Bistraynti `Alaykun.

Elie Wardini at Qifa Nabki posted back at the start of 2010 about an interesting Lebanese New Year’s greeting:

In Lebanon, and I am told that it is also the case among Christians in Jordan and Syria, we have a traditional new year’s greeting:

we say: bistraynte @layk/ @layke/ @laykon etc.

What this greeting means is that my *bistrayne* (i.e. new year’s gift) is on you, [so] you have to give me the gift.

He says Anis Frayha derives this from Latin strenae, “the gifts that Romans exchanged on January 1st,” and continues:

Frayha’s explanation seems to be acceptable, but what do we do with the initial *b* in *bistrayne*.

One possibility could be to consider *b* as the English *by God*. cp. to Lebanese (considered to be vulgar nowadays) *balla* meaning *by God* so our term becomes *b-strayne* = by Strenae => becomes lexicalized to gift. It istreated as any feminine noun: => bistraynt- in construct state.

The element *ay* may be concieved of as a deminutive. But could also be a diphthongisation of the *e* in *Strenae* (if Frayha’s explanation holds).

Commenters discuss French étrennes ‘New Year gifts,’ which of course derives from the Latin, but as Wardini says, this does not have the -s- and so cannot be the direct source. I’ll be interested in whatever thoughts people have about this, and I thank Steven for the link; in any case, I wish all my readers a happy new year in 2019!


  1. Has anything significant ever happened in a -19 year? I think not.

  2. A lot of crazy stuff was going on in 1919. However, practically all of those things were obviously just knock-on effects of the Great War.

  3. Trond Engen says

    Who could hope for more? An insignificant year to everyone!

  4. Amen!

  5. A little research quickly revealed that in 1119, Callixtus II became the 162nd pope, succeeding Gelasius II.

  6. No doubt occasioning much “What is the Church coming to??” wringing of hands.

  7. Happy New Year to all fellow ‘hatters! May this upcoming year be uneventful and quiet, indeed.

  8. A lot of crazy stuff

    All I could think of was the League of Nations, for what that’s worth, but the continuing Russian civil war was really much more significant. I forgot the Peterloo massacre (1819). And in 1719 Robinson Crusoe was published. Otherwise, except for Callixtus II nothing’s ever happened. Nothing. Wait a second: In 1819 Goya painted The Dog.

  9. So funny that this was posted again tonight as I was just researching about it. I live in Canada and half of my family is Lebanese. This is a tradition that we do that has been passed down for generations. We have never pronounces a T in it though. For us it has always been more like “bastrahni alayke”. I have never been able to find an acceptable translation for the first word.

  10. 919: Henry the Fowler establishes the Ottonian dynasty, first with his election as king, followed by military defeats of the remaining recalcitrant vassal dukes. This effectively marks the beginning of medieval Germany as a distinct political entity.

    1419: The beginning of the Hussite Wars initiates the European Wars of Religion.

    1619: Two hundred years later, the Thirty Years War begins in earnest with another Bohemian revolt.

  11. Well, on 1919 were born William Stokoe, the father of American Sign Language linguistics, and Ernst Westphal, the leading Khoisanist of his time.

  12. In Ireland there was the small matter of the start of the War of Independence in 1919. Admittedly the date doesn’t resonate as much as 1916 or 1922, even here.

  13. marie-lucie says

    “French étrennes ‘New Year gifts,’ …………does not have the -s- and so cannot be the direct source”.

    Modern French indeed cannot be the source, but here is what the TLFI says about older French:

    1165 estreine ‘cadeau’ (gift)
    1185 ====== 1st use of something
    early XIIIth estrenes ‘gifts on New Year’s Day’

    Initial esC in Old French is from Latin sC with epenthetic e (as also in Spanish); later the s disappeared, hence initial é, as in many examples such as: stella, esteile, étoile ‘star’; schola, eschole, école ‘school’; Stephanus, Estève or Estienne, Etienne ‘Stephen’, among others.

    The dates above suggest that the word (and the custom) were borrowed from French during the period of French influence after the Crusades.

