'Shawq': Arabic word captures shades of love and longing

Our Arabic word of the week is much loved by writers and singers

Shawq is the Arabic word for longing.
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There is a fine line between missing and yearning, hoping and craving, wishing and pining.

Our Arabic word of the week, shawq, straddles that fraught emotional terrain.

Often translated as longing, it is also useful in describing feelings as tender as they are fiery and it has a way of going to the heart of the matter.

No wonder it’s a word loved by creative people.

Shawq is a key driver of Hammour Ziada's 2014 Naguib Mahfouz Prize winning novel, Shawq Al Darwish (The Longing of the Dervish), about the journey of a former slave set free from prison in 19th-century Sudan.

In her epic 1965 song Aqollak eh an El Shawq (What Can I Tell You About Longing?), Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum dissects some of the states shawq inspires.

“What can I tell you and who else feels me, except you?” she sings.

“My nights in loving you, I stay all night and think. And whatever I tell you, there is much more in my heart.”

Umm Kulthum is right, because shawq is also used to describe various shades of love, from a mere keenness to a burning desire.

However, it also applies to loss or anguish brought on by everyday life.

Shawq ila al watan means missing your homeland.

Al bou'ed yazeed al shawq is the Arabic translation of the popular phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder".

And if you are tormented by legal proceedings, you are experiencing tabareeh al shawq.

Shawq also has several related words — in terms of root letters used — that throw up equally compelling notions.

Meshaweq almost acts like a harbinger to shawq as it defines feelings of initial interest and fascination.

The Arabic version of the expression "grab you by the throat" is mushawweq jiddan.

Shaq is what happens when the sweetness of shawq sours, meaning troublesome, severe, onerous or heavy.

Deep and dynamic, shawq is a word describing a myriad of emotions, while also retaining its own distinctive meaning and feel.

Scroll through the gallery below see The National's pick of Arabic words of the week:

Updated: July 29, 2022, 6:02 PM