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Seven Not Quite Translatable Words in Egyptian Arabic

June 10, 2015
Credit: MaybeTomorrowProject.com

Although many like to think that translation is a simple word-to-word, fill in the blanks-type exercise, the existence of words in one language that can’t be translated accurately into others consistently demonstrate how horribly wrong this idea is. The seven examples given below lack an accurate, one-word translation into English because in these cases and many others, translating words and phrases is an exercise in translating culture. 1. بواب (Bawab) Representing so much more than a doorman, the bawab is one part car-washer, one part errand-runner, one part security guard, and two parts enforcer of prevailing societal moral codes, unless maybe there are some bribes involved. The bawab has the potential to become your best friend or your worst nightmare—sometimes managing to switch back and forth through both these roles over the span of just a few days–doing everything from helping you break into your own apartment after leaving your keys inside to feeding information about your real or imagined romantic life to your landlord. Apartments that come with a ‘hands-off bawab’ are the most sought-after dwellings in Cairo’s ex-pat apartment rental market thanks to the reasons mentioned above. 2….

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