Post Classifieds

'Niihka,' meaning 'friend' in Myaamia, not so polite in Arabic

By Lauren Ceronie
On September 13, 2011

Miami University's new Niihka site has posed quite a few challenges for students and professors alike since its implementation. However, some professors are facing more challenges than others with Niihka. In particular, some professors are facing issues with the name of the site itself.

The name Niihka means "friend" in the Myaamia language, but it can also be taken as an offensive phrase in Arabic. As a result, Arabic professors are calling Niihka "the system" instead of its proper name.

While this may seem like a huge gaffe on Miami's part, Elizabeth Bergman, assistant professor of Arabic in the department of German, Russian and East Asian Languages said it's not uncommon and not that big a deal.

"It's really difficult to have a word or phrase in one language that isn't offensive in another language," Bergman said.

The Arabic professors have warned students that the word Niihka can be offensive so those students know if they happen to study abroad in an Arabic-speaking country, according to Bergman.

"We take the language and our teaching seriously," Bergman said.

To demonstrate the commonality of a word that means nothing in one language meaning something unpleasant in another language, Bergman told the story of the Chevy Nova. In English, the name "nova" seems innocent, even pleasant.

"When you think of a nova you think of an exploding star that's brilliant and beautiful," Bergman said.

However, in Spanish, the word doesn't seem so brilliant and beautiful. Nova can be taken as "no va" which literally translates to "it doesn't go" in Spanish.

Saeda Nader Abu-Attiyeh, visiting faculty in the Department of German, Russian and East Asian Languages, agreed with Bergman that the Niihka situation isn't something to fuss over.

"I'm a native speaker and I don't think this is that bad," Abu-Attiyeh said.

Like Bergman, Abu-Attiyeh told a story to show how common this situation is.

"We had a meeting here in Irvin with professors from the department," she said. "We were all sitting and one professor said something in Hindi and a German professor was shocked. The word meant nothing in Hindi but something bad in German."

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