Proverbs 01-10

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Here are the first 10 Arabic proverbs from Burckhardt’s book.


الف دقدق ولا سلام عليك (alf daqdaq wa laa salaam 3alaiik)

“A thousand raps at the door, but no salute or invitation from within.”

This is said of a person’s fruitless endeavours to become intimate with another.


الف قفا ولا قفاي (alf qafan wa laa qafaaii)

“(Let them strike or slap) a thousand necks, but not mine.”

Among the Arabs it is usual to strike the neck (US) and not the ears. A blow on the neck is considered a much greater affront than a slap on the face. Not only the neck, but a blow struck upon the neck, is expressed in the Egyptian dialect by qafan. Thus ” I struck him a blow on his neck” (ضربته قفا Darabtuhu qafan) is exactly equivalent in its meaning to the English phrase, ” I boxed his ears.”


الف كركي في الجو ما تعوض عصفور في الكف (alf kurkii fii al-jauw maa tu3awwid 3uSfuur fii al-kaff)

“A thousand cranes in the air are not worth one sparrow in the fist.”

The crane (كركيkurkii) is a bird common in the Delta, particularly about the Lake of Menzaleh.كف (kaff) properly signifies the “hand” or “palm” of the hand, but in Egypt is generally used for the ” fist.”


اذا كان القمر معك لا تبالي بالنجوم(idha kaan al-qamr ma3ak laa tabaalii bi al-nujuum)

“If the moon be with thee, thou needest not to care about the stars.”


اذا كان معك نحس لا تسيبه يجيك انحس منه (idha) kaan ma3ak naHs laa tasiibuh yajiik anHas minhu)

“If a worthless fellow be with thee do not let him go, or else one worse will come to thee.”

The general meaning is, that we should bear present ills rather than, by endeavouring to remove tاem, expose ourselves to greater. This saying is often quoted with respect to servants, whose dishonesty and insolence are subjects of universal complaint throughout Egypt. The word يسيب(yasiib) in common acceptation signifies “to leave a thing, to let it go out of one’s hands.” The wordنحس (naHs) is used in Egypt to express a low, disorderly, unprincipled character—a base, worthless fellow.


اذا كانت العمايم تشتكي الفسة ايش يكون حال اللأابسة (idha kaanat al-3amaaiim tashtakii al-fasa eesh yakuun Haal al-albasa)

“If the turbans complain of a slight wind, what must be the state of the inner drawers?”

This proverb is quoted when the citizens of Cairo murmur at oppression, the peasants having much greater reason for being discontented.الفسة (al-fasa) flatus, ايش (eesh) in the Egyptian dialect used forأي شيء(ay shai’), أابسة (albasa) plural of لباس(libaas), drawers worn under the great trowsers.


اذا كان زوجي راضي ايش فضول القاضي (idha kaan zawji radii eesh faDuul al-qaaDii)

“If my husband consent, why should the Qadi’s [judge] interference be necessary?”

This means in general that when two parties who have contended agree to be reconciled, the arbitration of a third person is not requisite. But the saying more particularly alludes to divorces, which in many cases are determined by the Qadi.فضول (faDuul) in the Egyptian dialect, signifies—the meddling, officious interference of a third person.


اذا نسيت الحمد تصلي بايش (idha nasiit al-Hamdu taSallii bi-eesh)

“If thou forgettest to say “Praise be to God,” in what other words wilt thou pray?”

This is addressed to persons who neglect the principal object or part of their business, and execute only that which is the least important. الحمد (al-Hamdu) means the expression الحمد لله(al-Hamdu li-lah), which commences the Fateha, or first chapter of the Koran, and should be recited in every prayer.بايش (bi-eesh) in the Egyptian dialect forباي شيء (bi ay shaii’). The Egyptians always put this after the verb in interrogations, asتصلي بايش(taSalli bi-eesh) —whilst the Syrians invariably place it before, and sayتصلي بايش .


اذا كرهك جارك غير باب دارك (idha karihak jaarak ghaiyyir baab daarak)

“If thy neighbour dislike thee, change the gate of thy house.”

The intimacy with neighbours is much greater in the East than in Europe; and the repose of a family often depends upon the harmony subsisting between it and those who occupy the adjoining house.


اذا حلق جارك بل انت (idha Halaq jaarak bull anta)

“If thy neighbour shaves (somebody), do thou soak (the head of the person whom he shaves).”

Always endeavour to act agreeably to the wishes of thy neighbour. يبل(yabull) to wet, meaning here to wet the head with a lather of soap before the application of a razor.

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