Enduring endearment

It takes a lot more than vocabulary to stop an Iranian from saying what’s on his mind


Enduring endearment
by Ghahremani

As Iranians scatter around the world and absorb other cultures, change
penetrates our language, dilutes our traditions and alters the way we
interact. New and improved members of the global community, we cherish
this happy state to the point of overlooking what we have lost in the
process. The excuse most offered by people who throw foreign words in
their Persian dialogue is that Persian is not rich enough. Ironically,
in saying so, some use the Persian term na-rassa, a poetic word that
bears tremendous weight compared to its English counterpart,

A recent quiz in the Iranian.com asked, “If you get the urge to call
someone ‘dumb’ in Persian, what words would you use?” I could think of
about twenty, but the winner came up with an impressive response of
thirty-six words, some of which I had not even heard before. If you add
the few common terms that were missing from the final report -- such as
Goosaleh, ahmagh, bi aghl -- etc, that number will be sure to exceed

This is by no means an indication that we have more use for the word
‘dumb’; it simply identifies our creative language and how Iranians
reach into their genetic pool to extract the perfect word for each
occasion. Iranians can respectfully insult someone as ablah, reduce him
to the level of a variety of different animals (a cow, a goat, a
donkey, or even a calf goosaleh) or worse, much, much worse. As my
grandmother used to say besheen, befarma, and betamarg all mean sit
down, it just depends on whom a seat is offered to!

Indeed we are a nation that puts everyone in his right place. While
English calls the youth in a family “Cousins”, our language clearly
identifies how these cousins came to be. The daughter of mother’s
brother, dokhtar daii, is not the same as the son of father’s sister,
pessar ammeh. And let’s not even get into second cousins and naveh ammo-e-zan daii – because frankly, who cares about the grandchild
of the father’s brother of mother’s brother’s wife?

Global communication and the urge to become one with the world has
brought on drastic changes and bent a few rigid rules. Long gone are
the days when we used different greeting for different people. Just
three decades ago, you never said goodbye to your seniors with “Bye” or
even the common term of ghorbanat – meaning may I be sacrificed for
you! Instead, where I grew up, you had to say sayeh-toon-kam nasheh --
may your shadow never diminish. Or Marhamat-e-shoma-ziyad -- may your
favors increase! The undertone was understood, yet such formal
expressions often required additional gestures such as a bow, hand
kissing, or simply standing up. I never understood why my father said
taazeem arz meekonam when talking on the phone, and to this day can’t
imagine the need to verbally bow to anyone.

When I try to talk to my children about the good old days, they take a
few steps back and I can see the horror in their eyes. Getting over
their initial shock, I feel their pity and know they are convinced
their mother comes from another planet, one that they are grateful she
left before they were born. While they couldn’t possibly adapt to my
past, I have gone through this transition with negligible difficulty.
From a generation that was not allowed to take a seat without the
elders’ permission, one where the kids waited till all adults were
served before they could have a plate, and one where you had to be
crazy to ask a child’s opinion, we have come to raise kids who don’t
even get up or take their feet off the coffee table when a grownup
enters the room. I don’t object, for fear they’ll put me in a nursing
home. When they call me “Silly Mom”, I have to push away the thought
that if way back when I had said such things to my mother, I might not
have lived to be a mother!

But like it or not, these kids are raised with certain standards, know
their rights and are confident that the world belongs to them. I
remember at my school there was a Mobser who announced teachers’
arrivals by shouting, ‘on your feet!’ “Baar-pa!” and everyone shuffled
out of their benches only to sit back down as she commanded, “Beh-ja.”
And, trust me, this was not the military academy! Today, not only are
students exempt from standing up, they don’t even have to raise their
hands to ask a question and sometimes are on first name basis with
their teachers. Trust me, the way this world in changing, soon it’ll be
the kids who spank grownups.

As a child, if I said, ‘khak to saram’ – dirt on my head—it simply
expressed my remorse. It was an ordinary expression and the forgiving
response often came in “God forbid” or khoda nakoneh. Nowadays when you
tell kids to say they are sorry, it comes out more like “saw-reee”, to
mean, “Get lost. You don’t really expect me to apologize!”

As we verbally evolve, some of the old terms lose their significance.
When I was younger, not everyone could be called friend, and only few
special people could be like a sister or a second mother. During my few
short trips to Iran, I never adjusted to being called “sister” by
everyone, and when few called me “mother”, it only made me feel old.
These days, I’m doing what I can not to be called dumb, regardless of
which word is used. I belong to a generation for whom each word had a
place, one that did not carelessly throw the words around and one who
used the term “love” when true love still existed.

I suppose if Iranian.com had chosen any other word for their quiz,
readers would still manage to find numerous synonyms. That’s who we
are: verbal, poetic, creative people. We thrive on self-expression. If
we don’t have the word, we’ll beg, borrow, and steal it from other
languages. It takes a lot more than vocabulary to stop an Iranian from
saying what’s on his mind. Just think about it, more than forty names
to describe an idiot! How dare they say Persian is not a rich language?

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani gave up dentistry to be a full-time writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site ZoesWordGarden.com


Recently by GhahremaniCommentsDate
The End of An Era
Nov 18, 2012
Walking Home
Oct 24, 2012
Eating Rice with a Spoon
Aug 25, 2012
more from Ghahremani

As usual, well-written,

by flovius on

As usual, well-written, insightful and humorous,- a reminder of happier times.


Very funny

by Parham on

"As my grandmother used to say besheen, befarma, and betamarg all mean sit down, it just depends on whom a seat is offered to!"


I had completely forgotten about that one. Laughed out loud! :-)