'Quwwa': Arabic for strength finds fortitude in conversation and pain

For Lebanese poet Gibran Khalil Gibran, 'the peak of strength is to smile when there is sorrow within you'

Quwwa translates to strength or power in English.
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Quwwa, the Arabic word for power and strength, is not just a matter of brawn.

It can refer to bodily strength — as with quwwat al jism or quwwat al bunya — but like its English counterparts, quwwa, or the ability to withstand great pressure, can be applied in the realm of the corporeal.

Quwwat al shakhsiyya is strength of character. Quwwat al irada is willpower. For someone with a great sense of memory, you could say they have quwwat al zakira. Quwwat al akl is mental fortitude. Quwwat al adalaat, meanwhile, is strength of muscle. Quwwat al iman strength of faith. Quwwat al mulahaza is the power of observation.

Quwwa can also describe enduring relationships.

Alaketon qawiyye jiddan can be said of two people who seem to get on well with one another despite external circumstances.

Yajma'u bainahuma hob qawwi can be said of a love that helps two people to overcome struggles.

Quwwa can also refer to a country’s military. Quwwat al bahriyya is its naval force. Quwwat al jawwiyya is its air force. Quwwat al barriyya, meanwhile, is the land-based military branch.

Quwwa has its place in conversation as well. Sou'al qawiy can be a way to describe a particularly pointed question. An apt response would be a radd qawiy.

Under the hood, quwwat hisan is horsepower. Quwwe can also be used when talking about the power of machines, from quad bikes to vacuum cleaners.

The meaning of quwwe also comes under scrutiny in Arabic poetry.

For Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, "power is to step over your pain and walk ahead of those who expect you to fall".

"Al quwwa hiya an tadoos ala waja'ika wa tamshi amama man yatawaqqaa suqoutaka."

For Lebanese writer Gibran Khalil Gibran, "the peak of strength is to smile when there is sorrow within you".

"Qummat al quwwa an tab'tasima wa bidaakhileka huzn."

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

Updated: September 17, 2022, 9:23 AM
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