Muthiir lilihtimam!

The poverty of second and third hand sources, as exhibited in Forward:

You might find it odd that a Hebrew word for “interesting” is used regularly in Israeli Arabic. I once asked an Arab friend of mine about this and was told, to my surprise: “That’s because we don’t have our own word for ‘interesting.’ The closest we can come is either ajib [‘strange’ or ‘unusual’] or else muhim [‘important’ or ‘noteworthy’], and neither really means what me’anyen does.” When I checked on this with other Arabic speakers, it was confirmed. Is this just a linguistic oddity, or is it indicative of a deeper feature of Arab culture — the absence, perhaps, of the very concept of “interesting” that is so basic to the Western mind, since what isn’t unusual enough or noteworthy enough to arouse curiosity is not considered worthy of attention?

To clarify, Arabs do find things interesting, and do possess a “concept of ‘interesting'”. In fact there are multiple expressions in Arabic that are equivalent or precisely the same as “interesting” in English. !شَيِّق

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2 thoughts on “Muthiir lilihtimam!

  1. Whether it’s true or not, I’ve heard this claim that there is no word for “interesting” in Arabic (or at least in MSA) from lots of people including from my MSA teacher, who was born and bred in Syria. I think they regard “muthir lilihtimam” as an artifical construction invented to replicate the word “interesting” itself (I’ve no idea if that’s true). I don’t know where they stand on “mushaiyyiq” or other possible equivalents.

    However, when they say this they only mean that there is no analagous adjective for the English adjective interesting, and not that there are now words that express the general concept of interest/finding something interesting, as the Forward author suggests; obviously ihtam’ bi is a very widely used verb that means precisely to be interested in or take an interest in something. Clearly the writer’s extrapoloations about “Arab culture” are absurd.

  2. I actually have this same problem while speaking Arabic – while of course there is “concept of interesting”, there isn’t one word that conveys all of the meanings of interesting in English. While mutheer lilitimam literally means something that arouses interest, I find I can’t use it like I use “interesting” in English – as a noncommittal comment, as a negative, as a positive, to describe an article or book that caught my eye, to describe a person who’s a little unique. There are several ways to describe these things perfectly in Arabic, but no blanket “interesting”. Of course, there’s also tons of Arabic words that describe something so perfectly but require convoluted equivalents in English.

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