‘Mawsim’: The Arabic word for season is a universal concept

The term refers to time periods but also a gathering of people

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It’s anyone's guess where the common and universal expression “seasons come and go” originates.

However, there are many variations of it across languages and cultures due to its dual cynical but hopeful message. Its appeal is most likely connected to the concept of the passing of time, which all people organise their lives based on their interpretation of seasons.

This flexibility in the concept of the word "season" is seen in this week’s Arabic Word of the Week, mawsim.

The word in Arabic means season but can be used in a variety of ways.

Mawsim is a noun, derived from the three Arabic letters, waw, seen and meem. The plural of mawsim is mawaasim and the word has several meanings, all of them interconnected.

To start, mawsim very simply refers to a certain period of time during the year. Mawsim can also mean a large gathering of people in one place, for example, at an event, party or marketplace. Mawsim or mawsim al shayee, which translates to the season of the thing, also means the time or time period something appears.

With these definitions in mind, mawsim can mean the season as it pertains to the weather – spring, summer, winter or autumn. It can also mean a festive time, such as Ramadan or the holiday season. Mawsim al hajj, the season of Hajj, can refer to both the time period that Hajj occurs, as well as a large gathering of people. Mawsim can also be used to refer to a time of harvest for a specific fruit or vegetable.

The root of the word from which mawsim is derived is the verb wasama, which has an interesting meaning.

The first meaning of wasama is to physically mark something so that it is different, in a way, branding it – for example, hot branding an animal such as a horse. The other meaning is when an individual is singled out through praise or criticism.

While they may mean different things, mawsim and its root word both pertain to the idea of intentionally marking or pointing out something as being significant or different. In the case of mawsim, this is used in reference to a time period while wasama is used for people or objects.

One of the Arab world’s most influential and important novels is by the Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih, entitled Mawsim Hijra ila al Shemal, which translates to 'Season of Migration to the North'.

Considered a classic, the post-colonial Arabic novel details the conflicts of Sudan and the history of European imperialism. It follows the account of an unnamed narrator in the 1950s, who has returned to his Sudanese village on the Nile after completing his education in the UK with plans to improve the state of his homeland.

The novel refers to the idea of seasons not only as historical time periods or eras but also as states of mind and social and political concepts.

Updated: October 06, 2023, 6:02 PM