Decoding Daesh
November 16, 2015 7:17 PM   Subscribe

Why is the new name for ISIS so hard to understand? And why it's a really good idea to start exclusively using this new name instead of any of the other ones.
posted by umamiman (94 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
I got a resource limit exceeded error when I tried to look at this. Overloaded their bandwidth?
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 7:19 PM on November 16, 2015


I think this is a really significant thing, so hopefully someone can find a link that can hold up to the attention.
posted by Sequence at 7:20 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Google Cache.
posted by xigxag at 7:25 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Google Cache
posted by blob at 7:25 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The link is loading for me, just takes a while.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:30 PM on November 16, 2015


Really interesting piece, thanks for sharing. Some discussion of the pronunciation at Language Log.
posted by somedaycatlady at 7:31 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fascinating. Thank you.
posted by rtha at 7:35 PM on November 16, 2015


The article name-drops Orientalism, which I've read exactly one chapter of, but explained so much of how I think I have come to know the so-called East. I really ought to read the rest of it.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:37 PM on November 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Do we really live up to our stereotype of monolingual insularity this much, even at major broadsheet fact-checking level?

Obviously, yes. Let's continue the category: Unpalatable Truths for $400, Alex.
posted by RogerB at 7:37 PM on November 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Thanks for the Google Cache links and the article itself. It's fascinating, and helps me understand where the new name suddenly came from. It seems to be everywhere - good for the activists who pushed it into the spotlight.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:44 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah I first saw it used in that discussion we had awhile back about the Americans going to fight ISI-, er, Daesh. That article--NYT, maybe?--noted its derogatory nature for sure. Have been seeing it used more widely lately elsewhere on the web.
posted by resurrexit at 7:45 PM on November 16, 2015


Check out the comment by Mr. I-dont-have-time-for-this-and-im-dubious-at-best: "Get to the point. I want to know why Daesh is derogatory. I don’t want to learn to speak Arabic."

Apparently, subtlety is lost on monolingual insularists.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:45 PM on November 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


Daesh, then.

In the absence of consensus around how it should be pronounced, may I suggest, via this discussion here, the following: 'douche'.
posted by motty at 7:51 PM on November 16, 2015 [26 favorites]


On the other hand, if you want to learn a little Arabic, say, from a video game designer, I've got just the XOXO talk for you.
posted by gwint at 7:52 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nice. I am very much down with some elegant cross-language mockery of those shithammers, and I hadn't heard of this before.

But if there was a key to pronunciation in the article, I missed it. Daw-esh is the way my brain pronounces it, but I wonder if that's incorrect.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:56 PM on November 16, 2015


The moment I heard the use of this word irritates them, that is when I started using it. I don't like using the word Islamic in a disrespectful way. Though daesh may include the concept internally I don't see it. I also like the ancient goddess name and I think any use of it by male organizations is disrespectful to the history of women. So daesh it is, let the jokes begin. It is the Westboro Baptist Church on qat. I once daeshed, my doctor said it was bad for me and to stop the practice.
posted by Oyéah at 7:57 PM on November 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


it's not hard (and it's kind of insulting that the concept of 'arabic acronym' might be considered hard), but calling them 'isis' is a lot funnier and strips them of gravitas imo
posted by p3on at 7:57 PM on November 16, 2015


What a remarkable trick, to take up the enemy's proferred name and turn it into a shiv. Lovely!

And also, she writes very clearly, and I would like to read more about Arabic from her.

I think I will be sharing this with others, as a way to erode the pompous, crazy, feral self-importance of Daesh.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:59 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


That article--NYT, maybe?--noted its derogatory nature for sure.
I don't think that her complaint is that the anglophone press has failed to note its derogatory nature. Her complaint is that they've explained its derogatory nature in ways that show a lot of linguistic ignorance.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:59 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why does it strip them of gravitas, because Isis was a goddess? What?
posted by Oyéah at 8:04 PM on November 16, 2015


Why does it strip them of gravitas, because Isis was a goddess? What?

Because a lot of people only know the name through the 1975 Lou Scheimer produced Filmation television show?
posted by sourwookie at 8:09 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


New?
posted by pompomtom at 8:13 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are those who disagree. At least in this case the argument is from someone who knows their Arabic and context, so +1
posted by turnips at 8:16 PM on November 16, 2015


ISIS is the name of the incredibly incompetent spy agency in the TV show Archer (which started airing before the terrorist organization existed).
posted by vogon_poet at 8:20 PM on November 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


While the main link is inaccessible, there's the archived version here.
posted by turnips at 8:23 PM on November 16, 2015


I don't think it's actually insulting them; this is a weird meme. Why not just constantly spell out it's not a real caliphate? Be explicit instead of inside-jokey.