  14. Next time I’m in town, I’ll ask my Syrian and Iraqi friends how they say it.
    Happy New Year to all!
    1919 – Nabokov left Russia, Maugham’s ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ was published, Proust’s À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs came out, Salinger and Doris Lessing were born; and Valentin Katayev, a Soviet classic, somehow turned from being a White Army officer into a Red Army officer.

  15. 1219 was the year when Genghis Khan invaded Khwaresmia, killing millions. Population of the region didn’t recover until second half of 20th century

  16. The defenestration was 1618 (lots of things happened in 18s). Those who only count from 1619 had better start calling it the Twenty-Nine Years’ War.

  17. Trond Engen says

    Cruzieval French sounds about right given the distribution among Levantic Arab Christians.

    But why the invocation of English for the initial b? I don’t know any Arabic, but I’m pretty sure there’s a bi- prefix meaning something like “by, for, through” in bismillah. And can anything be said about its incorporation in the root system?

  18. marie-lucie says

    p.s. étrennes:

    1165 estreine ‘cadeau’ (gift)
    1185 ====== 1st use of something
    early XIIIth estrenes ‘gifts on New Year’s Day’

    I remember mentioning here the verb “étrenner” ‘to use (or especially wear) something for the first time’, whether a gift or not.

    The New Year’s Day gifts from a lord to his servants were perhaps gifts of clothing at a time when servants earned little actual money but received room and board, plus a dress or other significant piece of clothing once a year.

  19. marie-lucie says

    p.p.s. étrenne :

    The noun étrenne with the meaning ‘cadeau’ occurs in the old French song “En passant par la Lorraine” (Passing through Lorraine). It is sung from the point of view of a young peasant woman who is mocked for her “sabots.”

  20. John Cowan says

    (m-l: Your latest message seems to have been cut off.)

    I think that nails the etymology. This epenthetic /e/ must have originally been /i/, as in Italian (where it is mostly disused with the exception of a few cases like in iSvizzera) ‘in Switzerland’. Of course, the epenthesis is no longer live in French, which has many /#sC/ borrowed words now. In Romanian it must have once existed, but it has disappeared without a trace.

    In Turkish the epenthetic vowel is also /i/, presumably independently, as in İstanbul < Arabic Stambul (and never mind the ultimate etymology), and İzmir < Smyrna. But Turkish is fairly hostile to all consonant clusters, not just sC ones: its syllable pattern is (C)V(C) plus a minority type (C)VSK, where S is either a voiceless fricative or /r/ or /l/ (which are phonetically devoiced) and K is a voiceless stop. However, in pseudo-clusters formed from the coda of one syllable and the onset of the next, the only phonotactic restriction is that adjacent plosives and fricatives (except /f/ and /h/) must share voicing; I’m not sure whether anticipation or lag is the rule. There is also coda devoicing, which the spelling represents (unlike in German or Russian), with literally five exceptions.

    Modern Brito-Romance also has epenthetic /i/, but spells it y, which is now pronounced the same but normally descends from Latin long /u/. When I addressed our Etienne in this language, I naturally called him Ystefan (f = /v/, as in Welsh spelling).

  21. marie-lucie says

    (LH please delete the above – I tried three times to write down the song and comments, but I am using a loaned computer which tends to play tricks on me – I give up for now).

  22. I added a link to the French Wikipedia article, which has the words and music — is that OK?

  23. marie-lucie says

    Yes, thank you. The music is exactly as I know it. The words (farther down) are slightly different:

    – “Ils m’ont appelée vilaine” : This means “they called me a peasant” (and depending on the period of composition, could mean “they called me ugly)”, probably while talking about her in her presence, not TO her . But the version in Wikipédia says “Ils m’ont appelée: ‘Vilaine!’ “They called me: “Peasant! Ugly!” which I think is uncalled for, unless this meaning of “appeler” ‘to call’ is losing this meaning, perhaps in favour of “traiter de” (Ils m’ont traitée de vilaine).

    – “Je l’ai planté sur la plaine” : I don.t have this line, which looks like a late addition. The plant growing in a pot, watched by the girl at home, is more likely than away on a plain.

