Last updated: 1 week ago
As a journalist, I read Arabic newspapers daily, especially the opinion section. Every month, I want to share with you on Arabic for Nerds what I find interesting from a linguistic perspective and which vocabulary might be worth learning. I call it the Media Arabic Booster.
A close look at a headline
Headlines in Arabic media are generally easy to understand – but there are also some tricky words.
al-Sharq al-Awsat: A way to express “to die”
In November 2023, the Arab newspapers were full of coverage of Gaza. On November 14, the daily newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat, published in Saudi Arabia, had a headline with an interesting verb :تحتضر
How would you pronounce تحتضر in the above headline?
- ACTIVE voice: تَحْتَضِرُ (“tahtadiru”)?
- PASSIVE voice: تُحْتَضَرُ (“tuhtadaru”)?
It is number 2: the PASSIVE voice!
If this surprises you, read on because we will see why.
The VIII-verb احْتَضَرَ is based on the root ح-ض-ر. The root has the core meaning of to be present. The VIII-verb form follows the pattern اِفْتَعَلَ. Form VIII verbs are often reflexive, meaning that you discover something for yourself. Now, what about the meaning of احْتَضَرَ?
- ACTIVE voice: احْتَضَرَ – يَحْتَضِرُ can be translated as to be present; to be in the presence (of someone = direct object); to attend; to exist. For example: he was there (احْتَضَرَ المَكانَ).
- PASSIVE voice: اُحْتُضِرَ – يُحْتَضَرُ, however, means to die (ماتَ)!
To get the correct pronunciation and translation, we need to take care of two more things:
- Gaza (غَزَّة) here is placed as the second part of a إضافة-construction and thus in the position of a genitive case (مجرور). But place names like Egypt (مِصْرُ) or Gaza (غَزّةُ) are diptotes (ممنوع من الصرف) in Arabic! So we have غَزَّةَ (“ghazza“) in this example.
- The III-form verb سابَقَ – يُسابِقُ follows the pattern فاعَلَ. It is based on the root س-ب-ق which has the core meaning of to be or act before or ahead of someone or something. So the III-verb means to try to get ahead of someone/something (= direct object); to try to defeat or beat (someone/something = direct object); also: to compete with someone (= direct object). For example, سابَقَ الزَّمَنَ which means to race against time.
A possible final translation:
مُسْتَشْفَياتُ غَزَّةَ تُحْتَضَرُ… وَإِسْرائِيلُ تُسابِقُ الضُغُوطَ
English: Gaza's hospitals are dying… and Israel is racing against (= fighting) the pressure
Translation of an article
To really get to the core of Arabic newspapers and magazines, you have to know a bunch of words. Plus, the way they phrase things and put sentences together can sometimes be a real challenge. That's why I'm all about translating whole sentences, so you can gain more confidence and speed up your Arabic skills.
The words marked in yellow can be found further down in the vocabulary list.
Opinion piece in al-Quds al-Arabi: “The importance of documenting all the Israeli crimes”
In the Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi (Qatari-owned, published in London) I read the following opinion piece on 7th November 2023. It was written by Mohammed Krishan (محمد كريشان), born 1959, a Tunisian journalist working also for Al-Jazeera and writing for several Arabic newspapers. (You can access the full article in Arabic online – click here.)
Let us direct our attention to selected segments of the text and proceed to translate each sentence painstakingly.
كما لم ينس اليهود يوما واحدا ما جرى لهم في المحرقة في أوروبا زمن النازيين، وهذا حقهم وواجبهم، يجب ألا ننسى نحن ما فعله، ويفعله إلى حد الآن، أحفادهم بالفلسطينيين.
Just like the Jews have never forgotten (for a single day) what happened to them during the Holocaust in Europe at the hands (during that time) of the Nazis, which is their right and duty, we (also) must not forget what their grandchildren have done and are still doing to this day to the Palestinians.
