Arabic Language Blog

Quick Intro to “Classy Insults” in Classical Arabic Posted by on Mar 13, 2012 in Arabic Language, Culture, Vocabulary

!لا تَفْجَعُـــــــــــــوا يا أَصْدِقَــــــــــائي (Don’t panic, my friends!)

Today’s post is not yet another vulgar compilation of الكلام الفاحش (profanities) such as the ones you can often run into on the Web in almost any language… Not at all.

What you will find here is a quick intro to rather “classier” examples and paradigms of how insults are proffered in classical Arabic: العَرَبِيَّــــــــة الفُصْحَــــــــــى.

Let us for now focus on “الأبجديــــــــــــات” (“the basics.”)  

Probably the most common swear word in classical Arabic is “تَبًّــــــــــا” (read “Tabban”), which can come alone, as in the interjection “تَبًّــــــــــا” (“damn!”), or “اللَّعْنَــــــــــــة” (literally “damnation.”)

Before we go further, notice with me one particularly interesting observation about the word “لعْنَــــــة“, which, to my knowledge, has never been picked up anywhere: Its trilateral root, ل–ع–ن” is intrinsically linked to its anagram “ن–ع–ل“, which forms the word “نعل” meaning a “shoe.”

In addition to the fact that a shoe may ordinarily step on dirty things (نجاســــــات), such a linguistic connection between the Arabic words of “damnation” and “shoe” may help explain why throwing it at someone is culturally tantamount to a strong insult within the Arab world.

You may recall the images of a group of Iraqis throwing their shoes at a falling statue of صدَّام حُسين (Saddam Hussein) in the Spring of 2003, or more recently the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at جورج بوش الإبن (George W. Bush Junior) during a press conference in Baghdad in 2008, prompting a huge buzz and countlessly many political jokes at a time when the former US President was about to end his second term, and leaving many Americans and Europeans wondering: Just why the shoes?!

Even today, in the دَارِجَــــــــــة (informal Arabic) spoken in the Maghreb countries of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, you will find people saying “يَنْعَـــــــل ” (a verb that sounds like the Arabic word for “shoe”) instead of “يَلْعَــــــن” (the properly designated word for “damn.”)

At any rate, these expressions can also be directed towards someone who, for one reason or another, earned your wrath. For example:

                    • تَبًّــــــــــا لك” or “اللَّعْنَــــــــــــة عليك” (“Damn you/Get lost”)
                    • لعنـــــــة الله عليك” (“God damn you!”), which is essentially telling someone “!اذهب الى الجحيـــــــم” (“Go to hell!”)
                    • ! ويــــــحك” (“Shame on you!”)

But then, why stop there?

You can, of course, still with style, be even more explicitly descriptive about your target by adding:

  • …يا أيُّهــــــــــــا” (“O You…”)
          • If the person is acting stupid:
                      • !المغفـل… (…imbecile!)
                      • الأحمـــق(…fool)
                      • الأبله… (…idiot/feeble-minded)
                      • الغبي… (…moron)
                      • البليـــد… (…dunce)
                      • المُتَخَلِّــــــــــف عَقْلِيًّـــــــــــا / …المعتوه (…mentally retard)
                      • الأرعن… (…cretin)
                      • المُهَرِّج… (…buffoon)
                      • البَهْلَـــــــــوان… (…clown)
                      • الجَـــــــاهل… (…ignoramus)
                      • المُنهزم فِكْــــــــرياً (“intellectually defeated”, close to the English “intellectually challenged”)

Example:  “!تَبًّـــــا! دَعْنِي وَشَأْنِي يا أيُّهَا الأرعن، إن تَصَرُّفك هذا يَلِيقُ بِبَهْلَوَان

  (“Darn! Spare me, you cretin, your behavior is truly worthy of a clown!“)

          • If the person is acting very low:
                      • الصُعْلوك… (…rascal)
                      • الوَغـــــد… (…scoundrel)
                      • البغيـــــــض… (…creep)
                      • الحقير… (…lowlife)
                      • الفاشل… (…loser)
                      • النذل… (…depraved)
                      • أسفل السَّـــــــافليـــــــن / …السافل… (literally “the lowest of the lowest”; scum of the earth)
                      • عُرَّة القوم (“the shame of the nation”, “national embarrassment”)
                      • اللئيم… (…ignoble person)
                      • القَذِر… (…dirty wretch)
                      • المعفن… (…rotten)
                      • المنحط أخلاقِيًــــــا… (…immoral)

 A forum member on, the Number One Internet portal devoted to Soccer in the Arab world, says:
“!مكان هذا الصعلوك المعفن دائماً في الخطط التي تعتمد على لاعب وحيد في خانة الهجوم”

  (“The position of this rotten rascal is always in the tactics that rely on a single player in the offense!“)

          • If the person does not have a bad personality—just no personality at all 🙂
                      • التافه… (…petty person)
                      • السخيف… (…silly person)
                      • الساذج… (…simpleton)
                      • الفارغ… (literally “empty”)
                      • من لا خير فيك / …معــــــدوم الجدوى / …معــــــدوم الفـــــــائدة… (…good-for-nothing) 
                      • السفســــــــــاف… (…pettifogger)
                      • المتذلل (…sycophant) 
 Example: “!يا له من فيلم سخيــــف، لقد ضيَّعتُ ساعتين كاملتين من عمري
(“What a silly movie, I’ve lost two whole hours of my life!“)
          • If your target is deceitful:
                      • المنافق… (…hypocrite)
                      • المداهـــن / …المتملِّق… (…adulator)
                      • ذو اللونين /  ذو الوجهين (double-faced, double-dealer—Notice that when preceded by “يا” (“O…”), the right spelling becomes “ذا اللونين / ذا الوجهين“)
                      • الدَّجٌّـــــــــــــال / المُشَعـــــــــــوذ (…charlatan)
                      • عين الخداع (…”snake eyes”, but here literally “eye of deceit”)
 Exampleلقد كُنتَ مخطئاً حينما وضعتَ كل ثقتك في هذا المُشعــــــوذ
(“You were wrong when you placed all your trust into this charlatan“)
In a later post, we will go through what makes the “next level” of insulting in classical Arabic, which is classified as لون أدبـــــــــي (a literary art) in its own right: Based on المَجَـــــــــاز (metaphor) and often compared to satire, this literary art is known in Arabic as الهِجَــــــــــــــــــــاء.

عرفت الشَّر لا للشر لكـــــن لتوقيـــــه »
« ومن لا يعرف الشَّر من الخير يقع فيــــه

« I learnt about evil not for an evil purpose, only to prevent it
Whoever does not distinguish evil from good is bound to commit it »

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  1. الفخراني:

    useful post ^_^ … thanks