Please and thank you (and sorry), part II: you’re sorry, so sorry

As in English, in Arabic there are two usual ways to apologize (and I mean a real apology for having wronged someone, not in the sense of “pardon me,” which we’ll cover in a later post), the simple “I’m sorry” and the more emphatic/formal “I apologize.” These two words, “sorry” and “apologize,” though they are very closely related, come from two completely different roots. “Sorry” comes from the Old English sārig, whose root also gives us words like “sore” and “sorrow,” and means to be pained or distressed. “Apology” comes from the Greek apologos, from which we also get apologia, and which means “to speak in defense.” As it is in English, so it is in Arabic.

Without a doubt, you will be much more likely to use and hear “I’m sorry,” which is أنا آسِف (anā āsif), or just آسِف (āsif). This comes from the root اسف (asafa), meaning “to regret” or “to feel sorry for” something. It’s not often encountered as a verb, but the verbal noun آسف is very common. This is a simple declarative sentence, with the verb “to be,” which you should recall is almost always just implied in Arabic when in present tense, so this is a literal translation, not an idiomatic one. “I am sorry about that” would be أنا آسِف لِذٰلِك (anā āsif li-dhālik). Much less frequently used (in Arabic, but important in Persian) is مُتأسِف (mutaʾassif), the active participle of the form V of اسف, which is reflexive and really emphasizes the idea that I, myself, am sorry.

However, if you want to sound more formal or be more emphatic, you may want to say that you apologize. In this case you will turn to the root عذر (ʿadhara), which itself means “to absolve from guilt” or “to excuse.” Form VIII of that root, and remember that form VIII usually has a reflexive meaning, is اِعتَذَرَ (iʿtadhara), and with its reflexive aspect it means “to absolve oneself from guilt” or “to excuse oneself”; i.e., to speak in one’s own defense, or “to apologize.” “I apologize to you” would be أعتَذَرُ لِكُم (aʿtadharu likum) while “I apologize for this (that)” would be أعتَذَرُ مِن هٰذا (aʿtadharu min hādhā). “Apology” is اِعتِذار (iʿtidhār), and “I offer my apology” would be أقدَمُ اِعتِذاري (aqdamu iʿtidhārī).

If you’re just saying a quick “Sorry!”, you may want some variation of عذر, either عذراً (ʿadhran) or مَعذِرةً (maʿdhiratan).


عاشوراء (Ashura)

Sundown today marked the beginning of the Islamic holiday known as Ashura or عاشوراء (ʿāshūrāʾ), notable primarily for its significance in Shiʿi religious identity. This post by Dr. Michael Collins Dunn at the Middle East Institute describes the meaning behind the holiday. This is the tenth day of the month of Muharram (محرم), or in other words the tenth day of the new Islamic year, and it takes its name from the name of the Arabic numeral ۱۰ (our 10), عشر (ʿashr).

Both Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims recognize Ashura as a holiday, the provenance of which goes back to Muhammad who advised his followers to fast on this day (he identified it as the day when the Israelites escaped from Egypt). He may have intended that it would correspond to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which is also the tenth day of the new year on the Hebrew calendar. However, the day has far deeper meaning for Shiʿa, as it was on this day in the Hijri year 61 when Imam Husayn (حُسَين), the son of Ali (علي), was martyred in battle with the armies of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I (يَزيد) at Karbala, in modern Iraq. Because it is such an important holiday for the Shiʿa, and Shiʿism is so much a part of the Iranian national identity now, and mostly because I always do these explanations of Islamic holidays here on the Arabic blog even though there’s no particular reason why that should be, I decided to write more about Ashura at my Persian blog. If you’re interested, please go check it out.

Disaster in the Philippines

I’m very late on this, but the devastation caused in the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan is enormous, with at least 10,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, most undoubtedly into refugee camps or worse. Please give what you can, if you are able. I gave to UNICEF this evening and also sent an SMS donation to the World Food Program, but there are many ways to contribute. See here, and here, for lists of organizations, and if you have any other suggestions please leave them in comments.


Another new year

This blog has previously covered the Gregorian New Year, and on my Persian blog we’ve talked about Nowruz, which is also celebrated in many Arab countries, but sundown today marked the start of the new year on the Islamic calendar. So happy 1435 everybody!

There’s not a lot to talk about in terms of holiday customs, because the Islamic New Year is usually marked quietly, perhaps with some prayer and reflection on Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina, the هِجرة (hijrah), which is the event that marks the year 1 in the Islamic calendar. The next ten days, the first ten of the year, are not particularly celebratory, especially for the شيعة (shīʿah) community, which commemorates the anniversary of the events leading up to the martyrdom of إمام حُسين (Imām Ḥusayn, ʿAlī’s son and the third Imam) on the tenth, the day known as عاشوراء‎ (ʿĀshūrāʾ).

As was the case at the Gregorian New Year, “new year” is is رأس السَنة (raʾs al-sanah) or رأس العام (raʾs al-ʿām). To specify that you are talking about the Islamic New Year, you might want to say رأس السَنة الهِجرية (raʾs al-sanah al-hijrīyah) or رأس العام الهِجري (raʾs al-ʿām al-hijrī), هِجري being the name of the Islamic lunar calendar whose year 1 is commemorated by the Hijrah. That kind of specification is only important on the occasions when the Islamic and Gregorian New Years fall around the same time; most of the time the Hijri lunar calendar is out of phase with our solar calendar and it’s pretty obvious which New Year you’re talking about.

If “raʾs al-sanah” sounds familiar to you, maybe that’s because it sounds so much like the name of the Jewish New Year, “Rosh Hashanah,” and that’s about right, since Hebrew and Arabic are branches of the same Semitic root language.

“Happy New Year!” = سَنة جَديدة سَعيدة (sanat jadīdat saʿīdah) or عام جَديد سَعيد (ʿām jadīd saʿīd)