'Janaah': Arabic word for wing is diverse and lofty in its symbolism

Symbolic potency makes wings, or ajniha, a favourite with poets and musicians in the Arab world

Janaah in Arabic means wing in English
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In flight, birds have long been embodiments of freedom and the divine, the yearning to escape and to explore. The symbolism of their wings is diverse and pervasive, transcending the confines of language. Yet every culture has its own unique way of capturing these very symbols.

Janaah is Arabic for wing. In its plural form, the word becomes ajniha. Janaah al taer are the wings of a bird.

The flutter of wings can be described as rafrafat al ajniha. For a bird spreading its wings preparing to fly, you could say al teir afrada janaahayhi. The term can also be used to describe someone on the verge of a daring undertaking.

On the other hand, to cut someone’s wings — qassa janaahayhi — is to render them helpless. For someone who has long been in that state, you could describe their condition as maqsoos aljanaahein.

Ya reit aandi janaahein lateer — I wish I had wings to fly — is a statement to express a desire for freedom, or to escape a difficult circumstance.

Janaah al insan, literally translated as the wings of human beings, usually refer to the hand, armpit and upper arm. For chicken wings, you could say ajnihat al dajaj.

The word janaah also has political resonance, much like in English. Left-wing is janaah al aysar, whereas right-wing is janaah al ayman. Hotels and hospitals also have wings, known as ajniha.

The janaah al riaasi is the main wing of a building. Janaah kibar al shaksiyat is a wing reserved for VIPs.

The symbolic potency of wings makes them a favourite with poets and musicians in the Arab world. Yemeni singer Abu Baker Salem has a song titled Shilna Ya Bu Janahein (Save us, oh winged one).

Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu also has a song that uses the word, titled Satal Janahah, which loosely translated means pulling his wing, referring to unhealthy relationships and social situations.

Finally, one of Lebanese poet Gibran Khalil Gibran’s most famous works is Al Ajniha Al Mutakasira (Broken Wings).

Scroll through the gallery below to see The National's other picks of Arabic word of the week

Updated: December 02, 2022, 4:13 PM