Also, it reminds me of Desh Bouksani in the Bourne trilogy, who was a total badass, presumably muslim, agent from north Africa. I guess he worked for the CIA, though, so maybe that works out.
posted by michaelh at 8:29 PM on November 16, 2015


I always thought it was funny because desh is the French equivalent to jizz.
posted by furtive at 8:30 PM on November 16, 2015


The person on Twitter seems to be making the argument that they think the organization should be equally upset by sharing a name with an Egyptian goddess. But the evidence suggests they're okay with one version and not with the other, doesn't it? In actual practice, not just in theory about what they should or shouldn't mind. What do they mind? If ISIS/ISIL and Daesh are both based on acronyms, but they find one of them to have upsetting associations, even if I can think of reasons that they SHOULD find the other similarly insulting, I'm much more inclined to use whichever one they currently find least respectful. Unless someone is volunteering to go over there and talk to them about Egyptian mythology and/or Archer.
posted by Sequence at 8:35 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have personally committed to calling them Daesh as long as people know what I'm referring to. The issue for me is pronunciation.

Some interesting associations if you pronounce it like Obama did - "Dash". There's the kid from The Incredibles (Disney won't like it), this thing (Amazon won't like it) and I remember Dash Detergent (which is still sold in much of Europe, including France). And ISIS only had an ancient goddess and Archer against it.

A "Desh" pronunciation will mostly have negative reverberations in India and Bangladesh (the country that ends in -desh) and among very determined Star Wars and Minecraft geeks who consider that the name of an artificial metal.

But if you pronounce it "Daysh", Urban Dictionary has a definition referring to a hand signal "resembling a gun" (kind of a Douche move), while "Dayshing" is "having non consensual sex or non consensual touching of body parts of a person who is sleeping or unconscious", a nice little sub-category of rape. Now THAT sounds like the right kind of association to make.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:45 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Isis/isil/daesh, whatever the f you want to call those murderers, won't really be insulted by a play on words/Arabic script.

I've read about how they try to legitimize their horrific actions through religious text, and I've come to the conclusion that they are illiterate.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:50 PM on November 16, 2015


The Terrorists Formerly Known As ISIS: TTFKAI.

WTF, we don't have enough distractions?
posted by notyou at 8:52 PM on November 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I just saw this linked in the Paris thread and came back to the front page and it was here! Great post.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:54 PM on November 16, 2015


And ISIS only had an ancient goddess and Archer against it.

Also, that cack-handed mobile payments system the carriers tried to foist on everyone before it was renamed "SoftCard".


I think the software we used to sign up for classes in grad school was called Isis. That was 10 years ago, so I don't know if they still use it.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:55 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


ISIS is an exonym. Plenty of states are called by different names by those outside the country. Yes, it's kind of an accident of history that it got called ISIS, but for purposes of public clarity, that's what it gets called.

why can’t the anglophone media manage this little linguistic research task?

Basically for the same reason the US hasn't adopted the metric system-- because ISIS has been so widely entrenched by so many millions upon millions of people that it is too much of an effort to linguistically retool all of our newspapers and broadcasts to explain what they regard as a tangential issue.
posted by deanc at 8:55 PM on November 16, 2015


Took five-ever for the author to get to the crux of the point, but this seems to be it:
And so if the word is basically 'ISIS', but in Arabic, why are the people it describes in such a fury about it? Because they hear it, quite rightly, as a challenge to their legitimacy: a dismissal of their aspirations to define Islamic practice, to be 'a state for all Muslims’ and – crucially – as a refusal to acknowledge and address them as such. They want to be addressed as exactly what they claim to be, by people so in awe of them that they use the pompous, long and delusional name created by the group, not some funny-sounding made-up word. And here is the very simple key point that has been overlooked in all the anglophone press coverage I’ve seen: in Arabic, acronyms are not anything like as widely used as they are in English, and so arabophones are not as used to hearing them as anglophones are. Thus, the creation and use of a title that stands out as a nonsense neologism for an organisation like this one is inherently funny, disrespectful, and ultimately threatening of the organisation’s status. Khaled al-Haj Salih, the Syrian activist who coined the term back in 2013, says that initially even many of his fellow activists, resisting Daesh alongside him, were shocked by the idea of an Arabic acronym, and he had to justify it to them by referencing the tradition of acronyms being used as names by Palestinian organisations (such as Fatah). So saturated in acronyms are we in English that we struggle to imagine this, but it’s true.
I could believe that the people running ISIS are in fact so delusional that they do expect to be addressed by the entire six-word term they've invented for themselves and anything else would be taken as mockery or insult. But in the very same paragraph, the author notes that there are groups that do use acronyms, like Fatah. The author says that some Syrian activists view "Daesh" as having a certain rhetorical effectiveness, but do we know that the leadership of ISIS actually cares?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:10 PM on November 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


