Translating Musical Notes: My Piano Keyboard Diagram

Are you a professional musician or a music student who is only familiar with either one of the musical note naming conventions and have a hard time memorizing/studying/remembering the other set of names?  

Look no further, for you can now download a piano keyboard diagram that I have compiled in pdf format, initially to cater for my own needs and that I have thought to share. 

The background is that following a thirty-three-year pause, I finally decided last year to resume the piano lessons that I had initiated in Beirut, at the tender age of 9. 

I have to admit it has been thrilling not only to get back on track with note-reading, playing new tunes and fixing whatever wrongs the long years of inactivity did to my hands and posture, but it was also a pure joy to rediscover, from an adult (and a language professional) point of view, the wonders of musical notes that constitute by all means a language in their own right.

As a globetrotter and a polyglot, it was inevitable for me to search for musical scores and partitions to play from other countries, namely the English-speaking ones, since these countries and their language are the most prolific in terms of music production and enjoy a huge footprint on the net, respectively. 

The major snag to me however, was the different names assigned to notes. Where I was used to Do Re Mi, there was C, D, E etc. And since those letter-names are not assigned according to an alphabetical order they could not be easily associated to their counterparts in the solfège nomenclature. Therefore, I found it imperative, in the initial stages at least, to draft a comparative list with those two sets of names to help me memorize them. 

Eventually, I had the idea of writing the double names on a piano keyboard diagram (cf featured picture here above), that can be easily downloaded, printed and shared. 

One might ask: how come notes are named differently in different countries?

To answer that, I will provide as follows a  brief historical overview on why notes are named differently in various countries.

Most countries in the world use the naming convention based on the solfège syllables that is, Do–Re–Mi–Fa–Sol–La–Si, including ItalySpainFranceRomania, most Latin American countries, GreeceBulgariaTurkeyRussia, and all the Arabic-speaking or Persian-speaking countries.

However, within the English-speaking and Dutch-speaking world, notes are typically represented by the first seven letters of the Latin alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F and G).

This letter-name system is the work of 6th Century Roman Senator and Philosopher Boethius (Boezio in Italian). He used those Latin letters to signify the notes of the two-octave range people were using at the time, which looked like that:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-K-L-M-N-O

Later on, with the expansion of the octave range, the number of used letters shrunk and their sequence changed, ending up with the modern format: C-D-E-F-G-A-B. 

Then almost 5 centuries later, an Italian monk of the Benedictine order by the name of Guido d’Arezzo proposed the Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si configuration which became later the basis of the solfège system.

Guido d’Arezzo first came up with Ut–Re–Mi–Fa–Sol–La that he took from the initial syllables of each of the first six half-lines of the first stanza of the Gregorian hymn Ut queant laxis (Inno di San GIovanni in Italian, or Saint John’s Hymn) which looks as follows:

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It has sometimes been suggested too that the solfège syllables were really derived from dāl, rā’, mīm, fā’, ṣād, lām, tā’ – the syllables of the Arabic solmization system درر مفصّلات Durar Mufaṣṣalāt (meaning “Separated Pearls”) during the Islamic influences in Medieval Europe. However, such claims remain unsubstantiated.
(Source: https://blog.drooble.com/how-did-music-notes-get-their-names/)

Back to the diagram , it is downloadable on the link below in pdf format and can be printed out and/or used on electronic devices according to your needs. 

Hope many of you would find it useful:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B85rx2jdXayCNkI0VlVIc0tnRTA/view?usp=drivesdk&resourcekey=0-1Mef_eDgiiwIY6AncREH7A

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هاشلي بربارة والقمح بالكوارة

من زمان وجاي وأنا بسافر هون وهونيك. وقد ما برمت ولفيت فيي أكدّلكن إنو أحلى من العادات الاجتماعية والدينية اللبنانية ما بشوف. يمكن لأنو بتجمع بين الـCoolness والفخفخة الغربية من ميل، وبين الإيمان والدفا الشرقيين من ميل تاني. وإذا بتسألوني إلي، أحلى مناسبة على قلبي، وأكتر وحدي بتزكرني بزغري هي أكيد عيد البربارة.

على لحن غنية هاشلي بربارة  اللي ألّفا فيلمون وهبي لصباح، كنا أنا وولاد الجيران يللي من عمري نلبس الـMasque أو “الوج” المعمول عشكل الشخصيات السياسية أو شخصيات الكارتونز المشهورة بوقتا (كانو غراندايزر ودايسكي وكودجي آكلين أكتر شي succes عإيامي)، وكنا نحمل حالنا ونروح ندق عبواب سكان البناية يللي كانوا يعطونا مصاري (بين 250 ليرة و5 ليرات للزناكيل بيناتن)، من دون ما ننسى أكيد حلو العيد: القطايف بجوز وبقشطا والمعكرون والمشبك والقمحية.

