A story of a word

I got an e-mail yesterday inquiring about the spelling of a word that I used in a poem that will be published this fall. I had written “galabiyya”Image of galabiyya in reference to the robe-like garb that some Islamic men wear. My editor, doing due diligence found spellings of “galabeya” and “jalabiya.” 

I honestly didn’t even remember using the word in the poem (it’s been over a year since I originally submitted the poem and longer still since I wrote the first draft—what’s more I’ve since retired the notebook where I wrote that first draft along with any notes and would be hard pressed to find it at the moment). My best guess is that I googled something like “What is the name for the robe that some Islamic men wear?” and went with the first result that came up with a picture that corresponded to what I was thinking. (I almost wonder whether I really wanted was taqiyah, the skullcap that some Muslims wear).

Now the fun part of all this is that Arabic is, of course, written in the Arabic alphabet and any transliteration of Arabic to English is going to be imperfect. As an added bonus, the Arabic word, جلابية will be transliterated differently from Egyptian Arabic than other North-African dialects because ج which is the first letter is pronounced g in Egypt but j (or dj) elsewhere.

Googling my spelling turned up the Wikipedia article which offered three different spellings (one in the title and body and two more in the introduction), none of which were my spelling: “Jalabiya,” “galabeya” and “jellabiya.”

Then I thought, what does my dictionary have? I dug into the dictionary on my computer and found:

djel·la·bajəˈläbə | (also djellabah or jellabanoun a loose hooded cloak, typically woolen, of a kind traditionally worn by ArabsORIGINearly 19th century: from Moroccan Arabic jellābajellābiyya.

(As an aside, despite the etymology given here, Wikipedia distinguishes between Djellaba and Jellabiya.)

Then I thought what about Wiktionary? Unlike Wikipedia, it doesn’t make the distinction between the two robes and unlike the dictionary on my Mac it leaves out the hood, but it is generous in offering twenty-four spellings, none of which is my original!

In the end I decided to go with “Jalabiya.” I’d seen it used in enough different sources and the poem really needed the extra syllable so the dictionary headword forms weren’t workable. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.