Sellswords of Devoterra
Converted from: Tales of the Caliphate Nights Glossary of Terms and Sayings
Aaron Infante’ Levy, author of Tales of the Caliphate Nights, prepared a Glossary of useful terms and sayings to better make your character sounds like a hero of Classical Arabian fantasy.
I have updated these for Southland Devoterra. I’m including this so people can get a feel for Southland culture.
Compliments & Good Wishes
“Bilhana”: “Wishing you joy.”
“Bilshifa”: “Wishing you health.”
“He makes coffee from dawn until midnight”: Said of an excellent host.
“May your sons and daughters prosper”: A common good wish.
“Saytah!”: A toast, the equivalent of “cheers.”
“You may ask anything of me”: Used when one is deeply grateful.
“Bashem ustun!”: “Upon my head be it!”
“Be chesm!”: “By my eyes!”
“I conjure you to do it!”: Used when beseeching or commanding another.
“God is most great!”: An interjection used after a speech.
“Maktoob”: “It is written.” Said when finishing an action, arguing theology, and sometimes when agreeing with another (though “makhol” is usually used).
“My liver!”: An expression of surprise or pain. Other expressions include “Ymmah!” (“Oh mama!”) and “Ybbah!” (“Oh papa!”)
Greetings & Farewells
“Es salam alekum”: “May peace be upon you.” Said in greeting. The proper response is “wa alekum es salam.”
“Maas salama”: “Go with peace.”
“Tfaddal”: “If you please.” A generalized polite expression used when offering something, motioning someone to go ahead of you, or inviting someone in.
“You have come to your people and level ground”: A formal greeting when someone has returned home after a long time.
Insults & Ill Wishes
“Donkey and son of a donkey”: One of the worst possible insults.
“Ibn-Wuksha”: “Son of an unclean woman.”
“Kaffir”: “Believer.” Almost always used as an insult for Heartlanders and Northlanders.
“Yil’an’abook!”: “May your father be cursed!”
“A coin belongs in the souk”: Used by merchants who are trying to lure in a reluctant or thrifty buyer.
“Either my bull fetches 100 or it’s back to the stable”: Varieties of this phrase are used by customers who are trying to hold a dodgy merchant to a price the merchant has already agreed to but is trying to get out of.
“Fate blesses the vanquished”: Often used in an attempt to get the other party to compromise and match the offered price; the “vanquished” refers to the one who “loses” the war of the believers (trade), but wins Fate’s grace.
“The door for debate is open”: A merchant says this when trying to inspire competition among buyers, selling the good to whomever offers the highest price.
“When money is present, the devil is absent”: A rich customer who wants to settle a bargain fast uses this line.
Sayings to Avert the Evil Eye
“Far from you”: Spoken to prevent tragedy or bad luck caused by someone talking about immodest or supernatural things.
“Fate is all-knowing and I am but a humble slave before it”: Said when receiving a compliment to avert the Evil Eye.
“I am unable to express my thanks”: Common saying of gratitude. The proper reply is “No thanks are needed when one performs a duty.”
Entertainment & Recreation
Eid: A feast or festival.
Hammam: A bathhouse, usually public.
Shah-mat: Chess (from the Kobold for “the king is dead”).
Sword Dance: A type of mock battle done to music that is popular throughout the Near East.
Markets & Trade
Danaq: A small silver coin equal to 10 fals, one-tenth a dirham, or one-hundredth a dinar. The plural is also danaq.
Dinar: A large gold coin equal to 10 daharim, 100 danaq, or 1000 fals. The plural is dinari.
Dirham: Standard silver coin, equal to 100 fals, 10 danaq, or one-tenth of a dinar. The plural is daharim.
Fals: A copper coin worth one-tenth a danaq, one-hundreth a dirham, or one-thousandth a dinar. The plural is also fals.
Muhtasib: Market inspector in charge of upholding moral conduct in the souk, and ensuring that trade flows smoothly.
Sayrafi: “Money-changer” also entrusted with appraising and valuing coins.
Souk: Arabic term for a marketplace; the Persian equivalent is bazaar.
Amir: A military officer, often the head of a city’s garrison. In some provinces this term is used interchangeably with emir. This is generally a title used or Orkaan or Heartland rulers.
Casbah: Castle in the Maghreb.
Furusiyya: Horsemanship and skill with the bow.
Futuwwa: A code of honor.
Goum: Light cavalryman.
Mujahed: One who engages in jihad, not only in the military sense, but in every arena of their life.
Krak: A castle or citadel.
Qal’at: Fortified keep.
Razzia: A tribal raid, usually for livestock.
Spahi: A horseman of the desert tribes.
Beni: “Sons of…” Applied collectively to a tribe, group, or family which is descended from a highly-esteemed ancestor. Using this term implies respect.
Dar al-Harab: “House of War.” Refers to the part of the world that has yet to be brought under Heartland rule.
Dar al-Islam: “House of Surrender.” Refers to the part of the world already brought under Heartland rule.
Diwan: “List.” Originally this term meant an anthology of writings (like an author’s corpora), but it was adapted for political use to mean an office or government which might make use of such a collection.
Effendi: A title of respect used by a servant or slave to refer to their master.
Emir: A military commander who rules their own province.
Malik: Old Arabic term for “king”, it has primitive connotations.
Mawla: A “client” people subservient to and protected by a conquering tribe. The Bedouin are mawla to the Orkaan people. The people of Grappa and Veneto are Mawla of the Heartlands.
Qadi: A magistrate or judge.
