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‘Cairo Says’: How an Instagram Account Became Egypt’s Slang Dictionary

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‘Cairo Says’: How an Instagram Account Became Egypt’s Slang Dictionary

In every corner of the world, language is a vital part of human connection. The words used and phrases spoken reflect more than mere tools for communication, they express cultures, value systems, and feelings.

For millennia, Egypt has been intertwined with several languages due to its colonized history. Yet, Arabic ultimately instilled itself as the dominant language in this multilingual hub.

Arabic in Egypt has different dialect variations and styles, and ‘street-swagger’ Arabic is commonly used in Egypt.

Created in 2020 by the three Samman siblings, Clara, Patricia, and Chris, ‘Cairo Says’ aims to bridge generational and cultural gaps by helping people understand Egypt’s commonly used words and phrases.

“We [siblings] were in French schools our entire lives and we continued studying abroad,”” Clara Samman, 24-year old Program Officer tells Egyptian Streets. “ We were always used to using Egyptian filler words or slang that is rooted in Egypt, such as yaani (somehow) or fakes (nevermind) and we were always asked to translate it for our foreign friends.”

 

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The eldest Samman, who founded ‘Cairo Says’ with her two younger siblings, explains that one of the main inspirations behind the Instagram account is how interesting it was to experience cultural intersection while living abroad.

Patricia and Chris also share that they are keen on posting photographs of contemporary Egypt, including downtown Cairo, the Hanging Church, markets, and more on their account, because a big part of bridging a cultural gap is showing that the country is not all pyramids.

 

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A post shared by Cairo Says (@cairo.says)

“Our main purpose is to break any cultural barriers. We want to promote the Egyptian language, and to depict how even in the Arab world, there are different dialects and meanings to the same words,” Clara underscores.

She explains that the idea came to them during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, when they found that there were many words that their parents – who are Egyptian – did not understand.

“It was not only a cultural gap, but a generational one as well,” Samman says.

Moreover, ‘Cairo Says’ also use their platform for highlighting important issues, including climate change and sexual harassment.

“When the movement against sexual harassment began gaining momentum, we picked la’a (No) as one of our words, because having a platform that can raise awareness is important to us three,” Clara explains.

 

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In the form of witty one-liners and relatable explanations, the words picked by ‘Cairo Says’ are intricately and delicately picked.

“They [words] sometimes come naturally to us as well,” 21-year-old researcher, Patricia Samman, explains. “When we are sitting with friends and an obscure word is said, we write it down, brainstorm the situation and context to which it is used, and then we draft the definitions. When the three of us are all in agreement, we publish.”

In their vision, the Samman siblings kept in mind that foreigners are often only exposed to formal Arabic.

Their aim [Cairo Says] is to introduce people to what is beyond the surface level of Arabic to help people communicate and integrate more within Egyptian society.

“Mostly, our audience consists of 50 percent people living in Egypt,” the Samman siblings say. “But we also get direct messages on our Instagram from foreigners who live in Egypt and abroad asking us about pronunciations and meanings of words.”

Although the Samman siblings faced many challenges in their journey — such as starting an account with no social media or graphic design experience — they learned to do everything from scratch. From visual to audio elements, ‘Cairo Says’ is constantly seeing opportunities for growth.

Sensitivity and inclusivity are also at the forefront of the values of ‘Cairo Says’ as the project considers people’s different responses to words and phrases.

“We believe that the Egyptian dialect is so unique. Sometimes expressions are pure and loving, while others are hilarious,” the Samman siblings tell Egyptian Streets. “It is interesting to explore how much language influences communities, and how it helps people stay connected to their roots.”

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Farah Rafik is a graduate from the American University in Cairo (AUC) with a dual degree in Multimedia Journalism and Political Science. After being an active participant in Model United Nation (MUN) conferences both locally and internationally, Farah discovered her love for writing. When she isn’t writing about Arts & Culture for Egyptian Streets, she is busy watching films and shows to review. Writing isn’t completed without a coffee or an iced matcha latte in hand—that she regularly spills. She occasionally challenges herself in reading challenges on Goodreads, and can easily read a book a day.

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