Monday, April 04, 2005


New Words

[This post is dedicated to "Liminal" and other expatriate fellow Iraqis, just to keep them in touch with things that are never reported on the media!]

Colloquial language is so much more dynamic than the classical language. It is always amusing to watch new words come into everyday language. It happens all the time in probably most countries. In Iraq under the present conditions, these take on a special flavor. A few words may illustrate this:


The 'u' in Buri is pronounced like in “poor”, “sure”

This word (which literally means “pipe” in Iraqi slang) appeared suddenly in the first half of the 1990’s in Baghdad and then spread out. One started hearing things like “Oh, I was hit by a buri!” or simply “Buri”, which sounded rather odd. I actually found it baffling.

After some investigation, facilitated by my contacts in the farming field, I traced it back to green-grocers!

The story is like this: Farmers traditionally used opaque sacs to market some produce such as potatoes. They generally place the better samples on top. They call it “presentation”, not cheating.

In the late 80’s netted plastic 50-lb. sacs came into use. They made seeing the whole sac of produce a lot easier. Those who wanted to cheat apparently inserted a 12-14” plastic tube into the sac. They poured the poor samples inside the tube and placed the good ones outside. The tube was then withdrawn and some more good samples were put on top! Anyone looking at the sac would only see the good items. The poor green grocer only discovered that “he’d been had” after partially emptying the sac. After that “technology” was discovered, the grocer would exclaim: “Damn! I was hit by a buri!”. The usage of course extended to other similar situations.

Reverting to today’s issues. I often feel that both unsuspecting, poor Americans and Iraqis have been hit by a buri.


During the UN sanction years, the government had to relax its grip on the economy. Three new sources of enormous income were introduced: commerce (importation of foodstuff and much-needed consumer good), oil (under-the-table oil export contracts) and smuggling (of a large variety of items with neighboring countries, both ways).

It was during that period that we began hearing the word “tugg”. It is a slang verb that means “burst or exploded”. It meant that somebody suddenly became extremely rich.


Saddam Hussein had a name for every major battle! There were so many of them: “The crown of all battles”, “The day of the great victory”, “The proclamation of all proclamations”, “The crown of battles” and of course "Um il Ma'arik - The mother of all battles”...

He called the last war “Um il Hawassim – The mother of all arbitrators”. This was meant to end it all.

So much material was looted after the invasion. Much of it began to surface on the market a few weeks later; cars, carpets, air-conditioners, food… you name it! People who suspected an item of having been looted would call it “Hawassim” stuff.


New Job Opportunities in Iraq - Informers for the new Mafia.

The new job is lucrative and appealing.

You go to an office in Kifah Street in Central Baghdad. You give them details about someone you know to be rich enough to pay a good ransom. They take the data down and ask you to come back in a week. During that week, they make their own investigation to check the authenticity of your information and decide whether “project” is worth pursuing further. You go back to the office. If they are interested, they pay you up to $2,500 in cash. That’s it!

You are called "allaass" - which is derived from a verb meaning "to chew or grind and then swallow".

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