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Inshallah

Murphy, CullenThe American Scholar; Washington Vol. 76, Iss. 4,  (Autumn 2007): 14-15.

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Headnote

The war in Iraq might leave us a new word to match a new sense of our own limitations

When worlds collide, the sparks are sometimes linguistic. Not long ago, in a Q & A on the Web site of The New York Times, an Iraqi translator was asked to explain the points of difference he saw between his own people and the Americans he encountered in Iraq. He brought up the Arabic phrase "inshallah." The Americans, he said, "have respect for time"; Iraqis, in contrast, "use the word inshallah, which means 'if God wishes,' to postpone things."

It may be that this point of difference won't be a distinction much longer. An American colonel in Iraq, writing to The Washington Post's Thomas E. Ricks, recently observed: "The phrase 'inshallah,' or 'God willing,' has permeated all ranks of the Army. When you talk to U.S. soldiers about the possible success of 'the surge,' you'd be surprised how many responded with 'inshallah.'" The phrase seems to have permeated all ranks of the diplomatic corps, too: Zalmay Khalilzad, when he was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, once stated at a press conference, "Inshallah, Iraq will succeed."

It's a truism that words migrate because the concepts they connote have also migrated. When the Romans established commercial ties with the German tribes, introducing the idea of money, the Germans acquired from Latin the word they still use for "coin," Muenze. They also took from the Latin word cauponor, meaning "to trade," the word they still use for the verb "to buy," kaufen. In both instances the words filled a vacuum. Will inshallah transplant itself to American soil?

Will it fill a need and find a home?

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