كان سلاحهم الأقوى توثيق كل كبيرة وصغيرة وصولا إلى محكمة نورنبيرغ الشهيرة التي أصدرت أحكامها في 1 أكتوبر/تشرين الأول 1946 وفيها حرص المدعي العام الأمريكي روبرت جاكسون أن يعتمد في إدانة المتهمين على وثائق دامغة بدل أقوال شهود العيان حتى لا تُتهم المحاكمة بالاعتماد على شهادات مزورة أو مغشوشة.
Their most powerful weapon was the documentation of every single detail until they eventually reached the famous Nuremberg Trial which issued its rulings on October 1, 1946. At the time, US Attorney General (prosecutor) Robert Jackson made sure to sentence the accused based on irrefutable documentation instead of eyewitness accounts, so that [here, حتى should not be understood as until] the tribunal is not accused of relying on fake testimonies.
الجرائم التي يجري توثيقها حاليا عديدة وكلها انتهاكات جسيمة لحقوق الإنسان والقانون الإنساني الدولي من بينها القتل المباشر للنساء والأطفال، وهما ثلاثة أرباع الضحايا، فضلا عن قصف المباني السكنية والمستشفيات وسيارات الإسعاف والتهجير القسري،إلى جانب ما يجري في الضفة الغربية من عربدة للمستوطنين المسلحين والاعتقال التعسفي والقيود غير المبررة المفروضة على التنقل وتجريف الشوارع بلا أي موجب إلى جانب سياسات الفصل العنصري بأوجهها المختلفة.
The crimes being documented today are numerous and all of them are serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law. They include the direct killing of women and children, who constitute three-quarters of the victims, in addition to the bombing of residential buildings, hospitals, ambulances and forced displacement. This is not to mention what is happening in the West Bank in terms of the rampage carried out by armed settlers, arbitrary arrests, unjustified restrictions imposed on movement, the bulldozing of roads without any reason and the racial segregation policies being implemented in various forms.
لقد تشبّث اليهود بهذا المبدأ بالقانون الدولي لملاحقة أي نازي أو غيره استطاع أن يفلت من المحاسبة وقد يكون اختفى بهوية مزيفة لعقود في أي بقعة من العالم، على الفلسطينيين أن ينسجوا على منوالهم.
The Jews insisted on that principle in International Law to pursue any Nazi or others who managed to escape accountability and might have disappeared with a fake ID for decades anywhere in the world. And the Palestinians must do the same. (= The Palestinians have to weave in their footsteps.)
… وسيأتي اليوم المناسب للمحاسبة سواء عبر الهيئات الدولية القائمة كمحكمة الجنايات الدولية، أو هيئات يتم إحداثها لهذا الغرض، مما يجعل ما يقوم به حاليا المراسلون الصحافيون عملا توثيقيا بامتياز، وكذلك النشطاء في مواقع التواصل، ولهذا يتم استهدافهم حتى قارب عدد الصحافيين الذين قتلتهم إسرائيل الخمسين، كأعلى رقم في أي نزاع مسلّح في العالم.
… and a day will come when it will be held accountable, whether through the existing international bodies such as the International Criminal Court or through bodies created for that purpose. Therefore, what the journalists are now doing is a documentation work par excellence, just like the activists on social media, which is why they are being targeted to the point where the number of journalists killed by Israel has neared 50, the highest number in any armed conflict in the world.
لم يكن قتل الاحتلال الإسرائيلي لهذا العدد من الصحافيين صدفة بل هو ممنهج ومقصود ولكن قتل الشهود لن يدمّر ما تركوه من أدلّة سيأتي يوم تعتمد فيه لإدانة هذا الاحتلال الوحشي.
The killing of this number of journalists by the Israeli occupation was no coincidence. It is systematic and intentional. However, killing the witnesses will not destroy the evidence they left behind. A day will come when it will be used to convict this brutal occupation.
