Here’s a nice little joke (from Martin Kramer, quoting Charles Issawi) that depends on asymmetrical linguistic patterning (semantics not matching up with morphology) for its impact:

A Western orientalist goes to Egypt, and strikes up a conversation in Arabic with his taxi driver. The poor driver, after straining to understand his passenger, plaintively asks him how he came to know Arabic. Ana mustashriq! the orientalist answers proudly. In reply to which, the taxi driver mutters: Wa’ana mustaghrib

If, like me, you need the joke explained (though I did figure out that mustashriq was ‘orientalist’), hie yourself over to Language Log, where Mark Liberman does the honors.


  1. I suppose the nearest translation would be “disoriented” 😉

  2. Or like, “It’s Greek to me”.
    The Japanese Occidentalism I’ve read in English is very illuminating.

  3. Ingeborg S. Nordén says

    “Disoriented” is a brilliant attempt at keeping the original word-play. Great job, Justin!

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