Shubeik Lubeik.

I happened on Ritesh Babu’s Comics I Loved In 2023 and, not being a comics fan, I didn’t read much of it, but I was struck by his rave for his first choice, Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed:

This is, to me, the undisputed comic of the year. Mohamed’s been serializing this saga in Egyptian comics for a while now. But it’s finally been translated into English and presented to us in a beautiful package. Set in an alternate history Cairo, Shubeik Lubeik/Your Wish Is My Command is a sci-fi character drama built around intricate character portraits set in a ‘post-colonial’ context, wherein we see people from a variety of backgrounds wrestle with life. It’s Black & White comics, with deliberate uses of color when necessary, and it’s as formally audacious and bold as you’ll ever see, from its deployment of Charts as a tool for intricate personal emotional expression to ‘aesthetic break-ups’ and world-building. […] I’ve recommended it to everyone and their mother at this point, but it still doesn’t feel enough. This is a book that’s worth every second spent on it, and if by the end, it leaves you with such impact that it feels impossible to forget. This is not only the best comic of this year, this is one of my favorite comics ever period. I adore the way Mohamed has chosen to translate the book from Arabic to English by drawing from Manga, wherein she chooses not to ‘flip’ the book but instead retain the original right-to-left reading experience.

I wrote about right-to-left manga translations last year; what interests me here is the title phrase. I found an interview with Ms. Mohamed in which she says:

The title – so, “Shubeik Lubeik” – it’s actually kind of a – almost a fairy tale rhyme in Arabic. It’s what genies say when they come out of a bottle. So it’s sort of like abracadabra. But what it actually means is, your wish is my command.

But of course I want to know how it works semantically and morphologically. Anybody know?

Comments

  1. It doesn’t, really – it’s a little more parsable than “abracadabra”, but not much. šu looks like the Levantine dialect word for “what?”, -k suggests “you” (2m.sg), the lubbayk is probably a rhyme-induced corruption of Standard labbayka “I am at your service”, itself a rather morphologically opaque term, but a much older one, familiar mainly from its use in the pilgrimage, where pilgrims chant Labbayk Allāhumma labbayk, “Here I am at your service, God!”. It derives irregularly from the verb labbā “follow, obey”, probably by reinterpretation of an ancient form with the widespread Yemeni dialectal 1Sg ending -ku, so *labbay-ku “I obey”. One might thus reconstruct the whole formula as Levantine (not Egyptian) *šu badd-ak, labbayk “what do you want, I’m at your service”, but if so, it’s been considerably distorted to make it rhyme better.

  2. Thanks very much — I now understand it as well as I could hope to!

  3. David Marjanović says

    Now I imagine genies speaking basically Lolcat.

  4. Wright said it was dual to express repetition. Is that such a reinterpretation?

    There were Pre-Islamic talbiyat, so lots of room for such.

  5. The dual interpretation is traditional, but labb makes no sense as a verbal noun of labbā, so it appears unlikely to be historically correct.

  6. There is some discussion of the etymology and formation of labbayka on pages 295–297 in Tilman Seidensticker, “Sources For The History Of Pre-Islamic Religion”, in The Qurʾān in Context (2009), available here. The discussion by Nöldeke of the suggestion by Bevan that Seidensticker favors is here (see footnote ‖, p. 688b).

  7. This review of WKAS (Seidensticker’s modern lexicon source; too modern to be readily available at reasonable cost) pointed to “relevant classical data” in Glossaire datînois.

    Lane.

  8. Trond Engen says

    The closest SAE equivalent I can think of is hocus pocus.

    The best translation of shubeik lubeik I’ve been able to come up with so far is Danish and hence Norwegian byrman lyrman, but that’s probably too transparent. On the way there I also thoughr of a German-ish kalsmik falsmik or similar. In French it’s too easy (at least for me with very little French) to fall into the désir ~ plaisir rhyme, but it might perhaps work with nonce grammar or contamination, say désiron plésiron?

  9. David Marjanović says

    German-ish kalsmik falsmik

    That doesn’t ring any bells.

  10. The best translation of shubeik lubeik

    In this regard, we can note that shubbeik lubbeik is used as part of longer rhyming phrases, such as:

    شبيك لبيك خدامك بين ايديك
    šubbayk lubbayk, ḫaddāmak bayn īdayk
    ‘shubbeik lubbeik, your servant is in your hands’

    شبيك لبيك عبدك بين ايديك
    šubbayk lubbayk, ‘abdak bayn īdayk
    ‘shubbeik lubbeik, your slave is in your hands’

    LH readers can hear such phrases as the first words in this short clip, or after around the 3:10 mark here. I would wish to reproduce this effect in a translation.

