He's a donkey in trousers.


by Dr. Eng. Ahmad Adib Shaar on March 22, 2016

Arabs are considered a high context culture, meaning that due to a long history of intense contact in their communities, they can use short cuts, allusions and proverbs easily in their conversation and expect to be understood. Much can go unexplained in discussions as people are deeply familiar with each other and their common culture. Languages that exist in these cultures can have a richness of allusions that others may lack. For example, in Aleppo, if you want to point out that someone is stupid, you have a range of options, not all of them particularly politically correct:  

Words: teshem (dumb), tashoum (dummy), baheem (ignorant [as an animal]), ghabi (stupid), Ahbal (foolish), mukhtal (mentally-disturbed), jadbeh (idiot), mastool / msattel (being thick), darkh (torpid), loh ([thick as a] board), stameh ([thick as a] heavy log), satlameh (blend of msattel and stameh), latah (thick as a stone), danglawi (referring to people from Dangala, a Nubian town in Sudan,  whom old Aleppians thought were intellectually slow), deb (bear), tor (bull), tes (billy goat), jahsh (ass), baghel (mule), gdeesh (gelded horse), msayyef (his senses are on summer vacation), weshesh (spaced out), mhabheb (drugged), masroue (epileptic), fahmando (smart-ass [said sarcastically]), sayeh (he’s beyond help), darweesh (simple-minded).

Phrases: the board has no nails, he’s renting out the upper floor, he’s out of [mobile phone] range, his fuses are broken (reference to the brain), his head is a shoe polish box, his head is a wall, his head is two walnuts in a saddlebag, he doesn’t know where God placed him, may God curse him with blindness how ass-like (stupid) he is, [he’s an] unmountable French mule, well-fed bull, bull who only eats fodder, Cyprus ass, baby bear, bull tied by his tail, a donkey in pants (or a donkey packed into pants), he’s not here, his understanding is limited to its size (small), a regular customer of Dwerineh or a regular visitor to Dwerineh (the location of a well-known psychiatric hospital), he’s lost his aunt’s / uncle’s ass, “bless him”, naivety is killing him (= naivety is taking over him), his mum (while pregnant) yearned for a donkey, he neither shakes nor sizzles (he’s very inactive), he’s to his intentions (he’s naive), he can’t tell five from a blotch (five in Hindi numerals has the shape of an empty circle), he doesn’t read but what’s in his notebook, he can’t see further than his nose, he has a nerve (he has a short temper), his nerve came out, he was dropped on his head as a child, his head is a drum, he can’t tell his head from his tail / feet, he’s an extra wheel (similar to “a third wheel”), his mind is on its own, he makes your heart explode and die (his stupidity annoys you to the bone), his brain is quarter to six, his understanding / his brain is twofold, his mind gives and takes (unstable), he’s a thick bear who cannot tell Friday from Thursday, thick brain, his understanding is sore, his brain is insufficient material to make a toilet door, he can’t tell Taha (a common male name) from Takeh, his head is filled with hay, his head is a wall, it’s as if he’s never lived with people, [he’s an] ass-donkey blend, he’s with a rattle, his head is a drum, put him with three donkeys and you won’t be able to tell him out, he drowns in a drop of water, you tell him it’s a billy-goat (or a bull), he asks you to milk it, he gives your heart crackles and kills it, when God created wit and decorum he was up there, his mind is saddlebag tassels, he can’t tell the number 1 from a stick, his mind is doolally, his mind changes shape all the time, his brain bobs in his head, his brain is shaken, his brain crackles, he slobbers, he has snot for a brain, his brain is as big as the sparrow’s, may God help him with his mind, he’s a semi dolt, he has a thick head, he can’t tell a hamza (the letter for glottal stop in Arabic) from Aleph (A), he’s someone you can’t blame, he’s as tall as a palm tree but his mind is the size of a lamb’s, there’s no quintal (a unit of weight) in his saddlebag.

Phrases for stupidity or mental incapacity are ubiquitous in the Aleppian vocabulary. Why is that? Do Aleppians believe they are more intelligent than others? Or do they believe they have to classify every person and hence the proliferation of adjectives and expressions. Or is the number of slow or dim-witted so high in the city that they needed more terms? Or are some of them a code used when people from outside the city come to it – it is known that in the Souq there are expressions that merchants used to classify customers. Please tell us what you think.

With thanks to Mr Abdul Khaleq Qalaji who compiled a shorter list.