It’s possible the fossil-lobby-infested, desultory yak-a-thon held at a glittering tourist watering hole in The Tonino Lamborghini International Convention Center — let me repeat that for its delicious music: The Tonino Lamborghini International Convention Center — will sing from the same hymn sheet as the previous 26 COP-outs. The name of the tune is “What Happens in Sharm el-Sheikh Stays in Sharm el-Sheikh.”
Even the cloud cover of a sickened planet can have its silver lining, however. This one is the opportunity afforded to learn more Arabic, ever to be seized upon by your humble blagueur who is devoted to the monuments of poetry in this “infinitely rich and highly articulated language” of “a people so conservative and tenacious of antiquity as the Arabs.” (1)
The verb šarama (yašrimu) means to split, slit or slash something. Its verbal noun šarm (pl. šurūm), meaning cleft, crack, split, rift, slit, slot, can also be taken as a “cleft,” etc., in a coastline, hence the extended sense of small bay, inlet.
The title šayẖ (pl. šuyūẖ, ‘ašyāẖ, mašyaẖa(ẗ), mašāyiẖ, mašā’iẖ) comes from verb šāẖa (yašīẖu), to grow old, attain a venerable age. Hans Wehr’s first translation for it is an elderly, venerable gentleman. It has wide application as an honorific in various guises across the Arabic-speaking world. Sheik, adopted by English, is one of the 13 possibilities listed by Wehr.
So in šarmu-š-šayẖi, which is “Sharm el-Sheikh” transliterated with case endings and the definite article assimilated to the sun letter, we have initially “the small bay of the elderly, venerable gentleman.” Shall we Vegas-ize Sharm el-Sheikh and call it “Sheik’s Cove”? Cocktails at 5 in the Rudolph Valentino Room. (2)
(“‘Like Vegas, but worse’: Sharm el-Sheikh fails to charm COP27 delegates,” theguardian.com, 11-11-22)
(1) The words are those of Sir Hamilton Gibb and R.A. Nicholson, respectively, quoted by A.J. Arberry in the introduction to his Arabic Poetry: A Primer for Students, Cambridge University Press, 1965.
(2) An old rule of proper composition says you shouldn’t number your notes unless you have more than one. Here’s the second note.
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