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How do you say nerd in Arabic?

The English term “nerd” is difficult to translate and should be left untranslated. However, if one insists on a translation: what is “nerd” in Arabic? Let’s have a look at various Arabic dialects.

Last updated: 1 year ago

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 (صِيغةُ الْمُبالغةِ) 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 the word nerd.

Meaning: It is the participle (اِسْم الْمَفْعُولِ) of the 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.

dafour burner
Dafour – the origin of the word

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

A must-have for nerds: dafour-mug – ORDER IT HERE!

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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.

Where? Algeria.

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.

Where? Iraq.

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).

Where? Egypt.

Note: a popular science channel in the Arab World is called Da7ee7 (الدحيح).


The word haffar: حَفّار

It literally means digger, labourer; also: woodpecker.

Where? Sudan.

The word tays: تَيْس

Meaning: (billy) goat.

a 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.

Where? Lebanon.

The word basseem: بصّيم

Where? Syria.

If any readers knows other examples, I would appreciate a comment below or send me a message. THANKS!

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1 year ago

For describing words like مفاجئاً (sudden) I’ve noticed often the tanwin is put on the last letter – alif. But an Egyptian told me this is a common mistake and it should go on the 2nd last letter – as in the Quran. Which is right?

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward
2 years ago

For Tunisian dialect of Arabic, two words come to mind:

– The word قَرَّايْ which means somebody who likes to study at school and tends to get good grades
– The word مَغْرُومْ which in is an adjective for someone who is really into something, such as a hobby or a topic of interest, even obscessed by it

Sami Morcos
Sami Morcos
2 years ago

tays: تَيْس
We use it to say someone is so stubborn, but sometime (like in your example) someone who has too strong of a habit that you cannot change him. it is probably from the concept of a goat that insists on not moving when farmers try to make him move…

Sami Morcos
Sami Morcos
2 years ago

Excellent analysis. I agree with all. Here are some notes to confirm and expand:
Syrian in Syria here. (sami from tafqit)
I also know of no word in Arabic to mean NERD. and I think it doesn’t exist.

بصّيم basseem is a widely used word here in Syria, it means (negatively) someone who studies too much (close to part of the NERD description), but usually more precisely someone who memorizes his lessons without understanding. We don’t use it as a general description that includes all characteristics of a NERD.

A friend of mine told me about the word Abbou3: أبّوع he thinks it is the closest word to it. It is a Syrian word only. But I think of it more like dump and introvert…not sure really, asked a few people around and they also don’t think of it as NERD. Anyway both basseem and abbou3 can be part of a NERD description.

PS: Abbou3 is a too casual that any Syrian reader reading this will probably laugh, we never see these words written.

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