'You've been married how long?' asks my husband's relative.
'Two years,' I reply.
She arches a perfectly-shaped eyebrow and says: 'wa lamma al-7ayn maa titkallamiin kuwaytii?' (wa lem-al-hain ma tit-kel-em koo-way-tee)
'Nope,' I reply.

Brits famously don't learn languages. So what happens when you get a Brit who really wants to learn Kuwaiti?
You have to make out as if you don't speak English.
Obviously this is kind of an impossibility if everyone already knows you're, well, fluent in English. This is where role play comes in. It sets the tone of necessity that I've realised is so crucial to learning a language. It can however, lead to absurdity.

'inzayn,' (in-zain) I said to Theyab one day while out on a walk. 'Today I'm only going to speak to you in Kuwaiti.'
'But you're already speaking English,' he points out.
'No, but I just needed to explain. Now I've explained. Only speaking Kuwaiti, starting ... now. 7aalan.' (haa-len)
'inzayn,' he said.
An awkward silence fell. We're now standing at a pedestrian crossing on a busy street. The green man appears and the cars stop. The green man flashes, once, twice, thrice ... and then becomes red again. Theyab and I still standing on the same side of the pavement.
'laysh maa tabiin ta3buriin?' Theyab asks. (leish ma tab-een ta-bor-een)
'ta3buriin?' I repeat uncertainly, not recognising the word.
'ba3bur al-7ayn," he says (bah-ber al-hain) and starts to cross the street, then calls over his shoulder, 'ya aallah!" (yalla)
Finally understanding, I run to catch up with him, crying out my newly-learned word of the day: 'khanna3bur!' (han-naa-ber)


'Need itijaahaat (it-ee-jah-haat)?' a voice asked.
I turned to see a policeman.
'Yes!' I said, realising he probably had been watching me dither for a while. 'Which itijaah is SoMu from here?'
The cop looked confused. '...SoMu?'
'kaan qa9dii (kaan kus-deeSouth Mubarikiyah.' 
He pointed. 'al-januub minaak.' (al-janoob min-ack)
It was as good an answer as any.


a direction
كان قصدي
kaan qa9dii
I meant to say
the south
over there


I really enjoy those linguistic tussles when everyone in the room is trying to find the best translation of a Kuwaiti word. 
'Hey guys,' says the host to his guests, 'it's such a beautiful day, how about we grab our towels and hit the yaal?' (yahl)
'Oh but didn't you guys hear about that tanker accident? Now there's naf6 (naft) in the water,' says one of the guests.
An awkward silence falls.
'Yeah,' she continues, 'AND there was that shark report a while back.'
The host rolls his eyes at her. 'Uff, you're such a nakkad (neh-kid)!'
'Psst, what's a nakkad?' I whisper to the person next to me, but someone across the room answers:
'It means "moody".'
'laa2! (laa) interjects someone else. 'It's what you call a person who's super depressing, like, ah what's the right word?'
'"A sour puss"?' someone suggests.
'yimkin (yim-ken) ... if you're from Downton Abbey.'
Everyone laughs.
'"Moody" isn't such a bad translation of nakkad,' says the host, 'but it's not quite right. What you need is a noun.'
'How about "a Debbie Downer"?' I volunteer, half-joking.
And everyone kind of agrees.




'So... jaahzah?' (jahz-ah) he asks me. Are you ready?

'I told you batjahaz (bat-jah-haz) in five minutes,' I retort. 'So stop asking me every half hour.'


It's the end of the week. mit7amsiin

I for one am very mit7amsah. Not just for a weekend's rest, but also because today marks one year since we moved into our current place.

Flashback to a year ago, while searching for a nicer home on a shoestring budget, I stumbled across a drop-dead gorgeous apartment - but on the wrong side of town. As in, the street was actually the red light district. Where all the shop windows were smashed in. And the building itself was home to a wild bunch of neighbours and a mad dog called Loco.

Friends and family said laa2 tsawuun-haa. They were scared. We were scared.