do we know that the leadership of ISIS actually cares?

The article says they care. More to the point, I don' t think that's the main issue. I meant he goal isn't to make them feel mocked or bad or upset, it's to make them go away and stop killing, raping, and hurting people. Making them look a) Riciculous B) Like crazed bullies from the dark ages in the eyes of others can limit their ability to win support, at least a little. That's what matters.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:18 PM on November 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


If its actually seen as super insulting and ISIS/Daesh is so up in arms about it, why hasn't anyone found one tweet/article/video/etc. bemoaning it?

This also seems kind of hard to believe? Like why would a group get really mad over the head of state of a country they consider a mortal enemy, who has said they suck and are illegitimate many times in many ways, calling them by a name that implies they suck and are illegitimate? Surely they're more concerned about the bombs that same head of state is ordering dropped on them?
posted by hermanubis at 9:27 PM on November 16, 2015


For what it's worth, my Arabic speaking mother pronounces it to sound like "da-yeesh", only it's a fast word, so it can be hard to miss the pause, like when Arabic speakers say al-ki--Ada" for al Qaeda. And the y is almost silent, like it's being swallowed. Also, acronyms aren't really a thing in Arabic, but I've heard a lot more Arabic speakers use daesh lately, instead of isil/isis. (Disclaimer, there are lots and lots of Arabic dialects, all of which have their own flavor. Like the difference between Boston and Alabama. It's the same language, sort of...for the most part....)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:32 PM on November 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, they're probably a lot more concerned about actual attacks against them, but delegitimizing them by comparing their idealized identity to something less than ideal and constantly reminding them that this is how they're seen can be helpful. It's basically "Assistant Regional Manager" vs "Assistant to the Regional Manager" writ large.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:33 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this. I've been vaguely curious along the lines of "What's the deal with Daesh?" but obviously didn't bother to seek out any resources about it on my own.

I think the anglophone media hasn't tried to explain this well because so many English speakers have so little experience trying in earnest to learn a second language. If you've never had to try to think in a tongue that wasn't native to you, the challenges and weirdnesses of translation are pretty tough to grasp, and this is a reasonably tricky translation problem.

I'm basically reading it as, "These guys came up with a name that sounds extremely legit and metal to them and their followers, and we found a way to refer to them that makes it seem dorky and stupid, so we're all going to switch and use it." Kind of juvenile and dad-jokey, but what the hey.
posted by town of cats at 9:34 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Surely the best aim of using the name Daesh isn't to disturb the fucking arseholes who are already doing their thing, but to ridicule the idea thus reducing its attraction to possible recruits.
posted by anadem at 9:49 PM on November 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell, further down the article there's another point:
Whether the word Daesh is insulting to its subject because it sounds ridiculous, or because it actually sounds sinister, depends slightly on who you ask. Some Syrians I’ve talked to rate the satirical value of the word very highly; for others, such as al-Haj Salih himself, however, the main weight of the word is not around humour, but around two very serious points he and others make. First of these is that both the shape of the word and the combination of letters in it are redolent of words from al-jahaliyya, the pre-Islamic dark ages or ‘age of ignorance’ that – as well as being a time rich in poetry and narrative heritage – has huge connotations of hideous barbarity in the popular imagination, being the realm of jinns and monsters and evil spirits and marauding freaks. This has also been overlooked in anglophone coverage, or been confused with an idea of the word having a previous set meaning in and of itself: as we know, it doesn’t. But given the connotations of this type of word, it sounds (to many an arabophone ear) very clearly like it must denote some crazed, bloodthirsty avatar belching back out from the guts of history. As al-Haj Salih very gently and firmly expresses to me by phone when I interview him for this piece, 'If an organisation wants to call itself ‘the light’, but in fact they are ‘the darkness’, would you comply and call them ‘the light’?' The second, and equally important, point that al-Haj Salih stresses to me is another take on why a neologism is insulting: it’s an obviously fictitious name, for an obviously fictional concept. Once again, the movement’s claim to legitimacy as a state and to rule is being rejected as nonsense, reflected in a fabricated nonsense name for them.