الفترة يللي عم بحكيلكن عنا كانت بين آخر السبعينات ونصّ التمانينات، يعني بعزّ الحرب الأهلية اللبنانية. وبتذكّر إنو في مرات كتيري كانت الناس تفضّل ما تفتح بوابا بليلة البربارة لأنو كانت تخاف يكون في حراميي مخبايين ورا الماسكات. ومن ورا هالشي خفّت هالعادة. بس أنا منّي وعليي، كل سنة، إذا ساقبت كنت موجودي بلبنان بليلة 3 كانون الأول، بشتري دايمن لإلي وبشرّي كل العيلة ماسكات أو Costumet متل ما دارج هلق، ومنروح نبربر ونضحك ونتحلّى ونصلّي بكنيسة القديسة بربارة بعمشيت.

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كنيسة القديسة بربارة بعمشيت، قضاء جبيل

وبضيعة عمشيت بالزات يللي القديسة بربارة هيي شفيعتا ويللي في كتير من سكانا مسمايين عإسما (بربارة للنسوان وبربر للرجال)، بيعملو كشّافة المنطقة حواجز البربارة (غير حاجز البربارة الشهير هيداك تبع ربطات الخبز) وبيوقفوا السيارات لحتى يضيفوون كبايات بلاستيك مليانة قمحية، بركة العيد.

وعيد البربارة إلو Lexique خاص ناص. ومنشان هيك نقّيت كم كلمة وتعبير من هيدا العيد تحتى نضوّي عليا أكتر ونفهما.

1- عيد البربارة أو البربارة tout court: 

Kalteysen_St._Barbara_Altarpiece_(detail).jpg
تعزيب القديسة بربارة

 

صحيح إنو العيد الرسمي للقديسة هو بـ4 كانون الأول بحسب الرزناما الليتورجيي المارونيي، بس نحنا منعيّدا بـ3 الشهر يعني بليلة العيد. بيقولو إنو القديسة الشهيدة خلقت باليونان أو بتركيا أو ببعلبك. كان بيا رجّال من عبادين الأصنام، ومشان هيك وقتا صارت مسيحيي اضطهدا وقام آخر شي قطعلا راسا بسيفو. وبتقول الأسطورة إنو هيي وهرباني كانت تتنكر تما حدا يعرفا، وفي مرة وهي قاطعا بحقلة قمح، صارت عجيبة خلت القمحات يطول حشيشن وهيك قدرت تتخبى بيناتن، ومن هون صرنا نعمل القمحية بإيامنا.

2- القمحية أو القمح:

بما إنو القمح إلو علاقة قويي بأسطورة القديسة بربارة، كان شي طبيعي إنو يكون إلو مطرح خاص بين أنواع حلو العيد. القمحية هي قمح مسلوق مع يانسون بيتّاكل سخن مع زومو المخلوط بالسكّر والما زهر والما ورد وفوقو قلوبات مشكلة (لوز، جوز، فستق حلبي، صنوبر وزبيب).

القمحات النيّين من نفس الوسقة، بينزرعو بالقطن أو بالتراب جوات جرار فخار، وبينحطوا تحت شجرة عيد الميلاد قدام المغارة يللي مفترض تنعمل دغري بعد عيد البربارة. إذا ربي القمح وصار حشيشو أخضر وطويل من وقتا لليلة عيد الميلاد، بتكون علامة خير وبحبوحة للسنة الجايي.

Wheat
القمح بالمغارة

وفي كمان نظرية بتربط رمزية القمح بالتاريخ الفينيقي للبنان وهي مشروحة بهيدا الفيديو

3- تعو تنبربر: 

الاحتفال بعيد البربارة في منّو فعل: يبربر أو تبربر، يعني يلبس الماسك ويدور يدق عالبواب. ومع إنو المناسبة بالمبدأ هي للولاد بس كمان الكبار أكيد فيون يشاركو، وخدولكن على ضحك وتنكيت.