    Finally, “dondaine”, like “oh oh oh”, is just meaningless syllables.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Arabic Stambul

    Oh no. East of Algeria, Arabic doesn’t allow initial consonant clusters. It is more likely that the i- isn’t epenthetic at all, but part of εις “into”.

  25. @DM: Levantine has initial consonant clusters – you can hear some of them here. That said, my understanding is that İstanbul came from some Greek form with [is] and that Stambul is a European corruption of it.

  26. The Online Etymology Dictionary says:

    Turkish name of Constantinople; it developed in Turkish 16c. as a corruption of Greek phrase eis tan (ten) polin “in (or to) the city,” which is how the local Greek population referred to it. Turkish folk etymology traces the name to Islam bol “plenty of Islam.” Greek polis “city” has been adopted into Turkish as a place-name suffix -bolu.

    This conveniently answers the other question I had, which was why the city name was historically sometimes given with an extra vowel syllable at the end: Istanbula. (It appears in that form in the famous double acrostic composed by Queen Victoria, which puzzled me a great deal when I first tried to solve it.)

  27. David Marjanović says

    Tan, BTW, makes sense because there used to be Tsakonian-speaking villages scattered in the area, as detailed on Nick Nicholas’s blog.

  28. January First-of-May says

    Eis ten polin is the traditional etymology; I have also seen i Constantino polin (give or take some details I forgot).
    There is, however, said to be an exact parallel in Istankoy from eis ten Kos (again, give or take some details I forgot).

  29. David Marjanović says

    Highly recommended. I had read the earlier paper years ago, but forgotten half of its important points!

  30. Main point of the newer paper (which badly needs proofreading): “The form İstanbul with /a/ in the second syllable makes, I think, sense only if we take the Karesi and Ottoman Turks to have at first been in social and linguistic contact primarily with this population which spoke a dialect exhibiting Doric features.”

  31. John Cowan says

    In short, a wee bit o laich Tsakonian in the Turkish countrie.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Main side point of the newer paper: rather than the Koiné steamrollering everything but Tsakonian in Hellenistic times, Doric vocalism was surprisingly widespread surprisingly recently. Italian and Turkish names of Greek places contain the i form in places that were Ionic in antiquity (Samos, Tinos), but a in the ones that were Doric (Crete, Kos).

    The paragraph that details this is on the second page. I tried to copy & paste it, but the coding is so horrible I’d have needed half an hour to edit the copypasta.

  33. David L. Gold says

    Everything except bi- seems to be clear.

    Strayn appears to be a reflex of Italian strenna ‘gift, present [especially one given at Christmas or Easter’] and -ti is the Arabic possessive pronoun meaning ‘my’.

    In connection with the possessive pronoun, in the Semitic languages nouns are inflected for possession. For instance, ‘house’ is بيت (bayt) and ‘my house’ is بيتي (bayti).

    Therefore straynti `alaykun = ‘my gift for you’.

    Bi- may be the Arabic preposition بِ (bi). If so, it’s hard to see what it means here. Maybe *?‘in connection with my gift to you’, but that does not make much sense.

    Until the 1840s more or less, Italian in several of its forms served as a major lingua franca between Europeans and people in the Levant. The original Lingua Franca itself (also called Sabir and renamed by linguists the Mediterranean Lingua Franca after Lingua Franca became a generic noun) is based to a significant extent on Venetian and Genoese.

    The title of Henry Kahane, Renée Kahane, and Andreas Tietze’s The Lingua Franca in the Levant; Turkish Nautical Terms of Italian and Greek Origin ( speaks for itself.

    Probably in most parts of Arabophonia construction workers shout بَارُود
    (bārūd) ‘gunpowder’ to warn other workers and passers-by that dynamite is about to be set off, but in parts of the Levant the cry is warda! (from Italian guarda! ‘look out!, watch out!).

    Other examples of Italian linguistic influence in the Levant could be noted.

    Strenna is a cognate of French étrenne and a reflex of Latin strena, both of which earlier posters have mentioned.

  34. Makes sense!


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