So the insult picked up on by Daesh is not just that the name makes them sound little, silly, and powerless, but that it implies they are monsters, and that they are made-up.
posted by a car full of lions at 10:01 PM on November 16, 2015 [9 favorites]




I think I first heard it from Juan Cole a year ago or so. But it does seem to be everywhere now.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:19 PM on November 16, 2015


There was once a political party and their enemies spread an insulting nickname for them that called them all bandits and robbers.
The name stuck to them, and even now a few hundred laters people still call them by the Irish word for "bandit". Oddly this hasn't harmed them in the least and they currently rule the UK. They even proudly describe themselves as "Tories" more often than they use their official name "The Conservative Party".

This kind of name-calling is a waste of time. Call them by the name they chose.
posted by w0mbat at 10:23 PM on November 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I'll use whatever Al-Jazeera uses.
posted by mobunited at 10:26 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the anglophone media hasn't tried to explain this well because so many English speakers have so little experience trying in earnest to learn a second language.

Or maybe "monolingual insularity" has nothing to do with it and it's just a difficult concept to explain succinctly? The linked article spends a couple thousands words explaining it in great detail (while cheekily asking "what's so hard to understand about this?")
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:39 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


but then she pulled examples from spanish and french media to show that it can be done?
posted by cendawanita at 10:43 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]




There are those who disagree. At least in this case the argument is from someone who knows their Arabic and context, so +1

That argument is also from someone who cries out "Let's stop trying to be so bloody PC all the time!" in his argument, so ... -1 at least.

The article's convincing. I'm sold. And for the naysayers saying ISIS is too entrenched, I at least remember when Beijing was called Peking. That change seems to have worked pretty well. And ISIS doesn't even have three centuries of entrenchment!
posted by kafziel at 11:07 PM on November 16, 2015


I shall pronounce it "douche", which I'm pretty sure would terrifically anger them, given their hatred of all things female.

Oh, man, I'd love to see a propaganda campaign that involves air-dropping douchebags imprinted with photos of the douche commanders.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


This seems to the same level as "Overlay your Facebook profile with the French flag", as far as real world effectiveness in defeating evil.

This is a group that is so over-the-top brutal and murderous, they received "hey fuckos, you're taking this to far" nastygrams from the al-Qaeda leadership. I don't hurt feelings are going to be their end.
posted by sideshow at 11:40 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nazi's did not refer to themselves as Nazi's because it sounds like the German word for an awkward and clumsy person.

As they say though, the winners write the history books.
posted by fragmede at 12:33 AM on November 17, 2015


From the article:
First of these is that both the shape of the word and the combination of letters in it are redolent of words from al-jahaliyya, the pre-Islamic dark ages or ‘age of ignorance’ that – as well as being a time rich in poetry and narrative heritage – has huge connotations of hideous barbarity in the popular imagination, being the realm of jinns and monsters and evil spirits and marauding freaks.
Now, I'm not one to suggest using "ISIS" over "daesh", but I found this reasoning to be quite specious. Considering that it sounds quite like the Greek rendering of an Egyptian goddess' name, you could say the same thing about the English abbreviation "ISIS" as well, that it's "redolent of words from" a by-gone era, "being the realm of monsters and evil spirits" and Egyptian mummies, which every cartoon worth its name has made an enemy of.

Likewise, "daesh" sounds quite similar to, redolent of even, the Hindi word "desh" meaning "country". Wouldn't that be giving these, uhhh, gigantic fucking assholes legitimacy?

Essentially, different languages are different.
posted by the cydonian at 12:39 AM on November 17, 2015


They even proudly describe themselves as "Tories" more often than they use their official name "The Conservative Party".