One night, nervously deciding, Theyab said, "laa2, not a good idea."

I said, "ya aallah 3aad!  The apartment has original wooden beams from 1862."

"waayid 3alay-haa," Theyab replies, "I won't be happy about you walking home alone at night."

As if the pressure couldn't get any worse, a colleague told me she'd lived on that street ten years previous - and had a knife put to her throat.

I tried to focus on the beautiful wooden beams. And as fate would have it, we moved in the following week. Our house plants all died before we made it through the door. I think they knew.

But touch wood (or the beams), a year has passed and we have no plans to leave. The neighbourhood is filthy - but full of life. Our neighbours are mayaaniin, but have huge hearts (one of them cooked meals for Theyab for an entire week while I was working abroad).  And Loco the dog is, well, living up to his name sake.

"Aren't you mit7amis about our house anniversary?" I ask Theyab.

"imbalah," he replies, "I just wish our neighbour would make more of that slow-cooked home-cooked ragu."

لاء تسوونه!
laa2 tsawuun-ah!
don’t do it! (>pl)
يا الله عاد!
ya aallah 3aad!
come on!
وايد عليهم
waayid 3alay-hum
so what about them?
crazy (m)
crazy (f)
crazy (pl)


Recently we met with rifjaan (rif-jahn) for lunch who happened to be travelling around awrubaa (ow-ruhb-aa). They brought their three sons, the youngest of whom was slightly daluu3 maamaa (dal-oo-aa mah-mah) but no less gorgeous for it.

Every time his mother would speak to someone at the table, the little boy acted as if it was his cue to start asking her questions.

"Yes, it's much better than -"

"I mean, it's a much better op -"

She turned to him, annoyed. "shinuu maamaa?" (shin-oo mah-mah)

The little boy turned red at the unexpected attention. "Um, er, I.."

And with that he scuttled off and started charming some diners on the other side of the restaurant, his toy dog in hand.

Finally sensing she had a bit of peace and quiet, the lady continued listing the pros of being a working mother, when suddenly her youngest came running to her side, his eyes brimming with excitement.

"Mama, Mama, those, those people, over there, they -"

With that, his mother pinched her fingers together and pulled down on the air. "u9bir!" she commanded (us-bir). Instantly he fell silent. The two older boys started giggling.

As she turned back to us with a long-suffering look, her son stuck out his tongue at her and muttered, "no Mama, you, 9ubray!" before running off again as carefree as a only a child can be.


دلوع ماما
daluu3 maamaa
spoilt / mama's boy (m)
شنو ماما
shinuu maamaa?
What is it, darling?
wait! (>m)


For absolutely years we've been grinding our coffee beans each morning with a hand mu67anah. I'd love to say that the daily effort of grinding coffee has buffed up our arms but it has only increased our morning grouchiness and left us as skinny as ever.

But the satisfaction of drinking coffee that is 6aazij has been worth it.

Then, a breakthrough. One day, Theyab got his power drill, clamped it to the hilt of the mu67anah, and BOOM - suddenly we had created our own mu67anah kahrabaa2iiah.

Awfully proud of himself, he loaded the coffee into the machine with a certain swagger, placed two cups underneath the tap, hit the switch and -

'أي!' he yelled, jumping back from the machine.

'sh9aar?' I said. (sha-saar)

'I just got a shock,' he explained, shaking his injured hand.

'I'm sure it was just a build-up of static," I dismissed, reaching to turn on the coffee machine.

'OW!' I shrieked, snapping my hand away. 'You're right, fii kahrabaa!" (fee cah-rab-aa)

'gilt-l-ich.' (gilt-litch)

'But what about -" the question hung in the air. Our tired eyes slowly turned to the little button on the coffee machine that was glowing red. Red for ready. Red for electric shock.


مطحنة كهربائة
mu67anah kahrabaa2iiah
electric grinder
شنو صار؟
what happened?
في كهربا
fii kahrabaa
there’s electricity
قلت لچ!
told you so! (>f)


Moving house is always a delicious time for a clear-out.

