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Speaking of habits: Proverb.

  • 1384

Hello everyone!
This is one quickie post for a proverb that I've remembered in a whim. And since it is a short proverb, I thought it would be such a good idea to talk about it, word by word, in hope to add to your arsenal of words and knowledge about Arabic (even if some parts of it do sound classical). And by the way, I've slowed down the audio a bit because it seems I was talking too fast here, and of course, the tone of my voice changed a bit as well. So, I hope the audio is OK after all.

غَلِبَ الطَّبْعُ التَّطَبُّعَ

Translation: Habit overcame adoption.
Transliteration (phonetic): ğaliba-ŧŧab3u-ttaŧabbu3(a).
Transliteration (by word): ğaliba al-ŧab3u al-taŧabbu3.
Note: (a) here points to the last vowel that should be normally there, but can be skipped because the word comes at the end of the sentence.
Audio: https://1drv.ms/u/s!AtZbIhL2YUECgXHjGdWqC1ZILqgd?e=DWBNUi
Moral: Said as a reminder that the force of habit is too strong to change. Sometimes as a mockery, as well, for someone who is trying to change his habits or show off with something that does not fit him or her in the first place.


غَلِبَ: Overcame, conquered, won over.
الطَبع: The habit.
التّطبّع: The adoption, the habit-making, adopting or mimicking a new habit.


Before going into explaining each word here, it might be better to explain first why there are Shaddahs on some words' beginnings. Some of you know the reason already, I'm sure. For those who do not know: There are 14 letters in Arabic, in total, that when they come at the beginning of the word, and this word is to be defined with the definite article AL الـ, these letters suck in the "L" sound and become doubled (i.e. get Shaddah on their tops). This property happens by nature for a native speaker, and it is part of easing out the flow of the speech; Because saying "L" followed by one of these 14 sounds would be slow and hard (mainly because of the distance that the tongue needs to travel to change its position inside the mouth from the location of "L" to the location of articulating this particular sound). These letters are called the Solar Letters الحروف الشمسية.

These letters or sounds are: ت ث د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ل ن - The rest of letters, also 14, are called Lunar Letters الحروف القمرية and they have "L" easily recognized in speech; They do not suck up "L" and do not get Shaddah when the word is defined. Notice though, in both cases, whether solar or lunar, the Alif in the definite article الـ is called Hamzat-Wassl همزة وصل, meaning Hamzah of connecting, and it acts somewhat as a schwa in some places but can be eclipsed completely by the preceding vowel of the word before and you can see that clearly if you read the phonetic transliteration above.


Generally speaking, this verb means "overcame". In the above translation of the proverb, probably I should have translate in present tense to get along the English style of stating proverbs (most of the time), and it would be maybe habit overcomes adoption. However, it doesn't work that way in Arabic. Proverbs in Arabic specifically tend to implement the past tense of verbs, probably this raises from the idea that the proverb has its core of events in the past and from there it became a "fact" of life afterword; While in English, probably the language sees the proverb as a re-occurring event and naturally a present tense is used. However, I'm NOT generalizing here; There are still proverbs in Arabic that do use the present tense of course. Worth noting, this verb is also the root for other expressions in Arabic, like غالباً (ğáliban: mostly), على الأغلب (3alá al-ağlab: mostly, most probably); And let's not forget the typical engravings that adorn many Andalusian and Moroccan marvels: لا غالب إلا الله (lá ğáliba illa Allah: None victorious but Allah).

Side Note: Some verbs in Arabic, specially those of 3 letters, can have two ways of pronunciation when it comes to the second letter, and both are correct. For example, the verb here غَلِبَ (ğaliba) can also be written and said as غَلَبَ (ğalaba). Some of these differences are typically attributed to the Arabic that was used in ancient times between different tribes. The meaning remains the same, only the short vowel of the second fluctuates between (a) and (i). Another example of such verbs: سَمِعَ (sami3a) and سَمَعَ (sama3a) - he heard. There are some few classical verbs which do change in meaning with this change in the middle vowel but to my knowledge, they are not quite common in literature.


