gargle (غَرْغَرَ)
  • And there are many words of foreign origin which were Arabized by deriving a quadriliteral root.

So far, so good. But why do we use form II (تَفَعْلَلَ) of a quadriliteral root to express that one behaves like Adolf Hitler?

FORM II verbs of a quadriliteral root have an initial ت. The conjugation of a form-II quadriliteral root corresponds to that of a strong, triliteral form-V-verb which follows in the past tense the pattern تَفَعَّلَ and in the present tense يَتَفَعَّلُ. In our example:

present tensepast tense
I imitate Hitler. I imitated Hitler.

Form II of quadriliteral verbs have a reflexive meaning, sometimes also a meaning. That is the reason why for “actions” like this, the II-form of a quadriliteral root is used. So much for the grammar.

Some remarks on Hitler in the Arab world

When I first came to Egypt, which was more than ten years ago, I was confused because I could have bought Hitler's book Mein Kampf (كِفاحِي) at every newspaper kiosk. In Germany and Austria, Mein Kampf was banned back then.

(Remark: After Hitler's death, the copyright of Mein Kampf passed to the state government of Bavaria; Bavaria refused to allow any copying or printing of the book in Germany. This ban was lifted in 2016, following the expiry of the copyright after 70 years.)

Mein Kampf was published by Adolf Hitler in 1925/1926. Around ten years later, when Hitler started to drag the world into an apocalyptic misery, the entire Arab world was in a different shape than today: France and Great Britain shared it out.

Prof. Stefan Wild, a German Arabist, writes that in the time before World War II, shops in Syria would frequently show posters with Arabic slogans praising Hitler.

Furthermore, the news that Hitler had started a war reached the streets of Aleppo (حَلَب) and Damascus (دِمَشْق), where one could hear a popular verse in the local dialect which said: “No Monsieur, no Mister – Allah in heaven, on earth Hitler!” (ﻻ ﻣُِْﻮ، ﻻ ﻣِِْاللهِﺎﻟﺴَّﻤﺎ وَََالْأَرْضِِْ!)

The same happened in Iraq. According to an account of Prof. Shmuel Moreh (سامي موريه), an Iraqi Jew, walls were painted with ٍSwastikas and sayings such as: “Hitler, the protector of the Arabs!” (هِتْلِر حامِي الْعَرَب).

With national movements emerging in the Arab world, Hitler was praised for being an enemy to France and Great Britain.

Translations of Mein Kampf into Arabic

In the 1930s, parts of Mein Kampf were translated into Arabic by journalists who published some excerpts in Arabic newspapers. The German Nazis wanted to translate Mein Kampf officially into Arabic. This was, however, a difficult task.

Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf

The Nazi ideology was based on the supremacy of the white Aryan race (جِنْس آري). The Nazis disparaged Egyptians, for example, as “decadent people composed of cripples”. Furthermore, they had to change several expressions which would have otherwise targeted the Arabs as well, for example: anti-Semitic to anti-Jewish.

Despite several attempts before and during World War II, an official translation of Mein Kampf by the Nazis was never published.

Louis al-Hajj (لويس الْحاج), a translator and writer from Lebanon, who later became the editor in chief of the newspaper al-Nahar (النَّهار) in Beirut, translated parts of Mein Kampf from French into Arabic in 1963.

Al-Hajj's translation contains only fragments of Hitler's 800 pages pamphlet.

Nevertheless, Louis al-Hajj's translation is still the most popular edition of Mein Kampf in the Arab world.

History related topics:

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6 years ago

My favorite example of a westernized quadriliteral root is فرنج p. 832.

Form II of this root means exactly “to become Europanized”. As Wehr indicates, it originates from the time where being French meant being European. But today, being European means being Western. Thus, today this westernized quadriliteral root means to become westernized.

I looked up this root recently, because I heard it in the contemporary TV-series سارع جار which now runs on CBC (early 2018).

Woman: دا انت اتفرنجت ولا إيه؟
Man: لا, ماتفرنجتش

6 years ago

Authors of dictionaries and encyclopedias often deliberately insert fake articles/headwords into their work. It is meant as a kind of copyright protection. Usually it is hard to tell if a dictionary has taken its repertoire from an older dictionary. If these fake entries are also copied, it becomes evident that it’s a case of copyright violation. So it’s an old strategy for copy protection.

Karen McNeil
Karen McNeil
6 years ago

I’m not sure how it ended up in Hans, but I don’t think this is an actual Arabic word. I searched for it in the Oxford Arabic Corpus (which has almost a billion words of Standard Arabic, mostly news sources but also AWU texts and Wikipedia), and this word does not appear even once. If it was once in usage (which I somewhat doubt), it no longer is.

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