Extra bits of 2athaath (ah-thaarth) get gifted to the neighbours. Insane amounts of 3aysh (eysh) are made from bags neglected for months at the back of the cupboard, seasoned by the fancy mil7 (milh) you never got around to opening.

But minimalists beware! Try to avoid getting rid of too much 3alaaliig (al-laa-leeg), not least that rusty old mifchaachah that you think you'll never use.

Because there's nothing more heartbreaking than standing in a pristine new apartment, staring at a celebratory bottle that cannot be opened.


stuff | things


You'll have noticed that many of the adjectives featured on Kuwaiti Word a Day are in the masculine form. There is no particular reason for this, only for the sake of consistency and because you can easily make the feminine form by adding -ah on the end of masculine adjectives.

When it comes to verbs, making the feminine form requires a little more work. Let's take today's verb "to have enough" as our example.

If you're talking to a male who's piling food on his plate and you want to tell him 'you are going to get full,' you'd say raa7 tishba3. If however, you're talking to a female, you add an -iin onto the end of the verb, to make tishba3iin.

Most verbs in Kuwaiti follow this same rule. 'Do you want salt?' when said to a male is tabii mil7?

When the same question is said to a female, you'd say tabiin mil7?

This is the rule for the present tense. To get the feminine version of the verb in the past tense requires adding a different sound onto the masculine form. It's more like an -ay sound.

So if you ask a male, 'have you had enough food for fu6uur?' you'd say shiba3t? If you asked a female that same question you'd say shiba3tayAnd here we arrive at today's word.

shiba3tay is a statement to a girl - 'you're full' but use the exact same word, add a question mark and shiba3tay? becomes a question - 'are you full?' Easy.

In the past tense, you can also use the pronouns -ik (for a male), -ich (for a female) and -kum (for a group. For example, bas-ik kafiyah? means "have you had enough?" (>m).

Asking shiba3tay? when a female guest refuses a second helping of your home-cooked machbuus is not the only way you can use the verb. It can refer to having enough of anything, sleep included.

shiba3tay nawm? - 'did you have enough sleep?' - the Kuwaiti prince asks Sleeping Beauty as she rises from her bed. 

kaan-ii yaay

It's no lie that you can spend weeks learning nouns and verbs and yet be no closer to actually speaking a new language. That's why I'm a big fan of compact sentences like today's phrase. In three syllables, you can give yourself the feeling you can converse in Kuwaiti. And why not? It's a complete sentence, after all.

"ya aallah!" a certain someone will call up to me, meaning in this context, 'get a move on slow coach, we're running late.'

"kaa-nii yaayah!" I'll heckle back from the bathroom and then start getting dressed.

Today's phrase isn't at all ironic, it's just that I tend to be late for everything, a flaw for which at times I pay very dearly, especially with my super punctual other half.

"7abiibtii!" he calls, his patience almost in negative figures.

"kaa-nii yaayah!" I call as I awkwardly hop to the front door, one shoe half-buckled on. That is, until I spot a ton of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and come to a complete stop before them. My husband sees that I see them. He also sees my obsessive-compulsive hand twitching, my gaze eyeing the dish sponge and washing up liquid.

"OK OK baghasil al-muwaa3iin, just focus on getting yourself ready," he says, relunctantly turning on the tap.

"aashwaa," I whisper to myself and then strap my loose shoe on. It takes less than thirty seconds.

"ya aallah, 7abiibii," I call at him, up to his elbows in soap suds and dirty plates. "We haven't got all night."

"kaa-nii yaay," he says with all the irony in the world.


كاني ياي
kaa-nii yaay
I’m coming! (m)
كاني ياية
kaa-nii yaayah
I’m coming! (f)
darling (m)
darling (f)
يا الله!
ya aallah!
come on!
بغسل المواعين
baghasil al-muwaa3iin
I’ll do the dishes