OK, everybody, I need some specialized knowledge. I’m involved with a book of foreign expressions, and I have the gravest doubts about some of them, which seem to have been taken over from other such books, the original form, if any, having gotten garbled along the way. If anyone knows what the originals of the following might be, I’ll be deeply grateful:
basa basa (Persian)
The Arabic phrase “basa basa” means to ogle, cast amorous glances or make sheeps’ eyes at someone [is it Persian? Arabic? Arabo-Persian?]
the clear bright eyes of a beautiful woman [qu- is clearly wrong; is it qibo?]
Also, I need some help with Bulgarian, Romanian, and Finnish; if you know any of these languages, please drop me a line at languagehat AT gmail DOT com. Together we can make this an accurate book, unlike the ones described here!
Addendum: I forgot to mention mamihlapinatapai, an alleged Tierra del Fuegan [actually Yaghan (Yagán)—thanks, Jess!] word meaning “a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start”; anybody know where The Guinness Book of Records might have gotten this (“most succinct word”)?
Update: Beth at Cassandra Pages brought basa basa to the attention of her amazing father-in-law and reports the results in this post:
As I was making dinner that evening, the phone rang, and my father-in-law’s excited voice was on the other end. “You didn’t say it was bas bas!” he said, repeating the phrase in a way that, to my ears, sounded identical but obviously wasn’t. “I was sitting at dinner and thinking about it and saying it over and over to myself, and then it came to me all of a sudden – you see, in Arabic we have two “s”s. There’s the English-kind of S, like “Sam,” and then there is the other “s”. This is the other one. It’s called “sah” and when you say it the tongue comes up to the roof of the mouth.” He demonstrated. I tried to repeat after him, and failed, as usual. But I was happy that the mystery seemed to be solved.
“Oh!” I said. “That’s fantastic! Good for you! Now, what does it mean?”
“It means to look at someone….illegally,” he said, drawing the word out to its full length and clearly enjoying himself. “In a way designed to cause trouble, to make people talk.” In a society where young unrelated men and women weren’t even supposed to look at each other in the eyes, I could well imagine what he meant. He laughed, thinking back. “We used to say it all the time.”
I love that guy, and I’ve never even met him.