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4- الوج: 

متل ما قلت بأول هيدا البوست، عإيامي ما كان دارج واحد يلبس Costume كامل متل يللي منشوفن اليوم. كانو دارجين ماسكات بلاستيك تغطيلنا كل وجنا. وأكترية هالوجاه ما كانت كتير حلوي ومن هون إجت عبارة “وج البربارة” يللي بتستعمل تنوصف الأشخاص المش حلوين (مثلاً: لعمى شو فزيّعة، وجا متل وج البربارة).

mask vendor
بيّاع وجاه بربارة بجونية

5- أغاني البربارة، هاشلة وبسيّة:

في كتير ناس بيخلطو بين البربارة وهالويين. صح إنو بيشبهو بعضن بالدق عالبواب وأخد الحلو. بس بربارتنا مميزة لأنو في إلا جمل معروفة بتتغنى وبترافقا متل:

“هاشلة بربارة مع بنات الحارة.”

“بسية بربارة، شو صرلك محتارة، والقمح بالكوارة.”

“بسية بسية القمح من عشية، يا معلمتي حلي الكيس اللّه يبعتلك عريس.”

متل ما منعرف، مفترض أهل البيت يللي بيفتحو الباب يعطو الولاد مصاري وحلو. إذا رضيو الولاد على كمية المصاري والحلو بيغنو:

“أرجيلة فوق أرجيلة، صاحبة البيت زنكيلة.”

وإذا ما رضيوا عن “الغلة” بيغنوا:

“بلاطة فوق بلاطة

صاحبة البيت ض..ة!”

 

وهيك منكون وصلنا لآخر جولتنا بعالم عيد البربارة.

بهالإيام السودا يللي عم تمرق على لبنان بتمنى إنو بركة القديسة بربارة يللي استشهدت لإيمانا على إيد أقرب الناس إلا تحلّ علينا كلنا، وتوصل تضحياتنا لهدفا، ويكونو قمحاتنا مبحبحين للسنة الجايي!

Etymology du Jour: Chal3out!

In light of the perennial upheavals of the Lebanese political landscape, lest you want to get in a brawl with half of your acquaintances over divergent political views (been there, done that!), it would be much safer to vent off your frustration by tackling things from a more innocuous bias, say… etymology!

As Lebanon is going through the worst economic and political stalemate ever, one would think its ruling class would have the decency to moderate its smug attitude, or at least bother to mince its words vis-a-vis the revolting population. But no sir! Lebanon’s politicians never miss the opportunity to grace their audiences with condescending stances complete with patronizing jargon.

The recent use of the word”Chal3out” (pl. Chla3it dual. Chal3outein) on the backdrop of Lebanon’s 17th October 2019 revolt, is a case in point.

giphy

It all began when one of the reviled ministers of the embattled government reportedly said: ” مش لانو نزل شلعوطين انا بدي فل من الحكومة” (translation: “It is not because a “chal3outein” are protesting on the streets that I should resign”). Though initially angering the protesters, “Chal3out” soon became one of this revolution’s catchphrases.

chal3out

But what does Chal3out mean?

Chal3out hence means rabble, wretch, lowlife, vermin and any worthless person in general. While Anis Freyha’s dictionary of Lebanese dialect defines Chal3out as “An easily angered person prone to fighting”, potentially a thug, the term has semantically evolved with time and has now a quantitative, in addition to a qualitative, connotation: Chal3outain is practically a handful of persons, who also happen to be inconsequential.

thug

What is its derivation?

Chal3out’s etymology is unclear. Resonant with “Al3out” (aka Dirt bag) – it does not seem to have a clear derivation neither from classical Arabic, nor from other languages influencing the spoken Lebanese language. So it is very possible that it is simply a homegrown spontaneously occurring linguistic construct.

Calling people who are protesting for their basic rights “Chal3out/Chla3it” – rabble – is appalling enough. But this being uttered by the rabble-rousers themselves, who are a part of the revolt’s root causes, really takes the cake!

 

giphy (1)

Etymology du Jour: Ratch!

In light the perennial upheavals of the Lebanese political landscape, lest you want to get in a brawl with half of your acquaintances over divergent political views (been there, done that!), it would be much safer to vent off your frustration by tackling things from a more innocuous bias, say… etymology!

In between my multiple engagements today, I could not help but write about the newest verbal entry to our ever-degrading Lebanese political mudslinging arena: Ratch! As in l Chaab l ratch!

Tweeted condescendingly by a political activist against the hordes of antagonist compatriots yesterday, what does the expression L Chaab l ratch actually mean and from where it derives?

Ratch, (Ar: رتش – الشعب الرتش), according to Freyha’s dictionary of Lebanese dialect means originally a heap of rags, and by extension riffraff, ragtag, rabble or racaille in French. A Lebanese synonym to Chaab ratch is Chaab hardabasht. In Arabic it is رعاع، أوباش.