    If LH readers are wondering what the ‘original Arabic text’ of the Aladdin story said, it is worth rereading this fine article linked to in a LH post from a while ago. Galland’s original version of the appearance of the genie is here.

  11. Also of note: I hope Labayk labayk ha ana bayn idayk is visible to LH readers here (p. 158), from a recent translation of the Sirat Delhemma. There is an incident in this text in which rubbing a magic tablet summons a jinni, who says: ‘Labayk labayk ha ana bayn idayk! Here I am, here I am, at your service!’. A treasure-filled cave and a lamp are also prominent in the appearance of the jinni here—in fact, the whole incident in this version of the tale of Delhemma resembles that part of the Aladdin tale. Did Hanna Diab (who provided the tale of Aladdin to Antoine Galland, whose French version of the 1,001 Nights popularized the story) borrow these details from pre-existing incident in Delhemma? Does the formation of this incident in Delhemma or the addition of these details to that story predate or postdate the diffusion of the Aladdin tale? I don’t have access to the whole book at this time to investigate this question, and I can’t immediately find the 1909 edition of Sirat Delhemma to consult online—maybe someone else can, or I will set down to do it in the future. This seems like a question that some researcher must have answered somewhere.

  12. Trond Engen says

    David M.: That doesn’t ring any bells.

    No, sorry. It was meant to sound German-ish and hint at a meaning “calling me, ordering me” to a Norwegian, but that’s not clear at all when I go right on to pretend French. And I’m not sure it works very well anyway.

    Xerib: Thanks. The longer phrase is obviously important. I must think about that.

    (Hokus pokus filiokus, as the magicians say in Norwegian.)

  13. Trond Engen says

    I think perhaps we need latinate phrases or biblical names to reproduce the effect of shubayk lubayk in mainstream European languages. Hebrew might work in Yiddish, and maybe Turkish in the Balkans. Could OCS-sounding distortions be used in the Orthodox Slavic sphere?

  14. Compare andermanir shtuk in Russian.

  15. Or hocus pocus dominocus, in the words of the late great Mayor Harold Washington, but googling, I see it was already a folk phrase.

  16. January First-of-May says

    The Russian for hocus pocus is фокус покус – apparently due to a misinterpretation of the first word (at some unclear point in the transmission) as unrelated Latinate focus “fire; concentration”.
    TIL that modern Russian фокус “illusion trick” is apparently derived from this phrase rather than vice versa.

    …I was about to give a “previously on LH” link, but when I tried to find it I unexpectedly found out that Google in fact does not appear to know of any previous LH discussion of this particular term, or indeed of any previous instances of the Russian word фокус on LH at all (which honestly feels implausible and perhaps it’s the Google database at fault here).

  17. hocus pocus dominocus: My grandmother (b. 1886, eastern Ohio) would say this when producing as if by magic an orange for me.

  18. Trond Engen says

    Yesshir, pleasure! Serving at your leisure.

  19. Trond Engen says

    … which doesn’t work with a ma’m, unfortunately.

  20. David Marjanović says

    The most boring version of all: Hokus pokus fidibus.

  21. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Hokus pokus filiokus.

  22. Wafa’ Tarnowska’s translation of a few stories for young readers, The Arabian Nights, kept the magic formula intact:

    “Shabbey, Labbey, your slave is here to obey! I am the genie of the lamp, your wish is my command!”

    In an interview, she explains why they included it despite the murky history, saying:

    “In fact, there are no Arabic manuscripts of Aladdin and Ali Baba. I included Aladdin because we wanted a well-known story to attract readers and because I love the character of the genie living in the lamp. I remember my grandmother saying in a frightening voice: ‘Shabbayk, Labbayk, abdak bayn yadayk’ (I am the slave of the lamp and your wish is my command!) for I have always loved the uniquely memorable rhyming words of this sentence.”

    Now I’m wondering how shabbayk got into the modern Arabic version. Are there other stories with cleaner provenance that include it? Was shabbayk labbayk just one of those things everyone knew and it was eventually written into it? Zotenberg’s publication of the BnF forgeries has لبيك عبدك بين يديك a number of times (including one in the Toronto copy that someone penciled in vocalization on, with a note that I can’t quite make out).

  23. John Cowan says

    Or hocus pocus dominocus, in the words of the late great Mayor Harold Washington, but googling, I see it was already a folk phrase.

    My father (born 1904) used to say “Hocus pocus dominocus, rotten tomato can!” to my delight when I was a child. He didn’t do sleight of hand, though.

  24. I can’t quite make out

    ²at your command

  25. @DM – why boring? It at least gave Ernst Molden the rhyme Hokuspokus fidibus i foa mitm swoazn Autobus

  26. other stories

    The servant of the ring in “Maruf the Cobbler” says, per Wikisource, “labbayk labbayk.”

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