‘Taabeer’: The Arabic word for expression is rooted in the idea of passing

The word can used in the context of communication and in the arts

Taabeer is the Arabic word for expression
Powered by automated translation

Sometime in the early 20th century, Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky said “every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul".

Decades later, pop star Madonna released her 1989 hit single Express Yourself, in which she encouraged women to feel empowered and to stand up for themselves, reminding them of the importance of self-expression.

This week’s Arabic word of the week is taabeer, which translates to expression. It has universally been appreciated as an important means through which ideas and feelings can be shared. It brings with it benefits such as personal growth or creating meaningful art.

Taabeer is a noun, which in classical and colloquial Arabic means expression. It has two plural variations, tabeerat or taabeer which are used depending on context.

Taabeer also has several meanings in an Arabic context.

It can refer to the act of representing or communicating one's thoughts, feelings or ideas through a variety of media. This can include speech, writing, or through the arts, such as painting, poetry or performance. Taabeer can also be seen through someone’s body language or facial expressions.

It can also refer to a particular phrase or word or a representation or explanation of how something was expressed.

There is taabeer majaazi, which refers to figures of speech that aren’t meant to be understood literally. For example, if someone was overwhelmed and said, “my head is going to explode”.

There is also taabeer istalaahee, which refers to expressions or proverbs that make sense only within the context of a particular topic. For example, "birds of a feather flock together" when used to describe a group of people who are similar to each other and so spend a lot of time together.

Taabeer is derived from the verb abbara, which translates to the action of showing one's ideas or emotions through words, actions, or facial expressions. It’s also the action of releasing or expressing whatever is inside oneself.

Abbara is made up of three Arabic letters, ain, bah and rah. The same three letters pronounced slightly differently create the word abbarah – which while not a direct origin of taabeer – has close conceptual ties to the meaning of the word.

Abbara translates to the ideas of passing over or crossing from one side to another. This concept is reflected in the meaning of taabeer as the idea of passing a message or emotion inside us to the wider world.

Updated: February 23, 2024, 6:02 PM