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…

The Ottoman Serail housing the Lebanese Cabinet in Beirut



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