"Tory" retains significant power as an insult and is frequently used as such. The use of the word is significantly more complex than your analysis suggests.
posted by howfar at 12:41 AM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Getting folks, getting everyone, to use a term because you want them to...that's not how language works. "ISIS" is the preferred term, and probably will be at least for the foreseeable future. If for no other reason than it rolls right off the tongue for English speakers. "Daesh" though...I can read that, but how you pronounce it? Dash? Day-sh? Desh? Dah-esh? If people have to ask that question right off the bat, they're just going to stick with "ISIS."
posted by zardoz at 12:48 AM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fascinating article, and I just love the general concept - don't give them the umbrella omnipotent boogeyman title. Let's troll Eeyesyus.
posted by mannequito at 1:34 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Tory" retains significant power as an insult and is frequently used as such. The use of the word is significantly more complex than your analysis suggests.
Indeed.
posted by rongorongo at 2:33 AM on November 17, 2015


It's too bad Kharijistan hasn't been put forward. Kharijite is a term in Islam... I am not knowledgeable enough to give the full explanation, but they were kind of over-agressive thugs from the olden days that other Muslims distanced themselves from. When I was in Saudi, the non-supporters of Daesh were always making this point, so it is apparently pretty significant and de-legitimising.

But if we are going with Daesh (and it seems that indeed we are) then you can further belittle and denigrate by pointing out, whenever questioned, that "it's an innovation!" and make sure to do that with a big smile, like that is a good thing... the idea here is that these fuckos say they are going back to the pure roots, and that they reject innovations in doctrine and practice.

Come to think of it, "Fuckostan" has a nice ring to it as well.

And all the people saying "what's the difference" and "it's just a name" - it is obviously very important to them, and the more mockery and the less fear their dinky little pre-failed state garners, the better.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:44 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can anyone get John Oliver to do a segment on this? The "lengthy, discursive explanation of an important topic, but with swears," seems to be his strong suit.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:09 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I like John Oliver's 'those fucking gigantic assholes.'
posted by sfts2 at 3:14 AM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Getting folks, getting everyone, to use a term because you want them to...that's not how language works. "ISIS" is the preferred term, and probably will be at least for the foreseeable future.

Yeah exactly, in the end ISIS - alone or unfurled into the localized versions of "Islamic State" - is used internationally and instantly recognizable and it's just confusing to see Daesh pop up here and there.

I've been seeing this very same discussion and explanation about using Daesh in the media in Germany and Italy too, articles even cite this explanation by Alice Guthrie and the choice of some French politicians and other European politicians calling for the use of Daesh.

But honestly, I don't see how the media would ever do what, force themselves to adopt this universally? and to what practical purpose anyway? to the majority of people this would only create more confusion. If you need at least a few thousand words to explain why we should all use a word instead of another, you've already lost your argument there. It's all very fascinating and interesting as a linguistic disquisition but you can't force usage of a word based on that alone. You could just say "because it's pejorative and Syrian anti-ISIS activists use it" - that's a valid point, showing support for those anti-ISIS forces - but if it doesn't sound as pejorative in people's ears in their own language there's not much you can do about it.

My first reactions when I first started hearing and seeing "Daesh" mentioned a while ago was "wtf is this" and then "oh ok that's ISIS" and then "what's the point? we already have an acronym everyone knows" and "it sounds like that brand of washing powder". Even after reading the explanations, it still sounds too vague, indistinct, it loses any reference to its origins as we're all used to hear about it in major international media.

So for once, I'm defending the "linguistic insularity" of English - maybe it's not insularity, maybe it's just that English media is just more practical and sees no reason to switch to a new confusing acronym that needs not-so-immediate explanations to justify its use.

(Besides, do we really think that using "Islamic State" is somehow justifying the demands of the group? It's just describing them pretty accurately).
posted by bitteschoen at 3:18 AM on November 17, 2015


Seems to me that this sort of linguistic mockery is a downward slide to calling them dinks and gooks. Instead of satire and humor, I would suggest taking those people seriously and coming to grips with the question of whether or not we can or should share the planet with them.
posted by three blind mice at 3:23 AM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


>Of course the amazing Arabic letter 'ع' which begins the word for 'Iraq' is unpronounceable to an anglophone, and can’t be written in Latin letters, hence the use of an 'e' (or occasionally an ’e) in the transliteration.

So, which is it? Is Arabic mundane, straightforward, and easy to understand if only we would try just a little? Or is it somehow so mysterious that someone who speaks English cannot even pronounce one of its sounds?

Do Arabs have different mouth equipment? Extra vocal cords?

You can't have it both ways.
posted by kcds at 4:44 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would suggest taking those people seriously and coming to grips with the question of whether or not we can or should share the planet with them.

