Money talks

“Money” in Arabic is نَقد (naqd, pl. نُقود nuqūd); the root verb means “to pay in cash.” “Currency” is عُملة (ʿumlah), from the root عَمِلَ (ʿamila), meaning “to work,” so عُملة also means (and originally meant?) “wages.” If you’re in a shop and want to ask about a price, stick to something simple: كَم هُوَ هٰذا؟ (kam huwa hādhā), “how much is this?” Definitely substitute the specific word for whatever you want to buy (for هٰذا) if you know it.

There are so many different currencies in circulation in the various Arab nations that this is easier to do as a table. Without trying to invent my own criteria for what is or is not an Arabic-speaking nation, I’m just going to go with the member states of the Arab League. This makes things simple and legitimate, and gives you a sense of the “Arab World” such as it is; the only two states that are not members or observers in the Arab League, despite Arabic being one of their official languages, are Chad and Israel. Also, we get to see how the names of these countries are written in Arabic.

It must be noted that while currency names repeat, these are all separate currencies; the Iraqi Dinar has as much to do with the Jordanian Dinar as the US and Canadian Dollars have to do with one another. Some common names to keep in mind:

  • Dinar (دينار) which derives from the Latin denarius
  • Dirham (درهم), from the Greek drachma
  • Rial or Riyal (ريال), from the Spanish real
  • Qirsh (قرش), from an Ottoman currency called the qurush
  • Lira (ليرة), from the Ottoman currency that took its name from the Venetian currency, which took its name from the Roman librae (from which the British Pound is also derived, so you may see “Pound” and “Lira” used interchangeably)
Country Main currency Sub currency (1/100 unless specified)
Algeria (الجَزائر, al-jazāʾir) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Bahrain (البَحرَين, al-baḥrayn) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) فِلس (fils, Fils)
Comoros (جُزُر القُمُر, juzur al-qumur) فرَنك قُمُري (frank qumurī, Franc) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Djibouti (جيبوتي, jībūtī) فرَنك (frank, Franc) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Egypt (مِصر, miṣr) جَنيه مِصري (janīh miṣrī or ganīh miṣrī, Pound) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)
Eritrea (إرِترِيا, iritriyā) (OBSERVER) ناكفا (nākfā, Nakfa) سَنت (sant, Cent)
Iraq (العِراق, al-ʿirāq) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) فِلس (fils, Fils) (1/1000)
Jordan (الأُردُن, al-urdun) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) (1/10)قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)فِلس (fils, Fils) (1/1000)
Kuwait (الكُوَيت, al-kuwayt) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) فِلس (fils, Fils) (1/1000)
Lebanon (لُبنان, lubnān) ليرة (lirah, Lira) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)
Libya (ليبيا, lībyā) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) (1/1000)
Mauritania (موريتانيا, mūrītānyā) أُوقية (uwqiyah, Ouguiya) خُمس (khums, Khoums) (1/5)
Morocco (المَغرِب, al-maghrib) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) سَنتيم (santīm, Santeem)
Oman (عُمان, ʿumān) رِيال (riyāl, Rial) بَيسة (baysah, Baisa) (1/1000)
Palestine (فِلَسطين, filasṭīn) N/A N/A
Qatar (قَطَر, qaṭar) رِيال (riyāl, Riyal) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham)
Saudi Arabia (السَعودية, al-saʿūdīyah) رِيال (riyāl, Riyal) هَلَلة (halalah, Halala)قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh) (1/20)
Somalia (الصومال, al-ṣūmāl) شِلِن (shillin, Shilling) سَنت (sant, Santi)
Sudan (السودان, al-sūdān) جُنَيه سوداني (junayh sūdānī, Pound) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)مِليم (milīm, Milim) 1/1000
>Syria (سورِيا, sūriyā) ليرة سورية (lirah sūrīyah, Lira) قِرش (qirsh, Qirsh)
Tunisia (تونِس, tūnis) دينار (dīnār, Dinar) مِليم (milīm, Milim) 1/1000
United Arab Emirates (الإمارات العَرَبية المُتَّحِدة, al-imārāt al-ʿarabīyah al-muttaḥidah) دِرهَم (dirham, Dirham) فِلس (fils, Fils)
Yemen (اليَمَن, al-yaman) رِيال (riyāl, Rial) فِلس (fils, Fils)

Make a name for yourself

Let’s look at the parts of the Arabic name. As we go through them we’ll put together a couple of sample names, those of the famous 12th century warlord Saladin and of the 9th century theologian Ibn Hanbal.

