Last updated: July 2, 2021
I’ve been asked many times how to translate “nerd” into Arabic. I am convinced that one should not translate the term and simply use nerd (نيرد).
The translation into German is already almost impossible. I would need an entire sentence to roughly explain what a nerd is: eine Person, die für ein spezielles Fachgebiet besonders großes Interesse zeigt und viel Zeit damit verbringt (a person who shows particularly great interest in a special field and spends a lot of time on it).
Wikipedia, which I otherwise very much appreciate, is almost insulting: “A nerd is a person seen as overly intellectual, obsessive, introverted or lacking social skills. Such a person may spend inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, little known, or non-mainstream activities.” Arabic – an unpopular, little known activity? I very much doubt it.
So, let’s see what people in Arabic-speaking countries use to express the English word nerd. My approach was to ask a few people in Arab countries.
Of course, this is not a complete list and there are certainly other expressions. In principle, you could always form a noun of exaggeration (صِيغةُ الْمُبالةِ) which would often work quite well. However, I tried to find some unusual expressions.
The official translation: مَهْوُوس
This is how the Oxford Dictionary and how Google translate the word nerd.
Meaning: It is the passive participle (اِسْم الْمَفْعُولِ) of the I-verb هَوِسَ which denotes to the point of madness; to be obsessed; to be crazy. If you want to say that someone is a theater nerd, you could say: مَهْوُوسٌ بِالْمَسْرَحِ. However, مهووس به is, in my opinion, not a very precise translation because it has a slightly bad connotation expressing foolish, crazy (in the sense of خِفَّة العقل). Hans Wehr gives even another meaning: (religious) visionary. I suppose that could lead to misunderstandings.
Where? I have hardly encountered this word in spoken Arabic in the true sense of nerd.
The word daafour: دافور
Meaning: The term denotes a portable gas burner in Saudi-Arabia. You can read more about its history here.
The website daafoor.com is proof enough (see logo on the right). There, you find material for schools and universities in Arabic. The logo says it all 😉
Where? The term is mainly used in Saudi-Arabia, but it is also known in Egypt.
Regional variants: دفارة
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The word khebbash: خبّاش
I am not sure what it literally means in Algerian Arabic. In Standard Arabic, it can be used as a synonym for مُكْتَسَب (acquired; learned). The meaning, however, is that a person who is very, very diligent in his studies.
The word sajjaj: سچاچ
I couldn’t find out more about the origin of the word. But it is used for someone who studies a lot.
The word daheeh: دحيح
Meaning: The verb دَحَّ denotes to toil, to sweat blood. I guess it is related to that meaning (but I am not sure).
Note: a popular science channel in the Arab World is called Da7ee7 (الدحيح).
The word haffar: حَفّار
It literally means digger, labourer; also: woodpecker.
The word tays: تَيْس
Meaning: (billy) goat.
I am not sure about the origin of تيس دراسة. I heard that it is related to some proverbs involving the goat like in عنز بدو طاحت بمريس. Basically, it expresses a person is addicted to something. (Note: If any readers knows more about that, I would be happy to learn about it.)
Where? Syria, Gulf Arabic.
The word barreesh: برّيش
For someone who reads a lot of books.
The word basseem: بصّيم
If any readers knows other examples, I would appreciate a comment below or send me a message. THANKS!