‘Boukra’: The Arabic word for early also means tomorrow

The word has interesting variations connected to being first

Boukra translates from Arabic to mean early or, more colloquially, tomorrow
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From Gone with the Wind's famous “Tomorrow is another day” and “Tomorrow, I love ya” from the musical Annie, to the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran’s "Yesterday is but today's memory, and tomorrow is today's dream", the concept of tomorrow is an enduring one.

This week’s Arabic Word of the Week looks at the origins of the word boukra and how it relates to the universal concept of time.

Boukra is made up of the three Arabic letters, bah, kaf and rah, and has several plural variations, including bukarat, boukraat and boukar, used in different contexts.

Boukra is derived from the verb bakara, which is the act of appearing early. This can relate to everything from waking up early to arriving at a destination early, or even when fruit ripens before its expected season.

Officially, in classical Arabic, boukra, or al boukra, refers to the time just before sunrise. This definition is the one closest to the root word it’s derived from and informs many of the other words related to boukra.

There is the derived word bakara that can be translated to mean a wheel made from wood or a spinning wheel. While not officially confirmed by any linguists, one could possibly make the connection of a moving wheel and that of the wheel of time, or instruments of time and place, such as compasses.

Al bikir is another word derived from boukra. It means the first of everything, a first experience in something, the first fire someone lights or a couple's first child.

Interestingly, al bikir is also the word used to describe a man or woman who has never been married.

Colloquially however, across the Arab world, boukra means tomorrow. While the formal, classic Arabic word for tomorrow is ghadan, the variations of boukra and bachir have taken its place in most instances across dialects.

In some Arabic dialects, boukra, also refers to the future in a nonspecific way.

The thread linking all the ways boukra is used, in varying contexts and adjacent meanings, is the idea of an early beginning, either literally or conceptually.

Updated: December 01, 2023, 6:02 PM