The word “name” is اِسم (ism), which specifically refers to someone’s given (personal) name but is used in any phrases where the word “name” would be needed. For example, you might want to ask:

“what is your name?” = ما اِسمُكَ (mā ismuka, masculine) or ما اِسمُكِ (mā ismuki, feminine)

NOTE: this is the Modern Standard Arabic way to phrase the question, which I can tell you from personal experience will get you blank stares in the Arab world as often as it will get you an actual answer. I am not a colloquial Arabic guy, but here are a few regional variations (in transliteration only since they’re primarily spoken):

  • Egypt: ismak eh? (masc) or ismik eh? (fem)
  • Gulf: shismak? (masc) or shismik? (fem)
  • Lebanese: shoo ismak? (masc) or shoo ismik? (fem)

“my name is _____” = _____ اِسمي (ismī _____)

So اِسم refers to the given name, which may be anything (Google “Arabic names” for lots of lists), but one fairly common type of name involves the construction _____ عَبد (ʿabd _____, masc) or _____ عَمة (ʿamat _____, fem), which means “servant of _____.” The blank is filled in either with الله (Allāh) or with any of the names of God, so even though the exact translation varies by the word choice the real translation is “servant of God.”

Saladin’s given name was يوسُف (Yūsuf), and Ibn Hanbal’s was أحمَد (Aḥmad).

The next part of the name is usually the نَسَب (nasab) or patronymic. This is where the person’s lineage is described, usually one (father) or two (grandfather) levels deep but potentially more in theory (rulers who wanted to trace their lineage back to a particularly important figure would string ancestor after ancestor until their got to the one they wanted to emphasize, which could make their names quite long). The phrase is _____ اِبن (ibn _____, “son of _____”) or _____ بِنت (bint _____, “daughter of _____”). Unless it’s written at the very beginning of a name (or a shortened name) or sentence, اِبن (ibn) is shortened to بِن (bin), and that is abbreviated in translation as “b.”

Saladin used only his father’s name, making his name with patronymic يوسُف بِن أيوب (Yūsuf b. Ayyūb). Ibn Hanbal went back to his grandfather, so his name (so far) is أحمَد بِن مُحَمَد بِن حَنبَل (Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Ḥanbal).

The last two parts are related and usually aren’t found together in the same name because they are both usually used as surnames. They are the لَقَب (laqab), which prior to modern times would have described some quality of the person or his/her work (the 8th-9th century caliph Harun al-Rashid was called “al-Rashid” or “the rightly guided”) but today is passed down like a surname, and the نِسبة (nisbah), which can also be passed down like a surname but is used to identify the person’s birthplace or tribal name (the infamous Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was from the Jordanian city of Zarqa).

Saladin had a laqab but did not typically use a nisbah. His laqab, which as far as I know he assumed for himself, is where we get the name “Saladin” from: صَلاح الدين (ṣalāḥ al-dīn, or “righteousness of the faith”). So his full name was صَلاح الدين يوسُف بِن أيوب (Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf b. Ayyūb). Ibn Hanbal used a nisbah, and his full name was أحمَد بِن مُحَمَد بِن حَنبَل ابو عَبد الله الشَيباني (Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Ḥanbal Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Shaybānī). Shayban is a tribal name, so this identifies him as a member of/descendent from that tribe.

“But wait!” you say, maybe. What’s that ابو عَبد الله (abū ʿabd Allāh) business in the middle of Ibn Hanbal’s name? Well, when an Arab has a child, he or she is also entitled to use what’s called a كُنية (kunyah), which is a nickname that identifies the person as “father of” (أبو, abū) or “mother of” (أُم, umm) his or her eldest child (whose ism follows “abu” or “umm” as the case may be). Some folks incorporate this into their full name, others name use it as their given name or even as a pseudonym of sorts).

“Al-Qaeda” or “Al-Qaida”? How about neither?

I do my best to restrict my political and current events (apart from holidays and other Nice Things) writing to my shrill and unserious blog, “and that’s the way it was,” to which I’m helpfully linking so you can easily block it or have a word with my complaints staff or whatever. I did clearly break this rule once, when I explained the etymology of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s first name, but only because it’s an interesting story if you’re in to languages (specifically, in this case, Arabic and Persian) and how they have related to one another historically, and also because I wanted to think about something other than the actual Boston bombing.

