When I hear people chatting in Kuwaiti, to my unaccustomed ears it sounds ... complex. Like a mash-up of sounds. That I can't make heads or tail of.

Only catching the odd word or two (normally an English kaliimaah, let's face it) in the middle of a sentence allows me a grasp of what's being said.

But sometimes I'll make out a Kuwaiti word without knowing its meaning. I'll wait until the conversation is over, repeating the mystery word in my mind so as not to forget it, then when the moment is right I'll ask, "oh by the way, shinuu ya3nii... (and then say the Kuwaiti word)."

But by the time I speak the word aloud, my lousy pronunciation plus the fact that the conversation is already old makes it impossible to get a straight answer.

Either I'll get given a look of: "I have no idea what you're trying to tell me" or one that seems to say: "I can't even remember what I was talking about 30 minutes ago. Sorry."

Today's word came about because I didn't wait around. My husband was telling a story. And as soon as the indecipherable waves of spoken Kuwaiti parted and sima3t the word sawlif ... I grasped his arms until my knuckles went pale and cried: "For the love of Louis C.K., what does sawlif mean?"

Ever the patient, kind and slightly bemused husband, he simply replied, "ya3nii 'chatting'."

"You mean you're chatting about chatting? I mean, about sawlif?"

He nodded. "Yes, so ... khansawlif!"


I heard
a word
شنو يعني
shinuu ya3nii
what does it mean?

3alaa gawlat...

If my husband wasn't already employed as a game designer, I think he would have got a job as a comedian, since he's already one part-time. As soon as he wakes in the morning, his routine begins.

"3alaa gawlat Gollum: 'good morning my precious'," he says in Gollum's creepy and  decidedly unromantic voice.

As he pours coffee beans into the grinder, I can see the cogs in his brain ticking. He is just dying to say it. So he does. "3alaa gawlat Tony Montana, 'say hello to my little friend.'"

With that, he grinds the beans madly to dust.

"3alaa gawlat Freddie Mercury, 'another one bites the dust!'"

"bas!" I wail, covering my ears. (bess)

He holds up his hands as if to say, no more. But as he puts on his jacket and prepares to leave, I'm treated to another: "ِ3alaa gawlat The Terminator, 'hasta la vista, baby'."


Work finished late, so I had to run like crazy to the festival. Surely the acts never ran on time? I'd been wanting to catch a live performance of The Black Keys for a while and here at last they were, in our town.

I missed their performance by a few minutes. Defeated, I found my way to the food tent where Theyab was queuing.

"a7is abchii," I complained. He looked confused.

"'I feel I cry?'" he chuckled, imitating my bad Kuwaiti. "shinuu ya3nii?" ('What does that mean?')

"yaa3nii ... I feel like shedding a tear."

"Oh, you don't say it like that. Use a7is when you feel things outside you.  For example, a7is bi l-hawaa al-baarid ('I feel the cold air') or a7is inn-ik za3laan ('I feel that you're sad'). But when the feeling is inside, say fii-nii."

"Ah! I think I know this one. Is it like when your mum once said fii-nii nawmah? I asked ('I feel like sleeping').

He laughed. "Yes. And you'd say fii-nii bawlah if you feel like peeing and fii-nii kaakaa if you feel like going for a..."

"Got it!" I said brightly. "So you'd use a noun after fii-nii. So how do I say 'I feel like crying' in Kuwaiti?"

"fii-nii bachyah," he confirms (fee-nee-betch-ya). Then he asks: "Hang on, are you sure fii-ch bachyah? You seem pretty upbeat right now."

"I suppose being a language geek has its advantages," I smiled.


sad (m)
sad (f)
sad (pl)
أحس بالهوا بارد
a7is bi l-hawaa baarid
I can feel the cold air
اجس أنك زعلان
a7is inn-ik za3laan
I feel you're sad
شنو يعني؟
shinuu ya3nii?
what does that mean?
it means…


So if beautiful is jamiil and pretty is 7iluu, how on earth do you say someone is attractive?

After all, you can be jadhdhaab without needing to be beautiful in the least. It has something to do with magnets..

Or magnetism. I remember at school the boy of everyone's dreams eventually picked the captain of the girl's football team as his girlfriend. A real tomboy. Nobody could believe it, especially not the pristine-looking girls who dedicated hours to their makeup ritual. The heart-throb's girlfriend wasn't like that. She had a bent nose, wore sweatpants and sported messy hair, and yet she had a gift for making people always want to be around her.

