Precision

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

One of the most beautiful things about the Arabic language is the richness of its vocabulary and its rhetorical devices. Although the vocabulary is only rich in culturally-specific areas, it does indeed excel in them.

Ibn Khalawayh said that the Arabs have five hundred names for the lion, and two hundred names for the snake. Whether these names (and others like them) are absolute synonyms is a point of contention among the linguists, but I believe the strongest opinion among them is that there are shades of differences among the meanings of each one and no two mean exactly the same thing.

Some examples of this precision in vocabulary:

A bare dinner table is called a khiwaan خِوان. When it is laden with food it becomes a maa'idah مائدة.

An empty drinking glass is called a koob كوب or a qadah قدح . When it has liquid in it, it becomes a ka's كأس.

The wind that blows between two winds is called a nakbaa' نكباء.

The wind that is so soft it does not shake the trees is called a naseem نسيم.

The verb that describes eating all that is on the dinner table is iqtamma اِقتمّ.

The verb that describes drinking all that is in a vessel is ishtaffa اشتفّ.

The verb that describes an infant drinking all its mother's milk is imtakka امتكّ.

The verb that describes milking a camel of all that is in its udders is nahaka نهك.

The verb that describes taking all the water out of a well is nazafa نزف.

It is no wonder then that some of the jurists said,

كلام العرب لا يحيط به إلا نبيّ

"No one can have full knowledge of the language of the Arabs other than a Prophet."

8 responses to “Precision

  1. Asalaam alaikum,
    Alhumdullilah very education. Jazak Allah khairen.

  2. Wa ‘alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Subhan Allah, that’s very interesting. A lot of that is lost in translation when the word is seen to be repetitive without any variation in meaning whatsoever. This aspect also reminds me of how the eskimos have some 20 names for the colour white… Obviously there exists the differences to them.

    Jazakum Allahu khair.

  3. wa ‘alaykum al-salām wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuhu,

    Wa iyyakum.

  4. asSalam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah,
    Jazakumullahu khairen for these amazing gems.

    If possible can you please post the the arabic words in arabic so the reader knows what is the exact word you are talking about. Transliterating it in english does not give it its proper due. For example, when you say “nazafa”, is it نزف or نظف. I know the proper word is نزف but generally for people it would be hard to picture the correct word without it being written in arabic.

    Keep up the awesome work!

  5. wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    Wa iyyaakum.

    Jazaakum Allaahu khayran for the suggestion. I have updated this post as per your request and in shaa’ Allaah will try to remain consistent with this in the future posts.

  6. as-salâmu ‘alaykum

    A french translation of this article : http://al-kanz.org/blog/2007/07/09/larabe-langue-dorfevre/

  7. Arabic words will be helpful in understanding this post.

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