I’m sort of, but only sort of, breaking that rule again, because I read an AP article (via, on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, that went with “al-Qaida” rather than the far more commonly used “al-Qaeda.” I did not realize this, but “al-Qaida” is apparently what the AP’s stylebook requires. Obviously “al-Qaeda” is pretty ubiquitous in American media outside of the AP, although I think “al-Qaida” is used fairly often in the European press (at least more often than it’s used here). So who’s right; the AP and the damn Europeans or the bulk of the American media? As the title of this post already gave away, neither one, really.

The Arabic word in question is القاعِدة, which means things like “foundation,” “base,” “basis,” and “groundwork.” Anybody who has read my handy guide to Arabic transliteration (go ahead, I’ll wait) should know that if we wanted to be ultra-pedantic and exacting, the proper transliteration for this word is al-qāʿidah. The “h” is somewhat optional, although omitting it (in my opinion) doesn’t do full justice to the ة character that ends the word. But that “ʿ” character in the middle is really not optional, as leaving it out actually deletes part of the word’s triconsonantal root (in this case قَعَدَ, qaʿada, “to sit, stay, abide”) from the transliteration. Allowing for the fact that newspapers tend not to print macrons over long vowels and probably don’t have the ʿ character in their typeface, I’d expect a proper transliteration to look something like “al-qa’idah” or “al-qa’ida.” So “al-Qaida” is a little closer to being right than “al-Qaeda,” because it gets the short vowel sound a little more accurately (although in any case the American habit of pronouncing the word something like “alkayda” is completely wrong), but both versions are making the very serious error of leaving a letter from the original Arabic completely unrepresented in the transliteration.

For my own writing, I went with “al-qa’idah” or at least “al-qa’ida” for a while, nerd that I am, until I realized that the point of writing stuff was so that people could stumble upon it and hopefully read it. Great revelation there, yes? Anyway, search engines being what they are, I decided to sell out to Big Inaccuracy and go with “al-Qaeda.” I feel dirtier about it, but not that much.

Eating meals

One of the most popular Ramadan customs is the evening meal that breaks the day’s fast (literally “breakfast” even though it happens in the evening), called إفطار (ifṭār), taken from the root فَطَرَ (faṭara), which has a more archaic meaning of “to break” (or “to split,” or “to cleave”) but which in modern usage usually means “to break a fast/to have breakfast.” With that in mind, and because I’m always looking for topics that are tenuously connected to something happening in the world, this post will be about eating food. I’m not going to get into words for particular kinds of foods here (maybe next time?); we’ll stick to basic things like the names of meals for now.

“to eat” = أكَلَ (akala), طَعِمَ (ṭaʿima, has a more refined meaning, like “savor” or “relish”), or تَناوَلَ (tanāwala, reflexive form of a verb that means “to give,” so “to give to oneself”)

“food” = غَذاء (ghadhāʾ), derived from a verb that means (archaic), “to have breakfast,” or طَعام (ṭaʿām, also could be translated as “nourishment,” or “repast”)

“meal” = وَجبة (wajbah), from a root وَجَبَ (wajaba) that has to do with “duty” and “necessity”

“breakfast = the aforementioned إفطار (ifṭār), or (from the same root) فُطور (fuṭūr)

“brunch” = وَجبة بَين الإفطار (wajbah bayn al-ifṭār), “meal between breakfast,” or برونش (brūnsh)

“lunch” = غَداء (ghadāʾ), not to be confused with (see above) غَذاء (“food”)

“dinner” or “supper” = عَشاء (ʿashāʾ), or طَعام العَشاء (ṭaʿām al-ʿashāʾ)

“snack” = وَجبة خَفيفة (wajbah khafīfah), “light meal,” or possibly مَزة (mazah) from Persian

Family vocab VII: husbands and wives

I’m lucky my wife never reads this blog, because she’d be a little miffed that I forgot spouses when I was doing family vocab a while back. Anyway, this is blessedly simple; the same root rendered masculine for husband and feminine for wife.

The root is زَوَجَ (zawaja), meaning “to pair” or “to couple.” “Husband” is زَوج (zawj), while “wife” is the feminine variant زَوجة (zawjah).

Ramadan Mubarak!

(at least for some folks)

This evening marks the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan or رَمَضان (ramaḍān) in the Americas and parts of Africa (elsewhere the start of the month will come a day later). Tradition holds that it was near the end of the month of Ramadan, on the “Night of Power” (لَيلة القَدر, laylat al-qadr) that Muhammad received his first revelation, the first of the series of revelations that would comprise the Qur’an (قُرآن, Qurʾān). The specific day of the Night of Power is up for debate, but almost everyone agrees that it was one of the last five odd-numbered nights of the month, with most going with the 27th as opposed to the 21st, 23rd, 25th, or 29th.

