Language propels everyday life and keeps us in touch with one another. One of our biggest assets as a culture and as a nation is a deep-seated, culturally cultivated humor that pervades every nook and cranny of our public discourse. Comedy is effective in altering our outlook and behavior, sometimes without us even realizing it.
The way expressions are used gives a new dimension to our conversation and how we interact with one another. Some are special not only in their content and what they transmit as a subliminal message but because they are created in order to serve a need.
Ma tissghar is one such expression. Tissghar, meaning get smaller/shorter, comes from the verb tassghir (minimizing). Ma tissghar is often used when a person is asked to do something that is thought to be demeaning to their stature, yet still requested. “ma tissghar, bass allah ykhalik, jibleh hal kirsseh min el oudah” (don’t get smaller, but may god keep you, get me this chair from the room).
The ingenious Lebanese tour de force in its use is the sudden realization that refusing to do the task is not an option, thus formulating its use to fulfill the most annoying of tasks that one can’t be bothered to do.
The first time I used it was a couple of month ago when I was sitting with my friend, Lama, on our plastic chairs literally in the sea in Jammal, soaking the wonderful sun and the clears waters when from a distance I see her husband coming and I ask him with an ironic smile “ma tissghar ya Khaled, please jibilna il wine ma3ak” (don’t get smaller Khaled, please get us the wine with you), to which he had to walk back to our table, get the wine and handed it to us. It suddenly dawned on me that one rarely ever refuses to do what’s asked of him if it’s done in a humble kind of manner. On that day this expression, with a hint of irony, has become my key word for slouching off and getting someone else to do things for me, or as my husband calls it my passport to bossing people around with a smile. “ma tissghar, bsharafak nzal jible il laban min il dekeneh… ma tissghareh, el ahwe a3l nar, foute sobiya…” (don’t get smaller, on your honour, go down and get me the yogurt from the mini market… don’t get smaller, the coffee is on the stove, go inside and pour us a cup of coffee.)
The Oxford American Dictionary defines wit as, “mental sharpness and inventiveness; keen intelligence.” But what does that really mean? Smart people can be boring. And funny people can be dumb. Wit isn’t synonymous with humor. Wit is a form of spontaneous creativity. It’s saying the perfect thing at the perfect time and in a manner that both surprises and delights the people who are listening and in the case of “ma tissghar”, get them to do it with a smile or maybe a little cursing!
The intelligent person is capable of expressing himself within the minimum possible words. What makes Lebanese language I think such a social delight is its art in creating fun and dynamic conversation. Like any art, it is a skill of elegance, nuance and creative execution. Without flair and panache most things become drudgery. So hail to our panache, our wit, our ironic sense of humor, and to being 100% Lebanese.