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20 questions for: Graeme Andrews (#8)

Episode #8 of my series “9273 roots”: 20 questions for the man who coded the best desktop-app for Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon: Graeme Andrews.

Last updated: 6 months ago

Lisān al-‘Arab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…

Graeme Andrews

The man who coded the perfect desktop-app for Lane's famous Arabic-English Lexicon

Graeme Andrews in his office.
photo credit: Graeme Andrews

How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn't know you?

— ( I prefer not to answer this question.)

What was your first Arabic grammar book?

A New Arabic Grammar by J.A. Haywood and H.M. Nahmad.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?

Ghadi and Rawan (غدي وروان) by Fatima Sharafeddine (فاطمة شرف الدين) and Samar Baraj (سمر براج). The first novel I read without an English version to check against. Thankfully, it has some tashkil.


Remark: This book was published in 2013 and was on the short-list for the Etisalat Award. It is suitable for children (from 12 to 16).

What's the story?

Fatima Sharfeddine gives the following information on her website: After the summer vacations in Lebanon, Gahdi returns to his school in Belgium were his father works, and Rawan goes back to her routine far from Ghadi, her childhood friend.

What is going to happen to Ghadi in Belgium this year? And what crisis does Rawan go through at home? Ghadi and Rawan keep in touch through emails, sharing their worries and helping each other. But will they meet again? This novel consists of two parallel stories, Ghadi's story, written by me, Fatima, and Rawan's story, written by Samar Mahfouz Barrage.

How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?

More time than I have spent.

What is your favorite Arabic word?


It's not really the Arabic that I like, it's that it can mean cheese or cowardice. That pairing makes me smile.

jubn root
A screenshot of Graeme Andrew's Lane's Lexicon – searching for the root جبن.

Which Arabic word do you like least?

– as a root.

It is often said that the system of roots makes the learning of easier: once you know the root, you have a clue to the meaning. Well, mostly yes. But sometimes, what you have is group of very similar looking and sounding words, with different meanings. This root excels in this.

jama root
The root ج-م-ع is a very tricky root.

Which Arabic dialect do you like best?

Levantine (Because it is the one I'm learning.)

What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?

How to download Graeme Andrew's Lane's Lexicon

Visit https://github.com/laneslexicon/lexicon and follow the instructions given at the website. It runs on almost every operating system (including MS-Windows, Apple devices, and ). Note that it is a desktop-app, you cannot run it on your mobile.

The big advantages of Graeme's lexicon are:

  • You can search for roots, headwords or any word you want to locate in English OR Arabic in the entire lexicon! (which makes it perfect if you are looking for proverbs, sayings, words that change the meaning when going along with certain prepositions, etc.)
  • You can copy both the English and Arabic text and use it in Word, etc.
  • Search history
  • You can set bookmarks
  • you can adjust fonts, colors, diacritical marks, etc.
  • It is very fast and stable

You can download it for free. There is no hidden subscription or whatsoever.

What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?

Graeme Andrews at the River Mersey.
photo credit: Graeme Andrews

What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?

Edward William Lane
Edward Lane

Who was Edward William Lane?

Lane (1801 – 1876) was a British lexicographer. He was educated privately, mainly by his parents. He was very good at mathematics, hence, he should go to Cambridge, with a view to entering the Church, but Lane only stayed for a short time. Instead, he joined an elder brother in London, who worked as an engraver.
It was at that time when Lane started devoting his time to the study of Arabic. When he became very sick (high fever; he almost died), the doctor's advised him to move abroad.

In 1825, when he was a young man of 24 years, Lane moved to Cairo, mingling with the locals and taking notes of everything he saw and heard. He engaged two professors to teach him Arabic, one was Sheikh al-Tantawi (1810-1861).

Lane got himself an Arabic name and adopted the Egyptian manners and customs. He wanted to publish a “Description of Egypt” but struggled to find a publisher.

He had returned to Egypt several times later – collecting material for his greatest piece of work: the “Arabic-English Lexicon”. He managed to convince the fourth Duke of Northumberland to finance his project (and after his death the Duke's widow continued to do so). Lane worked on his Lexicon for almost twenty years before he agreed to publish it.

Unfortunately, Lane could not finish his great work. He died in August 1876 at the age of 75.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?

Groucho, Harpo, and Chico.

Remark: For those readers who don't know who the three above-mentioned guys are… They were the Marx Brothers! The Marx Brothers were a family comedy act (from 1905 to 1949). The core of the act was the three elder brothers: Chico, Harpo, and Groucho. They are considered to be among the greatest and most influential comedians of the 20th century.

Groucho, Harpo, and Chico (in 1948).
photo credit: wikimedia.

What was the last great meal you had?

What is your favorite city?

Graeme Andrews lives in Manchester, UK.
photo credit: wikipedia.org

Which book would you give to a dear friend?

Rilke's Duineser Elegien. If anyone wants it in English, try the Leishman and Spender translation.

Remark: Duineser Elegien (English: The Duino Elegies) are a collection of ten elegies written by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).

What is your all-time favorite movie?

Babette's Feast – in Danish, with English . NOT the dubbed version!


Babette's Feast (Danish: Babettes gæstebud) is a 1987 Danish drama film directed by Gabriel Axel.

During the late 19th century, a strict religious community in a Danish village takes in a French refugee from the Franco-Prussian War as a servant to the late pastor's daughters (source: IMDB).

What music do you listen to?

I don't think my brain is wired up for music.

When were you happiest?

At university, studying philosophy.

What is your greatest fear?


Lane's famous Arabic-English-Lexicon

Until the 19th century, all Arabic dictionaries in Europe were written in Latin. Lane told the Duke of Northumberland (who eventually financed his project): “There are thousands of Arabic words and phrases which Cicero himself could not have expressed [in Latin].

In 1842, for the third time, Lane sailed to Egypt. It was not only his longest but also his most special trip. Before that Lane mingeled with the locals and traveled throughout Egypt. This time, however, he stayed at home, sometimes not going out of doors for months, working steadily on his project, assisted only by Sheikh Ibrahim al-Dasuqi, his Arabic language assistant as historian Jason Thompson tells in his book. With al-Dasuqi, Lane discussed fine points of Arabic grammar and spelling.

Lane returned to England in 1849 and settled in a quiet town on the southern coast. Lane continued living his ultra-focused lifestyle he had developed in Egypt. It is said that he started each working day very early by saying the opening lines of the Qur'an (“In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful”) and finished at 10 pm at night.

The first of the eight volumes of Lane's Arabic–English Lexicon were published in 1863. He published the succeeding volumes at two-year intervals.

Lane was unable to complete the lexicon. He had arrived at the letter Qāf, the 21st letter of the Arabic alphabet, but in 1876 he died at Worthing, Sussex. Lane's great-nephew Stanley Lane-Poole finished the work based on his incomplete notes and published it in the twenty years following his death.

What is your life motto?

Graeme Andrews, thank you for your time.

CALL FOR SUGGESTIONS: Who should we interview soon?

Do you know an interesting person who has a special relationship with the Arabic language? Then click yes below and tell us why we should interview this person!

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