I think that permanently enshrining a term for Daesh that was intentionally designed by a resident of Raqqa to inherently obviate all of their claims to legitimacy, and thus guaranteeing that anyone who ever reads about this situation encounters it immediately, is taking the problem much more seriously than all the people who are right now assuring everyone that there's a straightforward short-term military approach that will easily solve the problem which involves throwing just slightly more military resources at it and the only reason this obvious solution hasn't been taken up so far is a lack of backbone or Obama not wanting it badly enough or something like that.
posted by XMLicious at 4:49 AM on November 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


I have recently heard from legitimate speakers ISIS, ISYL, IS, Islamic State, and daesh. Seems unlikely there will be a universal consensus, certainly we hope before the groups is essentially dissolved. Which at this point is quite unknowable, it could loose a few more leaders and the majority of foot solders just walk away, or it could be a legitimately new force int the world. If the later, no mater now bad, the long term name will be established by the forces of language which are not all that controllable by any single intention. "language" sometimes seems like an independent organism with it's own natural force. Hopefully daesh or whatever will soon be a footnote in the history books.
posted by sammyo at 5:01 AM on November 17, 2015


So, which is it? Is Arabic mundane, straightforward, and easy to understand if only we would try just a little? Or is it somehow so mysterious that someone who speaks English cannot even pronounce one of its sounds?
I don't think that's "mysterious." I think that's a function of how language works. I could swear that I learned in Psych 101 that babies are born being able to make all of the sounds available to human language, and when they start babbling they babble using all those sounds. As they're exposed to language, they start focusing in on the sounds that are used in the languages they're hearing, and they gradually stop making the other sounds. At some point, it becomes difficult to make those other sounds. That's part of the reason that there's a developmental window during which it's a lot easier to learn other languages. That's not special to Arabic.

Where she's wrong, I think, is that she assumes that people are willing to believe wacky things about how Arabic works because they think Arabic is mysterious and inscrutable. I think that they just haven't thought very much about how languages work.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:07 AM on November 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Tory" retains significant power as an insult and is frequently used as such. The use of the word is significantly more complex than your analysis suggests.

I don't think the "Tory" example is an outlier, though... history is littered with groups who were tarred with offensive names by outsiders, but then re-appropriated the names and turned them into recruitment tools or sources of internal solidarity. The practice spans everything from political parties (Tories and Know-Nothings, off the top of my head) to marginalized minority groups (African-American and LGBT) to geographical distinction ("cheeseheads" weren't always proud Green Bay fans). I like the idea of news media reporting the name of these fucking gigantic assholes with a nod-and-a-wink (much like every straight-faced reference to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), but not if it's going to strengthen their resolve.
posted by Mayor West at 5:07 AM on November 17, 2015


Do Arabs have different mouth equipment? Extra vocal cords?

It's very hard to pronounce sounds that are not a phoneme in your own language (used to convey meaning). There are vowels that my British-born husband uses regularly that I can't say, as they aren't used in Canadian English but are used in his dialect.
posted by jb at 5:20 AM on November 17, 2015


to use my own grade school Quranic class upbringing to explain it badly, if you're a monolingual english speaker, the 'ع' and some other arabic alphabets employ aspirating (is this even the right term) in the parts of your mouth and nasal passage that English speakers would never think to use, but would still be fairly accessible for a Francophone. But on the other hand there are consonants that don't exist in arabic as well as one particular 'e' sound, which is why other muslim cultures that switched to arabic script had to invent new characters, like Farsi, or Malay, which, thanks to its sanskrit heritage, needed characters for 'v', 'ng-', 'ny', or 'p'. Which is also why Pepsi in Saudi Arabia is spelled as 'b-i-b-s-i'.

But back to Daesh, the way I'd suggest trying is to have a gentle nasal stop between 'da' and 'esh'. That stop is indicative of anglicised 'e' vowel originally spelled with 'ع' rather than the other one, alif. So it doesn't resemble the 'desh' of Bangladesh either - it's basically two syllables, the way the French do it.
posted by cendawanita at 5:30 AM on November 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


(actually don't take my point about the alif -- i'm making a hash out of that particular part of my explanation!)
posted by cendawanita at 5:33 AM on November 17, 2015


double actually, that brings up a pertinent point on how to pronounce the word 'Quran'. If you can figure out how to do 'Daesh', then it's basically the same principle - it should be Qur'an, not ko-ran.
posted by cendawanita at 5:38 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm no fan of Daesh/ISIS, but are journalists supposed to choose names based on how insulting they are?
posted by splitpeasoup at 5:56 AM on November 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


All languages have sounds that are difficult for non-native speakers. Think about how Japanese speakers have trouble distinguishing "L" and "R" in English. I've heard that some non-English speakers have trouble with at least one of the "th" sounds in English. This is one of the reasons why non-native speakers of languages tend to have distinctive accents.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:02 AM on November 17, 2015


I read this thread before work today so it was on my mind.

