Translating Arabic expressions into English can be a challenge. If you’ve tried it, you know the struggle to explain phrases that simply won’t commute. But language can also be entertaining, right? So, we’ve got a linguistic challenge for you this month because this actually makes zero sense in English.
Looking for a subtle way (although there is nothing subtle about being Arab) to call someone out for being a bit dull? Try hitting them with the “Dammak T2eel.” But try not to throw Dammak T2eel around in front of people, lest you come off as a bit too “t2eel” for your own good. Then “Dammak Khafeef” is often used to describe someone charming or funny.
Interestingly, these Arabic phrases are often used to describe someone’s natural disposition, almost as if it’s an inherent part of their being. For instance, someone might say, “Oh, she’s such a kind and helpful person, but dammou t2eel.” It’s a somewhat derogatory term that implies you can do nothing to change your fundamental personality traits – you’re either “khafeef” or unlikeable, and that’s just how it is. However, it’s worth noting that even though these phrases can come off as unfavorable, they can also be used playfully or lightheartedly.
But even these seemingly simple ways of translating the phrases still don’t cut it or carry the whole sentiment. So we asked people how they’d translate it to a non-Arabic speaker:
- Tala Hamdani: “That’s impossible to translate.”
- Alya Mooro: “You’re either funny or not funny? Lol doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.”
- Mervette Imam: “You’re hilarious to the core. Your blood/DNA is either so funny or depressing.”
- Budreya Faisal: “Yeah you’re not cute, or, okay you’re cute.”
- Tara Dawoud: “You’re either very funny or very cringe.”
- Rafik Al-Hariri: “You’re a brick.”
- Marzieh Eslami: “You are cute & funny. In farsi, we say ‘baa mazze'” (translating to they are sweet)
- Dalia Al-Dujaili: “Light hearted, carefree…etc.”