The habit. I guess no need to go all over again explaining why the first letter comes with Shaddah here. So, let's move to the end of this word, which bears the Dhammah sign, i.e. -u vowel. Nouns (or verbs) which bear such a vowel to their ends are typically said to be مرفوع (marfú3: elevated). This is the typical ending for a noun in nominative status (but also verbs end with such a vowel and usually we don't call verbs as "nominative"). I'm not sure why the name مرفوع was given, but in any case, such name is given to nouns and verbs ending with the vowel (-u) typically; And the title of "nominative" has nothing to do with the title مرفوع as some books (and people) claim because typically we don't say "nominative" about verbs, while in Arabic we do say مرفوع for a verb that ends in (-u) when we state its grammatical stance. Anyway, for those who feel comfortable for using the Western terminologies for grammatical cases, they can keep on going, but it is worth noting the fact of such differences in meanings and terminologies just in case someone decides to move on to read Arabic grammar books. The plural for this word can be either one of two: أَطْباع (aŧbá3) or طِباع (ŧibá3). In Arabic, it is very common to have more than one form for the plural for a single word, and both of them are right (for some few words, the plural can depend on the number but even natives wouldn't know that probably until they study literature). Left to say, the singular here is masculine, while the plural acts as a feminine (and the plural is obviously breaking plural جمع تكسير).


When I searched the dictionary for this word, I've encountered Adaptability. However, I think this is not a good translation for this word. The word "Adaptability" is typically defined as getting used to new circumstances or a change of behavior specifically triggered by a change of circumstances, and this is not the case with this word. In fact, "Adaptability" is more frequently translated into Arabic as تَكَيُّف (takayyuf). For this reason, I've preferred using the word adoption (first, I've put it as habit-making but it sounded a bit weird that way). I think adoption would describe the action of getting a new habit regardless of the circumstances, and this is what التّطبّع really is. It is the action of trying to gain or change a habit, not necessarily by the force of the environment (even if this could be true) but merely by the desire of the individual to do so.
In fact, with this word, I could open a new door for discussing the weights (الأوزان which matches "models" in English) and the manipulation of verbs to adjust their meaning or simply convert their effect from being intransitive to transitive. But I think it's not the right time to discuss this topic. However, we can derive verbs from this noun:
- Past: تَطَبَّعَ (taŧabba3a) he adopted a habit.
- Present: يَتَطَبَّعُ (yataŧabba3u) he adopts a habit.
- Future: سَيَتَطَبَّعُ (sayataŧabba3u) he will adopt a habit.

These are basics of course. I don't want to go further to list all the cases (feminine/duals/plurals.. etc). Maybe you can work your way and guess the rest? Anyway, this verb is a derivation from another verb: طَبَعَ (ŧaba3a), which comes in various meanings: to print, to type, to seal upon. The general sense of the word is to make a permanent mark on something. As you can see, by adding a letter or two to the original verb, we can change or modify its meaning. Such verbs are commonly known as فعل مزيد (fi3l mazíd), meaning incremented verb. There are specific models and systematic ways to do such increments but as I said, it would be a lengthy topic and I don't think it is the right time for this right now.
A final word about the ending of this word. This word is receiving the action of the verb غَلِبَ, which is done by الطّبْع (the subject), and thus, this word must be in the accusative position. Accusatives typically come in a status known in Arabic as منصوب (mancúb), which means its end bears the vowel (-a), or fatHa in Arabic. In case the noun was indefinite, then this fatHa changes to Tanwin bil fatH (-an). Anyway, this word comes at the end of the sentence so it is fine to drop the last vowel and just stop at (-u3). And by the way, it's a masculine noun.


Hope this proverb and this talk is beneficial for you. I've remembered this proverb out of the blue actually without referring to any books. I hope everything is clear, as I might have typed this in a haste (sort of), because I'm (and will be) busy doing other things. Wish you all a good evening! مساء الخير.

September 19, 2019



Thank you for this saying, I like it. But it has really challanging letters to speak. Means, we might need some time for saying it in a proper way. ;-) Enjoy this young night and this weekend.

  • 1384

Yes, probably the challenge is with ط and ع
As for غ this is like French "R" (a bit lighter than the Bavarian "R" I presume).


Exactly, the t and ayn in one word. ;-) The third letter is for Germans not really a challange, even if we can not speak French or the Bavarian dialect. I got told that this is similar to the EN word "rain" and so on.

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