On the way in on CBC's the Current they were interviewing Muslims in one of the predominantly Muslim neighborhoods.

One of the people, Mohammed, used Daesh when talking about what had happened. I almost missed the name because like many I'm not so used to hearing it. He pronounced it like 'Dye -eesh' with the stress on Di and the eesh part pretty soft. There was two syllables but it wasn't super pronounced.

The interviews are worth listening to, very sad, made me cry. It looks like the whole segment will be posted here.
posted by Jalliah at 6:03 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


My takeaway is that the new name gives clever folks more ammunition for ironic or satirical critiques of the movement. Literary critique runs deep in the Arabic world, I'm told, and this is a way to at some Arabic flavoured utility that is missing with an English acronym.

I don't know if this is the case to any real degree, but the link has a few examples of some clever whisker pulling using the new label.

So, if this offers a chance for smart folks to communicate the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the group then why not?

I don't know if this is actually happening, but if it is, then it is a real thing we should recognize whether or not we, ourselves, use it.

Satire isn't going to save the world, but it adds a facility that can give you a savage respite from the real savagery. Many folks are angry with this shitty group, and how they express this anger should make sense to them.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:20 AM on November 17, 2015


>It's very hard to pronounce sounds that are not a phoneme in your own language

>parts of your mouth and nasal passage that English speakers would never think to use

>All languages have sounds that are difficult for non-native speakers.

But she is not saying the word is "very hard" or "difficult" to pronounce, she's not saying you have to perform unaccustomed oral contortions - she is claiming that the sound is unpronounceable for English speakers. Unpronounceable!

Yes, I know it's hyperbole, but if the whole thrust of your argument is that we English speakers are simply lazy, then don't turn around and tell me this other language depends on making sounds that are impossible for me to make.
posted by kcds at 6:37 AM on November 17, 2015


Just like the spanish tongue trill sound or the guttural of hebrew (and probably subtle sounds of colloquial youth french that 'merican ears can't even perceive) it's not impossible. Given a few years of language classes and another few years of intensive immersion in a foreign country the sound will be easily understood by native speakers although probably not quite right or natural from the perception of a native speaker.

For 99%+ yep impossible.
posted by sammyo at 6:53 AM on November 17, 2015


I actually like the idea that no one really has any clue what to call them, and I think we should continue changing how we refer to them every few months. Giving them the legitimacy of any sort of a permanent official name is too good for them. So for now it's Da'esh, with no pronunciation help given - just give it your best shot... or don't. In January 2016 let's switch to... I dunno, Murder, Inc. In April 2016 switch to "the so-called Murder, Inc." then a couple months after that they are "The Aristocrats". I'll let you all take it from there.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:56 AM on November 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


You would have been able to make the Arabic sounds perfectly well if you had been exposed to them as a baby. Children adopted internationally as babies and third or fourth generation children of immigrants don't have the same kind of accents that adult immigrants from the same country do. But people lose that adaptability as they get older. There are sounds that would sound the same to me that my four month old could distinguish.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:56 AM on November 17, 2015


The sound in question ('eyn) is really similar to the sound at the beginning of 'aight ("all right"). It's not that difficult, really, though I always had a little more trouble putting it in front of an i vowel than an a vowel, like in 'inde, "I have," in the Lebanese dialect. Anglophones can do it with not too much practice.
posted by lauranesson at 7:16 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know it's hyperbole, but if the whole thrust of your argument is that we English speakers are simply lazy, then don't turn around and tell me this other language depends on making sounds that are impossible for me to make.
I was pretty tired when I read it last night, but I don't think that was the thrust of her argument? She wasn't claiming that English speakers are simply lazy. She was claiming that most English-language media outlets have been lazy and/or ignorant on this particular point. "The English-language media has done a bad job explaining this" is not the same thing as "English speakers, as a whole, are terrible people."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:26 AM on November 17, 2015


I was prepared to accept what the author was saying right up to the point where she referenced a "Palestinian parody video" produced by MEMRI.

Come to think of it, "Fuckostan" has a nice ring to it as well.