As with the beginning of all months in the Islamic calendar, the first day of the month is identified astronomically, by observance of the new moon. Visual confirmation is the only true method of determining the beginning of the month, but as astronomy has improved, so has our ability to determine in advance when the month will begin. Start days may vary by a day depending on region and observance, so Muslims in the Americas will begin the fast tomorrow, while Muslims in the rest of the world will start celebrating tomorrow evening in preparation for the first day of the fast to begin on Wednesday.

I assume most folks are familiar with the basics of Ramadan, the primary obligation of which is fasting and abstinence from worldly things (food and drink, but also tobacco and caffeine products, sexual relations, and harsh language or behavior) from sunrise to sunset. The holy month is said to begin after sunset on the day before the fast starts, since that evening is given over to celebration and preparation for the next day’s fast. It is common practice to eat two meals per day during Ramadan, a pre-dawn meal called suhoor, سُحور (suḥūr, from سَحَر, saḥar, meaning the period just before dawn), and a larger meal after sunset called iftar, إفطار (ifṭār, from the root فَطَرَ, faṭara, “to break” and having the same literal meaning as our “breakfast”). Suhoor is typically a small family meal, but iftar is often enjoyed communally, perhaps at a buffet; when I lived in the Gulf all the hotels would put out a great buffet spread after sundown every evening during Ramadan. Many Muslims break the fast by eating dates, as Muhammad is said to have done, after which they attend to the evening prayer and then enjoy the large evening meal.

The fast is required of all Muslims upon reaching puberty, so children are exempt as are the elderly, sick, and otherwise infirm. Women who are menstruating, pregnant, or breast-feeding (now I sound like a Pharma commercial) are also exempt from the fast, though they will often attempt to fast anyway (hopefully in consultation with a doctor), and it’s generally expected that any fast days they do miss should be made up after the month is over, whenever they are physically able (the same goes for those who are ill during Ramadan but later recover). Also long-distance travelers are exempt from the fast (with the expectation that they’ll make up the days they miss), but this was more an issue centuries ago, for traders on long caravan journeys, than it is today when air travel makes getting from one place to another so fast. Older children may actually try to perform the fast if they are able, because any completed fasts before they are old enough to be required to fast are essentially “banked” for them, so they’re covered if they are unable to fast in a particular year as adults.

Other Ramadan observances include lengthier prayers and Qur’an readings; many Muslims will try to read through the entire Qur’an by the end of the month. Charitable giving is also usually increased, since it is believed that good deeds performed during Ramadan count more than good deeds performed at other times of the year. Decorations may be hung in homes and public places, not unlike what we do around Christmas, but these are typically meant for children, to make the month enjoyable for them. The overall intent of the Ramadan observance is to turn one’s attention away from the things of this world and focus on the spiritual.

As far as Ramadan greetings are concerned, the two I’d stick with are رَمَضان مُبارَك (ramaḍān mubārak), “Blessed Ramadan!” and رَمَضان كَريم (ramaḍān karīm), “Generous Ramadan!”

Also, Ramadan greetings in Persian and Turkish (they’re surprisingly almost exactly the same)

To move (relocate)

I realize that things have been quiet around here for a while, but this entry might help explain why.

“My family and I have moved to Virginia” = قَد تَنَقَّلنا أنا وَ عائلتي إلى وِلايةِ فيرجينيا (qad tanaqqalnā anā wa ʿāʾilatī ilá wilāyat fīrjīniyā)

Couple of things to note here: the root نَقَلَ (naqala) is one of many ways to translate our verb “move,” but it’s the one that deals specifically with relocation as opposed to other kinds of motion. I’m using the form V version of the root, تَنَقَّلَ (tanaqqala), because form V is reflexive (a literal translation would be “we moved ourselves”). The particle قَد (qad) added before the past tense verb changes the verb from past (“we moved”) to present perfect (“we have moved”). The word وِلاية (wilāyah) means “state,” so the literal translation is “the state of Virginia,” and it can be omitted but I wanted to keep it in to be comprehensive. Finally there’s the manner of representing a foreign sound (in this case the “v” in “Virginia”) that doesn’t occur in Arabic. Usually in the case of “v” the default is its voiceless partner, “f” (ف), as I’ve used here, but you may also encounter the letter و, which sounds like “u” or “w,” maybe because in Persian that letter can also sound like “v,” or the non-alphabetic character ڤ (like a ف but with three dots above, since a ف with two dots above would look just like a ق).

Anyway, that’s why things haven’t been happening around here of late, but I’ll try to do better moving forward.