The Arabic language is as diverse as it is beautiful. A word can mean something in one Arab country, and something completely different in another.
Around the world, about 422 million people converse in Arabic. And since the Quran, Islam’s holy scripture, is written in Arabic, as many as 1.7 billion Muslims around the world read the language or use Arabic phrases.
A language so widely spread and used should be easy and universal, no? Not one bit. Even though Arabs usually understand each other, they often find themselves confused by how other nations use some phrases.
Names of Foods and Vegetables
The biggest noticeable differences in the Arabic language from country to country (or region to region) are names of common foods.
“You say tomato, I say tomato.”
In the Levantine countries (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine), tomatoes are known as “banadoura”, but the rest of the Arab population call them “tamatem”.
Pinkberry would be confusing.
Another confusing name is “laban”, it can mean both yogurt and milk. ًIn the Levant, milk is called “halib” and yogurt “laban”, but in Egypt laban means milk. While the gulf also call milk halib, they call yogurt zabadi.
Lemonade or Orange Juice?
A similar story goes for oranges and lemons. While in Egypt and Palestine lemons are called laimoon, they are called hamod in Lebanon, where laimon means orange. In other parts of the Arab World, oranges are called “burtoqal”, literally the name for the color orange.
You should also be careful how to use phrases you picked up in one Arab country while visiting another one. Some phrases that bear a positive connotation in one country, can be very offensive in another, or can mean a totally different thing.
Up or Down, In or Out?
One example are the words inzal and itla’, meaning come/go down and come/go up respectively. However, in Iraq, when someone says inzal, he’s kicking you out of his house. And in Egypt itla’ also means get out.
Everyone is habibi.
And while habibi, which Arabs seem to call everyone, all the time, can mean both lover or dear to my heart, in a specific Saudi dialect it means “my grandpa”.
I’ll Take That as a Compliment
Calling someone fat can also be confusing as they might think you’re calling them wise. In the Levant, the word “naseh” means anything from curvy to obese. However, in the gulf countries it means someone who is wise and can give advice, and in Egypt is means smart.
Confusing? We know. We Arabs find it as strange as anyone new to the Arabic language would, but we love the confusion.