In short, she was jadhdhaabah.


Talk about being oblivious. For the longest time I thought that today's work meant, well, 'a bunker' since it is pronounced bunkah ("a fan") in the singular.

To complicate things there is actually a bunker on top of a mountain near to where we live in Barcelona, and sometimes we visit as the views are spectacular. So when my husband and his family were speaking Kuwaiti and I caught the word bunkah in their conversation, I naturally assumed he was telling them about our picnic spot.

So imagine my confusion when one evening he told me he wanted to get a bunkah from the store.

I think he saw I was in shock because he asked me if I'd prefer he got not just one bunkah but bunkaat

"It does get really hot," he admitted.

"Mmm," I said.

shala3t gulb-ii!

When someone talks and talks and talks, sometimes a teasing phrase is needed to get them to stop, or at least slow down a little. Today we have that very phrase. You can say:

shala3t gulb-ii (if your sweet-natured chatterbox happens to be male)


shala3tay guub-ii (if female).

It roughly translates to: "You've worn me out!"

"Oh you want to get a dog, do you?" my mother-in-law says. "You better ask zahrah's advice then - btashla3 gulb-ich!"

Here, bee-tash-lah gulb-itch refers to my lovely niece and resident animal expert, who upon being asked about animals won't stop talking about them. Not until you say "shala3tay guub-ii!" anyway.

The image that shala3t gulb-ii conjures up is rather lovely. Literally, it means "you've plucked out my heart."

In Western poetry, Sylvia Plath is just one of many who have used the heart-plucking metaphor, in much the same way as the Kuwaiti:

“If you pluck out my heart
To find what makes it move,
You’ll halt the clock
That syncopates our love.”

― Sylvia Plath, Admonition

So by "plucking out someone's heart," you have literally drained them of their life blood. 

To kickstart the recovery process, other than being armed with today's phrase, a revitalising glass of Tang or a KDD ice cream sandwich may also interesting options, especially when in Kuwait.


Today's word is not written the way it is spelt. We see lisaan but it is actually pronounced ilsaan.

Play the audio clip for details. And to make it just that bit easier, Theyab will now be pronouncing each syllable of a word first, before saying it altogether, just as you'd hear it in conversation.

lisaan literally means "tongue." Add it to your collection of words that describe various parts of the face (3ayn meaning "eye"; khashim meaning "nose"; 7alj meaning "mouth"; adhuun meaning "ears"). It'll come in handy for those eventual trips to the doctor. ya diktawr, you might wail at some point in the near future, ilsaan-ii yidhba7-nii ("my tongue is killing me!).

Another handy use of today's word lisaan is as a reply when someone says exactly what you were thinking.

YES, EXACTLY you want to shout when a friend confesses that he or she just doesn't get GoT. Translated, it would be the very standard phrase ee, bi l-'6ub6 (ee'-bith-ubt).

But a more Kuwaiti way would be to say 7a9 ilsaan-ik (saah'-il-sahn-ick). 

7a9 ilsaan-ik is angled at a male, 7a9 ilsaan-ich is for a female.

Quite literally, "your tongue is true."


In Kuwaiti, the noun al-3aafiyah is used with the preposition "bi" when someone is about to have a meal to make bi l-3aafyah. It's the Kuwaiti Arabic translation of "bon appetit" quite simply.

bi l-3aafyah I'll call over to my sister-in-law’s daughters as they crack open their cans of biibsii and they’ll dutifully call back: Allah yi3aafii-ch!

Until today, I believed that this salutation was the only use of 3aafyah. How wrong I was. Like most Arabic words, it has a wealth of nuances. Theyab tells me that in Morocco, 3aafyah means "a fire". How strange, I thought, that a word meaning “enjoy your meal” in Kuwaiti Arabic could also mean “fire” in the Moroccan dialect?

An answer came when my thoughts turned to rama'9aan, and the feeling of eating a first bite of food after long hours of fasting. The surge of gratitude that hits you has all the movement of fire. Your fading body has its vitality restored in a rush of warmth.

We can only guess how full of diverse meaning 3aafyah must be in Modern Standard Arabic since the word, like many others, has been easily split into diverse sub-meanings and scattered across the Arab world. 

Though Arabic dialects may have lost a lot of their poetry to day-to-day practicality, there it is lying buried beneath the surface of so many words, only visible to those wanting to look more closely at the apparent discrepancies and cracks, like truffles in sand.