Freyha deems the origin of Ratch obscure. Indeed, it does not exist in any of the Syriac, Arabic, Turkish and Persian glossaries I looked up. However, a close cognate, phonetically and semantically is English is the word “Wretch.” Also Italian Stracci/Straccioni (Rags, ragtag) is close.

My personal speculation, based on other similar Lebanese words ending with the “ch” sound, such as laych, aych, abbeddich, afich, afiyyich, etc, where “Ch” is the contraction of Arabic “Chay”” شيء (or Lebanized Chi), leads me to believe that Ratch could be a contracted form of “Aratta chi” that is “shabbiest thing” or “most ragged”.

While political activism is one of the healthiest manifestations of democracies, slander and gratuitous insults simply are not, especially when addressing large swathes of the population (in this case, at least half of it), who are legitimately questioning the possibility of large expenditure of public monies, during one of the most dire economic crisis to hit the country in decades.

Ratch is simply not a nice thing to say, to anyone, under no circumstances.

But after all, it takes one to know one.

Hazzerta, Habboush, Tefehta: The Semitic Apple Connection

If the land of Lebanon could speak, it would tell a lot about its rich civilizational past. And one of the best ways a land can speak to us of its bygone influences is through its toponyms… provided one is curious enough to scrutinize them.

When I started to become inquisitive vis-a-vis the real meanings of our seemingly meaningless – and generally bizarre-sounding – village names, I discovered they were overwhelmingly Syriac. With the years, a postulate set in which considered Syriac as the origin of most of Lebanese toponyms. However, I have recently stumbled upon an even earlier etymological layer, thanks to… Apples!

Last summer as I was driving along the Tarshish road linking central Mount Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley focusing solely on the potholed winding road ahead, I left to my husband the freedom to take in the landscape from the passenger’s seat. As we reached the town of Hazzerta, I heard him say: “Look how many apple plantations there are in this place!”.  Though I could not look sideways to check for myself, I willingly agreed: “It figures. Actually, Hazzurto in Syriac (ܚܰܙܽܘܼܪܬ̊ܳܐ) means just that. Apple!”

A few months later, I came across a tweet about the southern Lebanese town of Habboush claiming its name derived from Syriac ܚܒ̥ܳܫܳܐ (Hbosho), meaning “cell” or “prison.” However, recalling that Hazzurto had a synonym – Habbusho – I was skeptical as to the accuracy of such claims. A quick checkout of the geographical location of Habboush shows it at the entrance of a district called Iqlim al Touffah (in Arabic), which translates as… The Apple District! Yet my doubts lingered on as to the actual origins of the word Habbusho ܚܰܒ̊ܽܘܼܫܳܐ since it does not occur in all of the Syriac dictionaries I looked up. Further research led me to a Jewish Neo-Aramaic glossary of the Aramaic dialects of southwestern Iraq (a.k.a Mesopotamia) which mentions Xabusa as the equivalent of “apple. Considering all of the above leads, it is most certain that Habboush means apple in neo-Aramaic and not prison in Syriac.

Lastly, an acquaintance from the south Lebanese town of Tefehta wondered to me about the name’s origins. Even though Touffah exists in Arabic, the tree itself could not be originally from Arabia due to the unfavorable desert climate. The word/root was nowhere to be found in Syriac sources either. Delving deeper I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the word Tph is Canaanite, present in both Phoenician and in Hebrew תפוח, meaning simply: apple! Our Lebanese Teffeha is hence much more native than we ever thought. Come to think of it, this is not really surprising: apple, a native Eurasian species, has been historically THE top crop among Lebanon’s produce and has always been associated with it in regional literature and folk culture since centuries. The variety of semitic apple-related toponyms only goes to prove that.

To conclude, while Lebanon’s spoken languages showcase the multiple layers of cultures, native and foreign, that have impacted it, this Apple connection reveals the interesting variety of intra-semitic layers that have marked our land. From Canaanite, to Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic, the land of Lebanon is a live witness to its rich semitic past, an aspect that should be further scrutinized and documented.

 

Etymology du Jour: El Tosh!

In light the perennial upheavals characterizing the Lebanese political landscape, lest you want to get in a brawl with half of your acquaintances over different political views (been there, done that!),  it would be much safer to tackle things from a more innocuous bias, say, Etymology.

The word du jour is Tosh, طش: a familiar word in Lebanese dialect that re-emerged lately in the news, and that I deemed interesting to tackle.

The rough equivalent of Dunce in English, Cancre in French, Scaldabanco in Italian, Tosh is the Lebanese word for a person, specifically a male pupil, who is the lowest-ranking in his class, the last in turn, and the most inferior among his peers.