This kind of thinking, and John Oliver's coke-fueled pandering, is a bit too childish for me. But I was never a fan of "freedom fries" thinking, and I'm not now a fan of clever little insults in support of the Holy War against Moooslems.
posted by fredludd at 7:54 AM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Actually, calling them Khawarij or Kharijites would be the best way to piss them off. For historical context, the Kharijites were a very early sect that was puritanical, fanatical, and violent. Jihadists being referred as them, as they would be considered heretics.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:37 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I now fully understand the plate 'o beans, meme.

Daesh-The sound sheep make, when they urinate. Not to over-observe sheep, or interfere with their privacy.

P.S. I love it that Anonymous has declared war on daesh. That was the one thing that made me smile this week.
posted by Oyéah at 8:45 AM on November 17, 2015


Why not just constantly spell out it's not a real caliphate?

I will now be referring to them as NARC.
posted by Kabanos at 9:48 AM on November 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


This seems to the same level as "Overlay your Facebook profile with the French flag", as far as real world effectiveness in defeating evil.

Show me someone who honestly believes that changing their FB profile will defeat evil, and I'll show you someone whose opinions you regularly disregard anyway.

I didn't change mine. It didn't bother me that others did. It's a simple matter of showing sympathy for a cause or a group (remember all those pro marriage equality profile changes & overlays?). When you're part of that group being beat on, seeing those displays of sympathy or solidarity can mean something. No, they don't change the world, but they may help someone feel a little less alone. That sort of thing is worth a couple of clicks of a mouse.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:00 AM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oyéah: "Daesh-The sound sheep make, when they urinate."

Welp. Now I know how to say it. I was going to ask my sister-in-law who's a native speaker of Arabic and medical translator but, no, this works better.
posted by stet at 3:59 PM on November 17, 2015


Do Arabs have different mouth equipment? Extra vocal cords?

Oh, FFS. There are any number of phonemes that are natural if one grew up saying them, but generally difficult if one learns them as an adult. The "th" sounds in English (voiced and unvoiced) are good examples, as those phonemes are rare outside English. The tones in Chinese, the trilled Rs in Spanish, the glottal stops ("!") of African languages...countless more.
posted by zardoz at 9:50 PM on November 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Z: Well aren't you a regular old downpour on the feigned outrage fiesta.

John Oliver's coke-fueled pandering

Is he? Not that it would matter to him or anyone but I'd be disappointed if it's true.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:17 AM on November 18, 2015


Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, one of the two Muslim members of Congress, says that he will call them Daesh:
“Everybody calls them Daesh except for us,” Ellison said. “Here’s what the world gets that some of our leaders don’t get: That in the eyes of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the word, terms like ‘Islamic’ are good, not bad. Even terms like ‘jihad’ are good, not bad.”

Ellison said when you call someone a “Jihadi,” you are literally calling them “somebody who struggles in a righteous way.”

“They want you to call them that. We should call them what they are: Murderous homicidal terrorists,” he continued. “I think some of our intolerance about a religion we don’t really understand very well sort of guides us to use language that is actually counterproductive to the cause.”
posted by XMLicious at 6:00 AM on November 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


But I was never a fan of "freedom fries" thinking, and I'm not now a fan of clever little insults in support of the Holy War against Moooslems.

I've heard lots of people using the term "Daesh" over the last two years. The vast majority of them are Muslims, including Syrian Muslims. The point of using the the term is to use the language being employed by those who are, by and large, victims of violence. It was coined by a Syrian. Your comment is making me unusually upset, because it seems to entirely dismiss the relevance of the Syrian context, and demand that this conversation be entirely about American perceptions and concerns.
posted by howfar at 11:02 AM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't really care what we call the jackholes, and if the majority of the world refers to them this way I'm cool with adopting that rather than their self-selected back-patting name. It does squick me out when I'm told I should - must! - use this new-to-me name because of some sort of psyops stuff, though.

I mean, if there's anyone I want to delegitimize it's these fuckers, sure. But even at a time of my life when I more often said "the Moral Majority isn't" I used their chosen name. I believe in not letting others control the dialog through language, and I think the american progressive movement has suffered notable setbacks precisely because they let other folks control the words we used to describe things. But somehow it feels differently when it's a group/person and a proper name.

And now all I can think of is an old comedy routine about some of Sting's friends responding to his request they call him "Sting" with "yeah, whatever Gordy - just get me another beer."
posted by phearlez at 11:48 AM on November 18, 2015


We could stop associating them with Islam in the press. That'd be good too. Aryan Nations and the Klan don't get picked up as Christian extremists.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


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