Lo and behold, Wednesday Wehr is back, sort of. I’m going to dedicate today’s post to a word that I really need to just get out of the way. It’s that one word which astonishes every new Arabic student and which has caused many a surprised outcry and sudden laughter to break the silence in countless libraries across the world. You’ve guessed it, today’s word is:
تهتلر II (tahatlara): to behave like, or imitate, Hitler. The root, if you look it up, is هتلر, which of course is a quadriliteral root based on the name Hitler. Such quadriliteral verbs based on foreign names or verbs are not uncommon. Other examples found in Wehr
include بلشف balšafa, to Bolshevize, and اقلم aqlama, to acclimate, acclimatize, adapt, adjust. This form is very much productive today. However, let us try to find out whether tahatlara is in fact in use anywhere.
Google the word and you’ll just have to skip the top hits, they are all rather like this blogpost; i.e. written by Arabic students who find the very concept of having this word hilarious. Skip past the repetitions of a strange poem that implores the reader to “act like Hitler as you like, and be a better doctor than your doctor”, and you will see that yes, apparently, the word is actually used in Modern Arabic, albeit by a very few. (On the other hand, how often can you possibly need to use this word?).
My favourite example is from a piece in Ad-Dustour, date unknown, by Khairi Mansour. The author remembers a time in Moscow when, after a particularly fiery speech was given by Saddam Hussein, former ambassador to Egypt Vasiliev predicted that the Zionists would start comparing Hussein to Hitler, after “the name of the German Führer had changed into a technical term in the political Zionist dictionary”. What is particularly interesting, from a linguistic point of view, is a line in the next paragraph where the word is used in its transitive first form; a form which is not listed in Wehr but is definitely both logical and plausible. Mansour writes: “Only a few years had passed when Vasiliev’s prediction came true and Zionism was able to turn Saddam Hussein into Hitler”. (Arabic: واستطاعت الصهيونية ان تهتلر صدام حسين).
All right, it’s not the most interesting thing to happen in Arabic linguistics since the pidginization theory, but it does confirm that tahatlara is not merely an archaic word known only to the giggling novice student of Arabic. I, for one, find this oddly comforting.