All words marked in yellow can be found in this table with explanations.
|The Holocaust; literally: burning place; crematorium. It is the noun of place (اسم مكان) of حرَقَ (to burn).
|The Nazis. Neo-Nazi would be نازِيٌّ جَدِيدٌ.
|أَلا نَنْسَى نَحْنُ
|We must not forget… Note: أَنْ plus لا becomes أَلا.
|Documentation; also: strengthening/authentication. It is the infinitive (مصدر) of II-verb وَثَّقَ (to document; ratify; certify).
|كُلُّ صَغِيرَةٍ وَكَبِيرَةٍ
|every single detail (figure of speech). Note: The word كبيرة means a great sin; atrocious crime and صغيرة minor mistake or venial sin (Islamic Law) – see comment below. (@Dominic – thanks)
|Public/General Prosecutor. Same as النِّيابةُ الْعامّةُ.
|Incriminating documents. دامِغ can mean valid; compelling; irrefutable. For example: a striking argument (حُجّةٌ دامِغةٌ).
|أَقْوالُ شُهُودِ الْعِيانِ
|شَهاداتٌ مُزَوَّرَةٌ أَوْ مَغْشُوشَةٌ
|Forged or tampered testimonies. مُزَوَّر is used to express fake; false; forged as in fake passport (جَواز سَفَرٍ مُزَوَّر). The word مَغْشوش basically means the same (forged; fake; counterfeit), but has a stronger connotation to deceived.
|Serious violations. The word جَسيم is often used in media and can mean many things: huge; immense, massive, extensive. For example: massive damage (أَضْرارٌ جَسِيمَةٌ).
|القانُونُ الإِنْسانِيُّ الدَوْلِيُّ
|International Humanitarian Law (IHL)
|Three quarters. Watch out: quarter=fourth part is رُبْعٌ in Arabic. The plural form is أَرْباعٌ. Numbers from 3 to 10 are formed by using the opposite gender of the counted thing, in our case here رُبْع, which is masculine! Therefore, we need the feminine form of the number 3 which is ثَلاثَة.
|Rampage; quarrelsomeness; bickering, noise, ruckus (especially from drunken people). It can also mean orgy, binge, drunken revelry; illnature; evel disposition. Generally expressing bad behavior and what results from the harm of that behavior.
ٌعَرْبَدة (almost never used in the plural) is the infinitive of a verb based on four root letters (عَرْبَدَ – يُعَرْبِدُ) which means to be quarrelsome; to make noise, riot, make a racket.
In Lane's Lexicon we can learn that it means to show illnature, to behave unsociably toward one's cup-companion (= to carouse, I guess ;-). Lane gives the following example: He behaves in an annoying manner towards his companions as does the drunken (هُوَ يُعَرِبْدُ عَلَع أَصْحابِهِ عَرْبَدَةَ السَّكْرانِ). According to some, the verb is from عِرْبَدُّ signifying “a red and malignant or noxious serpent“. This is a very heavy word that transports many deep meanings.
|Armed settlers. The word مُسْتَوْطِنٌ is the active participle (اسم الفاعِل) of the X-verb يَسْتَوْطِنُ -اسْتَوْطَنَ following the pattern اِسْتَفْعَلَ which often expresses the general meaning of to look for… The core meaning of the root و-ط-ن is to live; to stay in a place. The verb اسْتَوْطَنَ is translated as to settle down; choose as a place to live, become at home – in a negative sense: to colonize. As an adjective مُسْتَوْطِنٌ can also express native, resident, in medicine even endemic! In Media Arabic today, the word مُسْتَوْطِنٌ is more or less associated with an Israeli settler. If you want to express settlement, you use the noun of place (اسم المَكان) which is مُسْتَوْطَنةٌ. For example: The Israeli settlements in the West Bank (المُسْتَوْطَناتُ الإِسْرائِيلِيَّةُ فِي الضِفَّةِ الغَرْبِيَّةِ).
|Arbitrary arrests/detention. تَعَسُّفيّ can mean two things: repressive; despotic and arbitrary. For example; an oppressive regime (نِظامٌ تَعَسُّفِيٌّ). The I-verb عَسَفَ – يَعْسِفُ means to oppress; to tyrannize. Don't forget to pronounce the letter ع properly as أَسِفَ means to regret; feel sorry.
