presents the Book: A
dictionary of Modern Lebanese Proverbs - Arabic and English
by Anis Frehya - Librarie du Liban
20 x 14.5 x 4 cm - Hard cover, 750 pages - 1kg - Arabic / English
was made in Ras Al-Matn, a small village in the district of Matn
to the East of Beirut. It is a predominantly Druze village and
more and more is becoming a religious center for Druzedom. The
primary source from which they were gleaned is the people's daily
conversation. Those who insist, in historic and scientific work,
upon documentation and citation will be disappointed in finding
nothing of this sort in this work. Nevertheless, we believe that
living men and women are the best authentic source for collecting
proverbs, determining their true pronunciation and meaning.
At one time I was interested in making a collection of Lebanese
folklore, nursery rhymes, popular songs and superstitions, before
they should be lost with the passing of this generation. Ras al-Matn
was chosen for this project, not so much because it is my native
village as because it is a unique village in a rapidly changing
Lebanon. This village has not strongly felt the impact of westernization.
Social life, economic life, and Druze religious life goes on uninterrupted
in the same manner as they did in the early part of the last century.
As I carefully listened to farmers, workers, artisans, and religious
chief, I was impressed by their frequent resort to proverbs to
substantiate their statements or to enhance their manner of expression.
I thought to myself: here is valuable literary material which
will also disappear with the passing of this generation unless
someone records it. So I began to jot down every proverb I heard.
When it was known in the village that I was collecting proverbs,
and that I would pay a franc for every new one not found in my
already growing collection, people came to me with long lists
of proverbs. "And have you heard this one? And have you got
this one in your collection?" they said, hoping to get a
few francs. This went on until practically no one is Ras al-Matn
could add anything new.
At the American University of Beirut, teachers, students, and
friends who knew of the project challenged its completeness. So
hundreds of proverbs were given to me by Syrians, Palestinians
and Iraqi until the collection grew to enormous dimensions. But
many were not included in the collection, for I insisted that
only those new proverbs known to the people of Ras al-Matn could
be added. In Ras al-Matn I had a group of friends and relatives
who could tell whether or not the proverb was "Matni"
or not. It was meant from the outset, that this collection should
be an exhaustive collection of a limited area, not a collection
of "Modern Arabic Proverbs". Such a task is too vast
for one individual to undertake. Furthermore, a complete collection
of "Modern Arabic Proverbs" could only be done after
several such collections of smaller areas were made.
In order to determine to what extent these proverbs from Ras al-Matn
are common property to other Arabic speaking countries, I went
to the trouble of collating them with other collections made by
native and European scholars in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine,
Egypt and Transjordan. Mr Salamah Ubayd, M. A., a former student
of mine who comes from Jabal al Druze, Syria, kindly read through
the whole collection under instruction to put a cross in red ink
on every card containing a proverb which was known to him. It
was surprising that practically the whole collection was known
to him. It was not so when I asked a girl student from Aleppo
to read it. The reason being that the Druzes in both countries,
Syria and Lebanon, are one and the same community. Dr. Subhi Mahmassani,
a lawyer of Beirut and a lecturer at the A.U.B. placed at my disposal
his large collection of Beiruti proverbs (MS). There were many
proverbs unknown in Ras al-Matn. Mr Hasan Fariz from Transjordan
and a former student of the A.U.B. sent me a very large collection
(MS) of proverbs which he himself had collected in his native
land. A girl student from Baghdad copied over a thousand from
private collections of Iraqi proverbs and sent them to me for
It is safe to state that the common popular one are known throughout
the Arabic speaking world, and that the collection made at Ras
al-Matn is known practically all over the mountainous section
of Lebanon, not the littoral.
In translating these proverbs into English it "was deemed
best to give as literal a translation as could be possible provided
the translation made sense to a European reader. It was only in
a very few cases when the literal translation made no sense that
a free rendering of the proverb was given. The italic words in
brackets refer to the implied words which do not appear in the
It would have been desirable to give a transliteration of the
Arabic for the sake of dialectology. But with the printing facilities
we have, it was impossible to do so. The Arabic text is richly
vocalized, but students of Arabic know well that the Arabic script
is deficient and cannot reproduce the true pronunciation. Also,
it would have been desirable to tell in detail how and when each
proverb is used by giving examples. Such an attempt would have
made this work voluminous.
We must apologize to the reader for the inclusion of objectionable
proverbs. But in a collection of proverbs which claims completeness,
and for the sake of sociological and psychological studies, it
was deemed necessary to include the "smutty" ones.
I am indebted to Mrs. Robert C. Byerly of the American Presbyterian
Mission, and to Professor Byron Smith, head of the English Department
at the A.U.B. for reading the English translation. Professor Smith's
long residence in Lebanon and his knowledge of its spoken Arabic
give weight to the valuable remarks he made which were incorporated
in the translation.
Anis Frayha - 1953
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