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.

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