Ethiopian Culture / Immigrant Life / Language

Un-say

I like collecting information, though I’ve not done any serious pollingcommunication-breakdown of my usual victims since a couple of years ago. But those I communicate with frequently are never surprised to get questions on random of subjects from me. Of late, I have been asking ‘What is your least favorite single-word expression in Amharic?’ I forget what got me going on that subject. Someone must have said something to me, and that must have gotten my polling motor going. Either that or I was just looking for an opening to share my own personal list. Before I get to that, here are some other Amharic irritants that folks shared with me.

  • Shay buna? Yes, technically it’s a cheat because it’s two words, but the explanation for why this person hated it was so hilarious that I just had to let it pass. I quote: “when I hear that, I wanna say ‘oh you are too broke to take my ass to dinner so you wait till morning so you can buy me coffee . Oh my.. How lucky of me to get the choice between coffee and tea …'”
  • Amarigna tichiyalesh? (another cheat, okay there’ll be just one more) There’s really no right answer to this, because no matter what you say you’ll be found lacking. If you say ‘yes’, slipping up even once will mark you as a shameless liar. If you say ‘no’, you get practically hazed for somehow not having had control of your language learning when you were four. If you say ‘a little’, you’ll be everyone’s circus monkey, at whom they throw conversation to see what you grab and what you miss.
  • Gud-gud bey: As the ‘verb’ implies, this is one that females only get, as if there are special dance steps to be taken in the kitchen, manageable only by female feet, that will result in the materialization of a meal. Commonly it goes like: gud-gud bey isti yemibela neger…
  • Initebaber: This is just a polite way of asking you to be dumb so the other person can cheat you or shortchange you or just play you for a fool in some way. General feeling among those polled about this one went along the lines of “Eat ***t and die.”
  • Altegbabanim: Another method of pulling the wool over your eyes, or whatever that Anglo expression is. The speaker is usually implying that you are dense in the head. “Very condescending.” said one respondent.

And my top three are:

  • Techawech! Contrary to what it is supposed to encourage, there is nothing like hearing that word to make me go Ice Age. If I am boring you, then you’re welcome to relocate.
  • Tefash! Again, nothing makes me want to disappear more than being actually told I have “disappeared”. This word, often used at the opening of a conversation, immediately puts me in the guilty box, as if the maintaining of communication was my responsibility only.
  • Inibla! I don’t like sharing food, we know this. But if someone comes upon me while I am feeding, a habesha person that is, I know I’m supposed to say inibla, so I say it, hoping he/she will say ‘no thanks’. And this is a double-edged one, because when I’m on the other side, as the unexpected arrival during a feeding, nine times out of ten I do want to eat, but the code of the ritual obliges me to say bekagn, and THAT is actually my least favorite word of all.

 

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