Tosh, as per my personal research, has uncertain etymological roots. We can at least be sure that it was already around during the 19th century, as attested by the fact that it was mentioned in Butrus al Bustani’s Muhit-al-Muhit dictionary, where Tosh is defined as “The youngest boy among siblings. Alternatively, the last to take turns in a game”. Later on, in the mid-1940s, Anis Frayha, the foremost Lebanese dialect lexicographer, defined Tosh in his Dictionary of Non-Classical Vocables in the Spoken Arabic of Lebanon, as “Lower-ranking, weakest in play or worst pupil in his class.”

Tosh could be a localized form of “Al Tissha” الطشة in classical Arabic, which means “the youngest brother of his siblings”.  Tosh is also, as I came to notice, phonetically and semantically reminiscent of Greek work ύστατος (Ystatosh) that means “Last”.

Whatever the origin is, Tosh is a word that is one is more likely to hear in a school children context. The latest novelty, however, was its emergence in a much more adult and serious context, such as the Lebanese Cabinet mud-slinging arena, revealing in the process a degeneration towards childishness and puerile approaches to serious matters. A sad occurance in a country that is on the brink of all calamities possible…

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The Ottoman Serail housing the Lebanese Cabinet in Beirut

 

Etymology du Jour: Baltajeh

After getting into endless brawls, online and offline, with acquaintances and strangers alike over antagonistic political stances, on the backdrop of a perennially tumultuous Lebanese political landscape, I deemed it much safer to start tackling sociopolitical events from a different, more innocuous bias. Such as etymology.

An “etymologizing” take on the “Topic du jour”, if you may, where I can channel my frustration with politics through my sheer love for word.

So today I will tackle a rather controversial word, that I have been mulling over for the last couple of months: Baltajeh. A pejorative term whose misplaced use has sparked protests with angry rioters running  amok for days.

But what does a Baltajeh mean exactly?

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Definition of Baltaji in modern Arabic dictionaries.

As its initial morphology suggests, Baltaji is of certain Ottoman origins. Baltajeh or Baltaji is indeed the localized levantine form of Turkish Baltaci (pronounced Baltadji, and composed of Balta = Axe + Ci=Bearer). The Baltacilar i.e. “axemen” were indeed halberdiers, member of a corps of the Ottoman Sultan palace guards. They started off as military trailblazers, and became in charge of supplying firewood to the Imperial Harem (hence the axe connection). Around the 19th century, Baltaci meant a subaltern of the Serail, in the league of porters, gardeners, cooks, butchers and coffee servers.

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An Ottoman Baltaci

Surely Baltajis were low-ranking, and though they used axes, there was nothing criminal about their activity, as the modern usage of the term implies. I guess the utmost proof of the benignity of the Baltaji, is the fact that it’s not uncommon to have people bearing such surname in Turkey and the Arab-speaking former Ottoman provinces.

With the outbreak of the “Arab spring” in Egypt, the word came into the spotlight in connection with hordes of violent government-backed thugs mandated to counter the popular protests, and dubbed “Baltajiyat an-Nizam” (The regime goons). This of course compounded the pejorative sense of the term.

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Modern day Baltagi

However, try to ask any Lebanese person about the exact definition of a Baltajeh and they’d sure tell you about its derogatory connotations, without pinpointing a clear meaning for it.

In conclusion, we do not know exactly how did docile Baltaci morph with time into unruly notorious Baltajeh. But we do know that, until the dust settles, the term is to be used sparingly, and with the greatest degree of caution, lest you want a weapon-clad scooter-riding crowd coming after you.

 

My Downloadable Latin-Arabic Abjad Chart

After years of being away due to motherhood-induced upheavals and globetrotting, I am finally back, more intent on sharing my translation-relevant insights, experiences and eventual tips.

Indeed, the other day as I was using an older version of MS Word, I realized that it only included in its bullet points numbering lists the conventional alphabetical order in Arabic (أ ب ث د …) which is not useful  because the order to use in such collation processes is the phoenician-inspired semitic Abjad configuration (that is آبجد هوز حطي كلمن سعفص قرشت ثخذ ضغظ).

I encountered many situations where such an order was not included in the MS Word or Openoffice version I happened to be using, or even in situations of interpretation, and had therefore to write down an improvised chart listing the Latin alphabet with its equivalent Abjad letters on post-it notes, that were later lost and had to be redone whenever the same situation reoccurred.

So I had the idea of making a downloadable spreadsheet of such a chart that can be saved either in its soft or printed format. And of course I thought to share it with any eventual colleague out there. So you only have to click on the link, and download it from the File Menu of Google docs or print it out directly.

