So I was reading a travel narrative by John Verlenden (part 3, “Hama and the Waterwheels of Death,” of his ongoing series “Road to Damascus,” serialized in Exquisite Corpse) when I came across the word koaga in a context that suggested it was Arabic, though it certainly doesn’t look Arabic: “As a koaga – an outlander – with features that marked me as a wild beast–red hair, blue eyes–I’d become inured to snickers from Arab children.” And I did what we do in this ever-changing world in which we live in (to quote the wordily wordy Paul McCartney): I googled “koaga,” then added “arabic” because there’s a Guarani phrase Ko’aga Roñe’eta (said to mean ‘now we will speak’ and used as the name of an “on-line journal of human rights and humanitarian law”) that overwhelms the results, and wound up at WORDTHEQUE – Word by word multilingual library, which combines an online dictionary feature with texts in languages from Afan Oromo to Zulu in ways that bear more investigating than I’ve so far given it.

Because I’m still obsessed with this koaga word, which seems to exist only in the Verlenden piece. Anybody have a clue?

(Thanks for the Exquisite Corpse link, part of a translation issue, go to wood s lot.)


  1. Well, via a little more Googling (“foreigner in Arabic”) it sez here (http://members.fortunecity.com/carolinaindiana/arabic.html):
    “For the most part, Egyptians are genuinely friendly and curious. You are in their land and they see many tourists, whose behaviour can be either good or bad. Try not to let the stares, pointing and comments deter you from having a good time. I often hear a mother pointing out the KHAWAAGA (foreigner) to her child. The best thing is not to confuse the harmless with the more offensive. Listen to the tone and move away if you are unsure of the intention. With foreign women, some boys and men may make inappropriate gestures and comments in Arabic (see below for possible responses and refer to Women’s Issues for more information) but don’t anticipate everything as being negative. There are also perfect gentlemen out there.”
    and from there, Googling “Khawaaga”, here (http://arabworld.nitle.org/texts.php?module_id=7&reading_id=209&sequence=9) it says it’s Arabic slang, akin to “gringo” in South America. (Khawaaga shows up on other sites also.)

  2. MIchael Dunn says

    Khawaga is a common Egyptian usage; it would be pronounced “Khawaja” elsewhere and is a dialectal form from “Khuja”, originally “learned man,” but by extension, “Foreigner, distinguished person.” However, in modern usage, it does sometimes approach “gringo,” depending on the tone.
    Michael Dunn
    Middle East Journal

  3. Aha, very interesting, and my thanks to both of you! Now the question is, is Verlenden wrongly importing a bit of Egyptian slang into Syria?

  4. “This ever-changing world in which we live in…”
    Matched by Van Halen’s “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time”.

  5. I always try to pretend that it’s this ever-changin’ world in which we’re livin’.

  6. I think it is ‘this ever-changing world in which we’re living’, but because he’s speaking a non-rhotic dialect, we can’t hear the all-important /r/ on the end of ‘we’. Looking around on the web, though, I see that all the lyric transcribers have assumed McCartney can’t keep track of his prepositions, rather than that there’s a mondegreen problem.

  7. No, I’ve heard the song more times than I would really have preferred to, and I’m pretty sure he sings “in which we live in.” The “living” version is a face-saving after-the-fact suggestion.

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