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.


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.


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.


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!


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