|القُيُودُ غَيْرُ المُبَرَّرَةِ
|Unjustified restrictions. Watch out for the correct vowel: the passive participle (اسم الْمَفْعُول) is مُبَرَّرٌ with “a” and means justified. To express the opposite (“un-“, we use the construction with غَيْر (not, non-, un-; except, without). The active participle (الم الفاعِل) is مُبَرِّر with “i” and often expresses justification; reason. For example: unjustifiable (لا مُبَرِّرَ لَهُ).
|Bulldozing; levelling; destroying. It is the مصدر of II-verb جَرَّفَ which means remove (ground), flush away.
|بِلَا أَيِّ مُوجِبٍ
|Without any reason. موجِبٌ (plural: موجِبات) means necessity; motive; reason. If used as an adjective, it may donate compelling. For example: compelling reasons (أَسْبابٌ مُوجِبَةٌ).
Watch out: A common construction is بِموجِبِ plus noun which expresses: according to; on the basis of. If you add a pronoun, it means whereby; by which (بِموجِبِهِ).
|Insist on; persist in; cling to. The V-verb تَشَبَّثَ – يَتَشَبَّثُ needs the preposition ب to express the object being insisted on. For example: to insist on an idea (تَشَبَّثَ بِفِكْرةٍ).
|To escape from. Note that the ت here is part of the root (ف-ل-ت) of the IV-verb أَفْلَتَ – يُفْلِتُ. If you want to express that someone or something has managed to get rid of something, you need مِن. For example, to escape from the police (أَفْلَتَ مِنْ يَدِ الشُرْطَةِ). Otherwise, if a person releases someone or something, use a direct object!
|Accountability. But it can also mean bookkeeping, accounting.
|With a fake identity. See the remarks above about مُزَيَّف.
|يَنْسَجُوا عَلَى مِنْوالِهِمْ
|They follow in their footsteps. مِنْوالٌ means method; manner; fashion. The I-verb نَسَجَ – يَنْسُجُ means to knit; to weave; to spin. Together, they form a popular expression: to imitate, proceed as (نَسَجَ عَلَى مِنْوالِهِ).
|Social media platforms
|نِزاعٌ مُسَلَّحٌ عَلَى
|Armed conflict (about). The word نِزاعٌ (plural: نِزاعاتٌ) can express any kind of dispute or fight, even agony. The core meaning of the root expresses the idea of to tear out; take away, remove. نِزاعٌ also appears in expressions: that is indisputable (لا نِزاعَ فِي هٰذا الأَمْرِ) or indisputable (بِلا نِزاعٍ).
|Israeli occupation. احْتِلالٌ is the infinitive (مصدر) of the VIII-verb احْتَلَّ – يَحْتَلُّ which means to occupy; to conquer. In Arab media, when journalists try to avoid the word Israel, they use expressions connected to this verb. For example: Jerusalem (القُدْسُ المُحْتَلَّةُ); the Israeli Army (قُوّاتُ الاِحْتِلالِ).
|Systematic. مُمَنْهِج is the passive participle (اسمُ المَفْعُولِ) of I-verb (four root letters!) to program; to schedule (مَنْهَجَ – يُمَنْهِجُ).
|Condemnation; conviction. This is a legal term. For example: the accused is innocent until proven guilty (الْمُتَّهَمُ بَرِيءٌ حَتَّى تُثْبُتَ إِدانَتُهُ). It is the infinitive noun of the IV-verb أَدانَ – يُدينُ (root: د-ي-ن ) which means to condemn something; to convict somebody; to denounce.
NOTICE: If there are any errors or mistakes in this article, please let me know or use the comment section below. I am not a native English speaker, and inaccuracies can quickly creep in with more complicated texts. We are all here to learn.
DISCLAIMER: Just so you know, my focus is purely on the language, and my selection of texts does not express any political views. The Arab world is currently full of sad conflicts. If a text excerpt hits someone personally or makes them angry, please remember that as a journalist, I listen to all sides without judgment, and I do not want to spread any political views or engage in discussions on Arabic for Nerds. All I care about here is the wonderful language of Arabic, and that we can all use it to understand each other better.
OTHER editions of Media Arabic Booster: