Arabic Phrase: What can I tell you to tell you?

Today's post is all about a phrase that's used a lot in Levantine Arabic (Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian). The phrase is شو بدي أحكيلك لأحكيلك (shoo beddi aHkeelak la aHkeelak) and sometimes شو بدي أحليلك تأحكيلك (shoo beddi aHkeelak ta aHkeelak).

They both mean the same thing and are used before you're about to explain something or don't really know what to say. The phrase means, "What can I tell you?" or "What can I say?". It's literally, "What can I tell you to tell you?" There are two examples below to give you more context on how it's used. The first is from the Palestinian movie Paradise Now and the second is from season 5 episode 21 of the Syrian drama Bab al-Hara.

سها: السلام عليكم
ابو فلان: اهلا سها. كيفك؟ وين هالغيبة؟
سها: شو بدي أحكيلك تأحكيلك. مفاجآت الحياة كتيرة

Suha: Peace by upon you.
Abu So-and-so: Hello Suha. How are you? Where have you been for so long?
Suha: What can I tell you? Life has many surprises.

فلان (fulaan): "so-and-so". I don't know the guy's name so I just wrote ابو فلان .

وين هالغيبة (wayn hal gaybeh): This is like "long time no see". Literally it's "where this absence?", like "where have you been during this absence?".

ام جوزيف: بس يللي صار معي... آخخ صعب كتير كتير.
البنت: خير خير خير إن شاء الله! والله غليتيلي قلبي. شو يللي صاير معك؟
ام جوزيف: آخخخ. شو بدي أحكيلك لأحكيلك؟

Im Joseph: But what has happened to me... akhkh is very difficult.
Girl: I hope everything is ok! You've made my heart boil. What's happened to you?
Im Joseph: Akhkhkh. What can I say?

خير (khayr): "good". Here it's like "I hope everything is ok." Say you tell your friend that you just got a call from the hospital. He might say خير or خير ان شاء الله meaning that he hope's everything is ok.

غليتيلي قلبي (ghalayteelee albi): literally "you've made my heart boil". She means here that she's worried her.


Arabic jokes from Ahdam Shi

Ahdam Shi (أهضم شي) is a comedy show on the Lebanese channel MTV. They spend about 2 hours going back and forth telling jokes with a little bit of dancing and music thrown in. I believe that if you can understand comedy in a language then you've mastered the language which is why I watch a lot of comedy shows. Also they're just more entertaining to me than the soap operas that most of Arabic TV is saturated with. A lot of the jokes on Ahdam Shi are rated R and have to do with sex which might be surprising to most people learning Arabic. After all, Arabs are supposed to be very conservative, right? Lebanon is different. At least parts of Lebanon are. That's another reason why I like this show. It's not as stuffy as a lot of Arabic media. Here are two jokes from the most recent airing of the show along with the translation and explanation of some words.

قال مرة, وحدة واقفة على طرف الطريق ناطرة سيارة و ما حدا عم بيوقّفلها. بعد شوي بيوقّفلها شب. بيقلها "فضلي مدموزيل إطلاعي." بتطلع. بيقلها "ليكي. ما تخافي. أنا مهذّب. أنا جنتلمن. أنا كتير محترم. ما تفكريني مثل هول الشباب يللي ما بيوقفو إلا للبنات الحلوين."

Once there was a woman on the side of the road waiting for a car and no one was stopping for her. After a while a young guy stops for her. He says to her, "Please, mademoiselle, get in." She gets in. He tells her, "Look, don't be afraid. I'm polite. I'm a gentleman. I'm very respectable. Don't think that I'm like those guys who don't stop except for pretty girls."

قال مرة - I take this to mean "once" or "one time". Lots of jokes start with this. It literally means "one time he said", but you wouldn't translate it like that.

طرف الطريق - "side of the road"

نطر - "to wait"

راح زلمي فاتح محل بطاطا. إجا لعنده صاحبه. قاله كيفك. قاله ماشي الحال. قاله قديش صارلك فاتح محل هالبطاطا؟ قاله شي 3, 4 سنين والله ما بيع غير بطاطا. قاله احوالك منيحة؟ قاله الحمدلله. قاله معك تديّنلنا شي 500 دولار؟ قاله لا بقدرش. قاله كيف ابتقدرش؟ عم بتقلي احوالك منيحة؟ قاله ايه بس ابقدرش. قاله ليش؟ قاله شفت البنك بالواجهة هنيك؟ قاله ايه. قاله في كونتراكت أنا وياهن. لا أنا بقدر ديّن مصاري و لا هن فيهن يبيعو بطاطا.

A man went and opened a potato store. His friend came to him. He said to him, "How are you?" He said to him, "Fine." He said to him, "How long has it been since you opened this potato store?" He said to him, "About 3 or 4 years. I only sell potatoes." He said to him, "Are you doing well for yourself?" He said to him, "Thank God." He said to him, "You have about $500 you can loan me?" He said to him, "I can't." He said to him, "What do you mean you can't? You're telling me that you're doing well for yourself." He said to him, "Yes, but I can't." He said to him, "Why?" He said to him, "You see that bank across the street there?" He said to him, "Yes." He said to him, "There's a contract I have with them. I can't loan money and they can't sell potatoes."

إجا لعنده صاحبه - "His friend came to him." He says this in a strange way. He doesn't pronounce the إ in إجا

ابقدرش - "I can't." In some places of Lebanon and Syria they will put an ا instead of ما before the verb to negate it. This means the same thing as ما بقدر . Some places also put the ش at the end to negate verbs just as Egyptians do.

واجهة - "face" as in the face of a building or shop.

وياهن - "with them"

مصاري - "money". The way he says it sounds like مشاري.