Friday, September 30, 2011

I've got dibs on that...

I found a recipe that called for grenadine molasses. Being published in a Western newspaper, it said I'd have to find a Middle Eastern speciality grocer, but here in Dubai, it's hard to find a grocer that doesn't specialise in Middle Eastern ingredients, so I got a bottle labelled (in Arabic) dibs roman.

Which brings up a problem of translation: in Western Europe, everyone has the same concepts, but different ways of saying them, so the English say 'bread' while Germans say 'brot' and the French are a 'pain'.

But when one goes East, the concepts are different, so a word-for-word translation becomes difficult. I know what an English 'word' is, but the Arabic 'kalima' is any combination of two or more letters, so not quite the same, but my Arabic-English dictionary says kalima is the Arabic for 'word'.

Which brings me to dibs.

In standard English, molasses has one meaning: crush sugar cane to extract the liquid, then boil that liquid until it forms a thick, dark, sweet syrup, and that syrup is molasses.

In Arabic, that syrup is called dibs, but Arabic has many different kinds of dibs besides molasses. The word dibs seems to refer to any thick, dark edible syrup.

In proper English, when a traveller comes across a concept that does not exist, the word is normally absorbed into English via the five-finger discount method of acquisition. But sometimes the traveller gets 'help' from one of the natives who speaks a little English, and this seems to be how dibs roman got translated as 'grenadine molasses' (roman is Arabic for pomegranate or grenadine). I find this unfortunate, because molasses is always sweet, but grenadine dibs is very tart, so Arabs without the benefit of an Arabic-English dictionary have translated dibs for me as vinegar. And one Lebanese said dibs has no translation into English.

So I wish, when the company was forced to find an English name to put on its international label, they had just called it grenadine dibs, rather than grenadine molasses.

I should also mention that Northern Arabs tell me they use it instead of vinegar to make oil and dibs salad dressing. And the recipe I found that caused me to buy a bottle said to mix it with sugar to make a sweet-and-sour sauce to pour over eggplant.

So now I've got dibs on the salad and the eggplant.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

“Innominate” in Dubai????

The New York Times blog on photography has a link to a series called Innominate. Since the word's meanings in English are all medical or legal, the photographer, Ruben E. Reyes, posts his definition of innominate as the first slide in the series:


-adj: having no name; nameless: anonymous

The series consists of photographs of Dubai and of some of the innominate people who work in Dubai.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Eid (al fitr) Mubarak, 1432

I have been getting errors from blogspot for the past week or so, so a belated Eid Mubarak.

Islam has two 'official' Eids, and this one (on 29 October 2011 just after sunset) marked the end of Ramadan.

Once, Dubai slowed down for Ramadan and closed completely for Eid.

During previous Ramadans, employers were required to reduce the workday by several hours, sending all employees home in mid-afternoon so the employees could prepare for iftar. This past Ramadan, I saw businesses open all day. Where before, all during Ramadan, Dubai seemed deserted from one hour before sunset until one hour after sunset, this year shops were open and crowded during those two hours.

And during past Eids, all of Dubai seemed closed, but this Eid, most shops were open.

At the same time, in previous years, if one knew where to look, there were restaurants with signs, 'Closed until iftar,' but if one tried, the doors were unlocked, and inside they served the usual menu. I tried a few I knew of, but all were closed, and, when they opened after iftar, they said they'd been warned off by the police: In previous years, the police had been told to turn a blind eye to these few violations of the Ramadan fast--travellers are not required to fast, and women are not allowed to fast for one week during Ramadan, so a few restaurants had informal permission to remain inconspicuously open (with an emphasis on inconspicuously). Not this year (perhaps because last year they mangled the inconspicuously).

So a few strange incongruities this Ramadan.

But now Ramadan is over, restaurants are open during the day, and it's permissible to sip a drink while wandering about Dubai in the heat, which is just now starting to abate.

So Eid Mubarak!