Ra’is: “Head.” The civil administrator of a city.
Sahib / Sidi: Both terms are used very frequently when speaking to social superiors; they roughly mean “sir” and “lord.” The feminine forms are sahiba and sida respectively.
Sayyid / Sharif: A person of noble blood.
Shah: A Kobold king. The high king is known as shah-in-shah.
Sheikh: A tribal or village elder.
Sultan: “Authority.” Ruler of a state or city-state, roughly equivalent to a Heartland king.
Vizier: An official adviser to a ruler.
Ships & Sea
Bahr: “Sea.” Used as a prefix when describing large bodies of salt water.
Bandar: A port.
Barijah: Small 40-foot dhow used by fishermen, merchants, pearl divers, and shore-dwelling corsairs.
Daftar: Sailing instructions used for navigation in place of charts.
Dhow: Any ship.
Dibdan: The ship’s lookout.
Felucca: An oared ship.
Ishtiyam: Ship’s navigator.
Jummah: The ship’s hold.
Kashabat: Wooden scaffold serving as a beacon and watchtower.
Khabb: A gale storm, or a typhoon.
Khann: A point in the compass – there are 32 points for navigation.
Najhuda: The ship’s owner, but not necessarily the captain.
Oculus: Eye decoration often painted on the bow of the ship.
Qutb al-Gah: The pole star.
Rahmani: A book of sailing charts.
Rubban: The ship’s captain, served by the rubbaniyah (ship’s officers).
Sambuk: A common ship, 50 to 100 feet long, with distinctive wings sweeping off its square stern, aiding its stability.
Shira: The ship’s sail.
Suwar: Maps for sailing.
Zaruq: Small fast ship slightly larger than a barijah, it is used for transporting cargo and travelers.
Feisha: An amulet or charm against evil.
Djinn: An ancient spirit created from smokeless fire. The plural form is djinni, and the feminine is djinniyeh. They are free-willed beings just as humans are, and while many of them are evil, some are kindly.
Keramat: Beneficial magics and blessings.
Seal of Suleiman: Six-pointed Star of David used to ward off or imprison djinni.
Sihr: A condemning and derogatory term used to describe magic (as distinguished from keramat). Some faithful adepts use the term more specifically to refer to magic used for deceitful purposes, or magic based on trickery and illusion.
Travel by Land
Barchan: Crescent-shaped dune at the desert’s edge.
Caravanserai: A resting place for those traveling by caravan.
Dirah: A tribe’s territory, usually about 200 square miles.
Harrat: Field of volcanic debris.
Howdah: An ornate seat for riding on the back of a camel or elephant.
Kavir: Salt flat.
Mahout: Elephant driver.
Mehara: Finely bred racing camel. The plural is mehari.
Palanquin: A curtained litter on poles, carried by slaves.
Rabat-bashi: An innkeeper.
Seif: “Sword.” Geographically speaking it refers to a rugged dune running parallel to the wind, extending for hundreds of miles.
Simoom: A strong, hot, sandy wind that blows through the desert.
Sirocoo: The south wind, or a windstorm from the south.
Wadi: A seasonal river, often just an empty bed during summer.
Heroes often speak in proverbs, of which a sampling can be found herein. However, it is more important that the hero’s speech sounds authentically proverbial, so focus more on creating metaphors and unique prosaic phrases for your hero more than memorizing a handful of stock proverbs.
Every rose has a thorn as its friend.
Fortune is with you for an hour and against you for ten.
Sinning is the best part of repentance.
Tomorrow with the apricots. (A common phrase meaning “when pigs fly”)
A town’s gate can be shut, a fool’s mouth never.
He who drives an ass must, of necessity, know its wind.
His head is like the desert: the hotter it gets, the emptier it appears.
Mother a weed, father a weed; do you expect the daughter to be a saffron root?
To the dog that has money men say “My Lord Dog.”
A horse of good breed is not dishonored by his saddle.
After you tend to your father and family, see to your horse.
The air of heaven is that which blows between the ears of a horse.
Paradise is only found on the back of a horse or in the arm’s of one’s beloved.
A heart in love with beauty never grows old.
In order to really love another, you must love them as if they’d die tomorrow.
Marriage is like a besieged castle; those who are on the outside wish to get in and those who are on the inside wish to get out.
The whisper of a pretty girl can be heard further than the roar of a lion.
I am a prince and you are a prince; who will lead the donkeys?
It is good to know the truth, but it is safer to speak of palm trees.
The best way of giving oneself what one lacks is to take from oneself what one has.
The dawn does not come twice to wake a man.
Trust in fate, but tie your camel first.
A book is a garden carried in the pocket.
A book that remains shut is but a block of wood.
Examine what is said, not who speaks.
Knowledge acquired as a child is more lasting than engraving on a stone.
The mistake of the learned is like a shipwreck which wrecks many others with it.
An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
Death was afraid of him because he had the heart of a lion.
It is easy to carry on a war with a spyglass.
Judge a man by the reputation of his enemies.
When you are an anvil be patient, when a hammer, strike.
As the mind expands, the tongue grows quiet.
He who speaks the truth had better have one foot in the stirrup.
Hearts are the depositories of secrets; lips their locks, and tongues their keys.
Manage with bread and butter until God brings the jam.
None but the one carrying the load knows how much it weighs.
Words of Caution
Do not tell a friend anything you would conceal from an enemy.
Though your companion may be honey, do not eat him completely.
When the feathers are of gold, it is unwise to make broth of the hen.