Hope many will find this useful.

 https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhiVbQJjKBfIdG5PV1hnM1BLUWUxaXQ4bkdpUTZCcFE

 Chart Abc

Six “Franco-libanais” Words That Are Out of Sync With Modern French

When it comes to localizing foreign stuff, often moving it up one notch, or even twisting it beyond recognition, the Lebanese are masters of the trade. And this has always been the case since time immemorial.

As far back as the Phoenician era, not only they embraced Egyptian hieroglyphs, but revolutionized them into the modern alphabet, wowing the almighty ancient Greeks themselves. Further on, Roman values and architecture were locally embraced too, and it is small wonder that the world’s greatest Roman temple is in Baalbek, while Beirut hosted one of the three prestigious law schools of the Empire.

In Ottoman times, the local uptake of Turkish words and delicacies was rampant. No one is even aware today that terms like Ouda, Shanta, Sofra, and Tanjara are turkish. Ottoman Food items such as Halewe (Halva), coffee (Kahve), “arabic” bread (Ekmek), Berghoul (Bulgur), Baklava, Kafta (Kofte) etc. have too become part and parcel of Lebanese pantries.

French language, the object of a long-standing love affair with a significant part of the Lebanese people, since 1250, is no exception. French loanwords pertaining to fashion, cosmetics, hairdressing, medicine, arts, sciences, motor vehicles etc, have seamlessly integrated our dialect since as long as we can remember.

After the French presence parted ways with the Lebanese reality in 1946, the teaching and usage of the language of Molière proceeded, but it somewhat remained stuck in time, in its highly literary and formal form. A local linguistic mutant strain hence emerged: The Franco-libanais. Meanwhile, French took a modern path back in its native land, in the manner of all living languages, making many Franco-Libanais words, obsolete or at least “out of sync”.

Any person who was privately schooled in Lebanon then went to France, or interacted with French people at a later stage, would have inevitably faced such situations where things called a given way in Franco-libanais turned out to have a totally or partially different meaning in modern French.

Those are either corrupted terms, nouns adapted to fit local realities, loanwords that were originally correct but have come to bear a different meaning, or dated words that fell out of usage. As follows some samples of such words.

1- Tartine vs. 3arouss/Sandwich

Order a Tartine in France, and you will find out it doesn’t look anything like your cherished “3arouss” pita wrap, or even the “Franji” baguette-style sandwich you grew up to believe it was. The real “Tartine” is an open-faced sandwich that consists of a single slice of bread with one or more food items on top. A far cry from the stuff your mom, granny and/or aunt always tried to force-feed you with.

2- Direction vs. Volant

The automotive jargon in Lebanon is almost exclusively French-inspired. While most words of that lexicon were phonetically twisted beyond recognition (i.e. Echkman for Tuyau d’échappement, Douberiage for Débrayage, Fremet for Freins, Amotosseur for Amortisseur…), the only word that comes out intact (or almost) is Direction, for Steering wheel. Disappointingly though, the right word in French for steering wheel is Volant.

3- Abat-Jour is NOT a Window Blind

The exclusive Lebanese word for Blinds or Shutters is Abat-jour. It has even a plural: Abat-jourat. In France and most countries, however, the word stands to mean Lampshade. To the Lebanese people’s credit, the etymological basis of the word (a device for deflecting daylight as it enters a window), is closer to their definition. Still, using it in that sense would not be understood France, where Volet or Persienne are the words employed to indicate window blinds. Sorry

3- Deux Nattes vs Deux Couettes

Couettesindian

The popular twintails or double bunches hairdo for little girls, is almost solely (and wrongly) referred to in Lebanon as Deux Nattes. “Nattes” however are braided strands of hair or plaits, while twintails are “Couettes”. Hence, the correct term is Deux Couettes and not Deux Nattes. Compris? (Yeah, that’s me in both pics sporting a deux couettes hairdo to the left and a real deux nattes to the right. Pocahontas eat your heart out!)

4- Autostrade is the Road to Nowhere

Autostrade (Derivative of Italian Autostrada meaning The road for motor vehicles) might have been used in French a zillion years ago. Now the used term is Autoroute. And in any case, that chaotic, laneless, signless, unlit, badly designed thing we call Autostrade in Lebanon, can be considered a dual carriageway, at best. Highways (Autoroutes) are still light years away.

5- Hot, Hot Chalumeau!

