The Untranslatables: #4 Ya’aburnee


Much as I would like it if all of the words on my list of Untranslatables were hilarious and wacky, unfortunately, it is not the case. Some words are beautiful. And some are a little spooky. And some are both: enter ‘ya’aburnee’.

This word comes from the Arabic language and is primarily used in the Levant. Although it is pronounced differently by speakers of different dialects (the glottal stop between ‘ya’ and ‘aburnee’ may be replaced by a ‘q’ sound, for instance), the meaning remains the same: ‘you bury me’.

Not surprisingly, the implication of this slightly creepy statement goes beyond its literal meaning to create one far more romantic:

The speaker is expressing their desire to die before their interlocuter, as they simply would not be able to live without them.

Cute, right?

Some people consider that an English language equivalent for this could be ‘I love you to distraction’, but I would be inclined to disagree. For starters, I don’t feel that the level of passion expressed when in the two phrases is the same: one involves wishing your own death, for goodness sake!

Secondly, ‘ya’aburnee’ is a phrase used by parents towards their children. I would be somewhat surprised if my parents were to inform me that they ‘loved me to distraction’, as this phrase is more appropriate in non-platonic relationships.

And finally, leading on from this, I would honestly be surprised to hear anyone saying they loved someone to distraction nowadays (unless they were quoting a Jane Austin novel), whereas ‘ya’aburnee’ is a phrase in common use in Levantine Arabic.

So, to conclude, this lovely but gloomy sentiment does not seem to have a compact, functional equivalent in the English language, making it delightfully untranslatable.

Bonus piece of information – this is how you write it in Arabic: يعبرني

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