'Al samt': Arabic for silence covers the wise and the foolish

The word can shift between a state, a command and a place

When a person quiets a friend, whether with words or with a glance, you could say sammata sadeeqahu/sadeeqaha
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Al samt is Arabic for silence, echoing with wisdom and immobilising, tongue-tied circumstances.

The word takes on many forms as it shifts between a state, a command and a place.

When a speaker goes quiet, you can say samata al mutakallem. In present verb form, the word becomes yasmutu/tasmutu, depending whether it's applied to a male or female subject.

When a person quiets his friend, with words or with a glance, you could say sammata sadeequhu/sadeequha.

Ismot is Arabic for shut up, a word you hopefully use sparingly. However, when extremely riled up you could embellish it with, ismot matissammaani sowtak, shut up, don’t let me hear your voice. But remember: only in extreme circumstances.

Daqiqat samt is a minute of silence.

Dalla samitan/dallat samitaten is when a person stays quiet.

Samata dahran wa nataka kufran is a phrase that describes a person who stays quiet for long, only to end up saying something that is less than worthwhile.

On the other hand, silence is sometimes the most meaningful response. Al samt mut’ib walakin yabqa arqa wasila lilrad ala katheer min al kalam, silence is tiring but it remains the best way to respond to many words.

La hikmata kal samt, there is no wisdom like silence.

Sada samt al makan is when silence echoes in a place.

Al samt sadeequka al waheed al lathi lan yakhunaka abadan, silence is the only friend who will never betray you.

Nasmotu ahyanan li’annana na’ref anna hadithuna lan yughayyira shay'e, we stay silent sometimes because we know our words won’t change anything.

Al smat waqt al fowz thiqa, waqt al ghadab quwwa, waqt al a’maal ibda’a, waqt al isaa'a hikma, waqt al sukhriya taraffo means silence during victory is confidence. During anger, it is strength. During work, creativity. During offence, wisdom. During ridicule, superiority.

Egyptian novelist and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz has a famous quote that touches on al samt.

"Al samt huwa al muhawala al akhira li ikhbarihom bikulli shay'e lam yafhamuhu heen kunna natakalam," silence is the last attempt to tell them everything they couldn’t understand as you were speaking.

There are several songs, films and television shows in Arabic with al samt as themes and titles.

These include Saudi Arabian singer Rabeh Saqr’s Ughniyat Al Samt (The Song of Silence). Samt Al Qusoor (The Silences of the Palace) is a 1994 film starring Hend Sabry and set in a Tunisia emerging from the yoke of colonialism. Zaman Al Samt (The Period of Silence) is a Syrian comedy series starring Ayman Zidan, it is also the title of a popular song by Saudi oud player and singer Talal Maddah.

Updated: January 27, 2023, 6:02 PM