One embarrassing situation I went through lately was at a food and beverage outlet in south of France. I ordered a beverage and smugly asked for a “Chalumeau”, the Franco-libanais word for “drinking straw”. The waiter shot me a puzzled “Pardon?” Thankfully my built-in thesaurus, honed by years of reading, translating and observing, immediately came into action, helping me redeem myself with a: “Paille! Je voudrais une paille”. Yes dear fellow countrymen, Chalumeau (and its derivative Chalimoneh) means in France a blowtorch, and in second place a clarinet. Refraining from using it in restaurants and the like is highly advisable.

6- Chalet is Not Where the Beach is

While the word “Chalet” in Lebanon means in 90% of the cases “a small cabin or house used by holidaymakers, within a holiday complex”, located by the seaside, or equipped with one or more swimming pools, “Chalet” in French is something totally different. It is indeed a wooden house built in Alp style exclusively located in the mountains. So next time you invite some European or French friends to your beach chalet for summer, make it clear what you mean by Chalet. Otherwise they might pop up with hiking rods and plaids instead of the expected swimsuits and flipflops.

 

The Unexpected Origins of Garments Names in Spoken Lebanese (Part 1)

Whatever staunch puritans of the Arabic language might say, the undeniable fact is that our spoken Lebanese language is rife with non-Arabic words and expressions. After all, this is what being at a crossroad of three continents entails.

The ever-evolving fashion and garments lexicon best mirrors this fact, I believe. Fashion is always mutating with time and space, and the same goes for its terminology.

While a great many of garment names in our spoken local language are flagrant loan words from French (such as chapeau, bottes, culottes, écharpe, parka, cardigan, blouse, gilet, cravate etc,), others can be traced back to other cultures that influenced ours.

This latter underwent phonetic changes with time as they adapted to local speech and merged seamlessly with it to the point that they are now mistaken as being of unquestionable Arabic origin.

As follows, I will present an initial list of such terms and explain the etymological process I went through to uncover their real provenance. More would follow in the future, time permitting 😉

 

1 – Jezden (Turkish-Farsi)

17797082_10155720193605476_108677484_o

I bet only a handful of you ever doubted that the name of this all-important item in a Lebanese woman’s life is of Turkish origin. Jezden indeed is the local version of Turkish word “Cüzdan” (check how it is pronounced on this link https://forvo.com/word/tr/c%C3%BCzdan/.) Turkish-Farsi dictionaries online lists the word جزوه دان defining it as “book pocket”.  It makes sense, since Arab-speaking countries in the Levant along with Egypt, use the word “Juzdan”to indicate “Wallet“. In Lebanon, however, it is the exclusive local word for handbag. It is almost certain this word has found its way into the Lebanese dialect during the Ottoman era.

2- Zonnar (Greek)

Belt

Zonnar, the common local word for “Belt” is far from being Arabic. In fact, the Arabic language even lacks the Z N R root as can be ascertained by checking classical monolingual dictionaries. Zonnar indeed derives from the Medieval Greek word ζωνάρι (pronounced Zonari i.e. the girdle worn by priests). Zonari is supposed to have entered Lebanese dialect through Syriac (Aramaic), the lingua franca predating spoken Arabic in the Levant area that has solid connections with the Greek language due to religious ties. The word Zonnar is very interesting in my regard. Despite its foreign origin, it has many local declensions: such as verb “Zannar” (To encircle), an occupation name (Zananiri, i.e. belt-maker or belt seller)  and even the well-known Mouzannar surname (or M’zannar, i.e He who wears a belt).

3- Scarbineh (French)

Shoe

The etymological quest for this very popular item was an easy one. Even though my first instinct was to assign it to Italian origins (Scarpa, i.e. generic name for shoes), I came to the ultimate conclusion that the French word “Escarpin” i.e. women pumps, is the undisputed source for Scarbineh.  https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escarpin.

It should be noted that neighboring countries mostly use “Kindara” or “Kundara”, a term reportedly of Turkish origins.  

 

 

4 – Tannoura (Syriac)

Skirt

The Skirt or “Tannoura”, holds a prominent place in our social culture and idioms. Not only it refers to the garment itself, but “Tannoura” can also indicate adult females as a whole. A man who loves “tnenir” for instance, is a hopeless philanderer to avoid. Tannoura was even the subject of a popular Lebanese song in the last decade (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJdtg-XtG1c.) However, the jury is still out as to the certain origins of the term. The one thing foremost monolingual classical dictionaries including Lisaan el Arab, agree on, is that its origins are foreign (or Ajami which means Persian or Syriac), since skirts were not part of the traditional Arab clothing. My search in available Farsi dictionaries did not come up with a definite conclusion. The most convincing entry I found so far is Syriac “Tanourta” probably deriving from Tannour (furnace), due to their similar shapes (The tannour oven has indeed a smaller upper diameter and a larger one on its lower part, much like a flared skirt (https://www.google.com.lb/search?q=Tannour+oven&tbm=isch&imgil=ziMCd7P3WGQmxM%253A%253BJvKv2nJdaMqSvM%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwhats4dinnersolutions.com%25252Ftag%25252Ftannour-bread%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=ziMCd7P3WGQmxM%253A%252CJvKv2nJdaMqSvM%252C_&usg=__3sgpnK0DSPwDd8p2S-2Y9mnjj9k%3D&biw=1366&bih=663&ved=0ahUKEwjm6ZDo24HWAhUKPVAKH) 

 

5 – Shel ( Farsi/Sanskrit)

Shawl

Another garment whose name does not derive from Arabic, unbeknownst to the overwhelming majority, is Shal (pronounced Shel in Lebanese). This versatile piece of cloth, that was sung by Feiruz herself (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26EZvMh2Ar4) has origins far more remote than we thought. Called Shawl in English, Shala/Shalo in Syriac, شال in Farsi, its name derives from दुशाला duśālā, ultimately from Sanskrit: शाटी śāṭī (strip of cloth pronounced [ˈsaːri].) The deep eastern provenance of this item is only logical as it is used to cover the hair and the shoulder of women in religious societies.

 

That’s it for now folks. See you soon in another batch of apparel-related etymological discoveries.

 

 

The Epitome of Lebanese Love Songs

I have read somewhere that when we are happy we enjoy the music, but when we are sad we understand the lyrics. This more or less sums up my experience with Lebanese love song “Rah Halfak Bel Ghosn”.

Truth be told, I never even liked its melody as a child, deeming it a ”typical boring traditional music for grown-ups.” However, much later on, during my expat years, I started realizing that this classic, written by dialect poet Michel Trad, was nothing short of a gem among love songs.

It tells of a man sending a little bird as a messenger to his beloved who lives in a remote forest, to see whether she still loves him, and if not, to bring him back even the tiniest keepsake from under her hands or even feet.

Emotional value aside, the song is precious as it provides a vivid snapshot of the idyllic Lebanese lush nature of the time. The flawless vocal performance of megastar Wadih elSafi, the typical Lebanese melody, the simplicity of the lyrics and the platonic mood, are the magical ingredients that make it a timeless classic.

I admit I understood those lyrics in my forties last year, in an epiphany, and became smitten with them ever since. And what better way to share them with the world than translating them into the most international of all languages?

Ladies and gentlemen, my translation of Wadih Safi’s Rah Halfak bel Ghosn. Enjoy 😉

Swear to me little bird by the branches
by the leaves, the shades, the springs
by the One who streaked your wings with a quill of light
by the One who lets you sway to the blue of the breezes

that you would fly, little bird, to a cottage of broom
lost, roofed with flowers
floored with gray amber
and droplets of green dew,
amid shades and shadows

And when you see a grapevine canopy
with a door tucked underneath
and a pretty girl with a book in her hand…
greet that pretty girl for me!


If the winds abate
rub your wings against the ceiling, the walls
on scattered clothes
on the rugs, the shirts
on all that was torn apart
on the blue bench
on the inebriated moon, that reminds her of me


And if no remnants of our love are found
hush the creek, little bird, and leave
but fly down and bring me
from that faraway hill
from that faraway wood
some keepsake, some relic

from the scribble of her hands
from beneath her feet,
some beakfuls of dust, some beakfuls of dust…

From Michel Trad’s original text in Lebanese Arabic:

رح حلفك بالغصــن يا عصفور
بالورق بالفي بالنبعات
بالزيّح جناحك بريشة نور
بالمرجحك مع زرقة النسمات
بتطير يا عصفور
عكوخ من وزّال غويان سقفه زهور
مـــفــــروش بالعنبر
حب الندي الأخضر
دنيّ ظلال ظلال
دنيّ ظلال ظلال

تقشع عريشة وباب بفيتها مزوي
وحلوة بإيدها كتاب .. سلّم على الحلوة
وإن هديت رياحك بتمرمغ جناحك
عالسطح عالحيطان
عثياب مذرية… عالبسط عالقمصان
ع كل شي تخزق
عالــمقعد الأزرق
عالقمر الســــكران
البيذكرها فيي آه فيي
بيذكرها …فيي
وإن كان ما في شي
من حبنا باقي
بتسكّت الساقية يا طير وبتمشي
وبتغط تحمل لي يا من هاك التلة
يا من هداك الغاب شي ذكر شي قشة
ومن خرطشة ديها من تحت إجريها
شي نقدتين تراب ..
شي نقدتين تراب..

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