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You've probably heard about this — Teo Armas, "‘Inshallah’: The Arabic ‘fuggedaboudit’ Biden dropped to blast Trump on tax returns", WaPo 9/30/2020:

Midway through Tuesday night’s chaotic presidential debate, as President Trump vowed to release his still-private tax returns, Joe Biden shot back at his opponent with a particularly sarcastic jab.

“Millions of dollars, and you’ll get to see it,” Trump said of the amount he claims to have paid.

“When?” the Democratic presidential nominee interjected. “Inshallah?”

The WaPo article links to an article by Rebecca Clift and Fadi Helani, "Inshallah: Religious invocations in Arabic topic transition", Language in Society 2010, whose abstract helps explain why it might have come naturally to Biden, whose son Beau served a tour in Iraq:

The phrase inshallah ‘God willing’ is well known, even to non-Arabic speakers, as a mitigator of any statement regarding the future, or hopes for the future. Here we use the methods of conversation analysis (CA) to examine a less salient but nonetheless pervasive and compelling interactional usage: in topic-transition sequences. We use a corpus of Levantine (predominantly Syrian) Arabic talk-in-interaction to pay detailed attention to the sequential contexts of inshallah and its cognates across a number of exemplars. It emerges that these invocations are used to secure possible sequence and topic closure, and that they may engender reciprocal invocations. Topical talk following invocations or their responses is subsequently shown to be suspended by both parties; this provides for a move to a new topic by either party. (Arabic, religious expressions, conversation, conversation analysis, topic)*

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 conference, “Inshallah, Iraq will succeed.” (Murphy 2007)

And the WaPo article quotes Helani about ironic or sarcastic usage of the phrase:

When used in formal Arabic, including in media interviews or news conferences by politicians in the Arab world, he said, inshallah serves as an expression of hope for a desired outcome. Yet in informal conversation, inshallah can also be used sarcastically to mean that the hope or statement is too good to be true.

“If somebody says talks about passing a test, and you say, ‘inshallah,’ that means you’re hoping they pass,” Helani said. “But if somebody says that, and you know they’re a lazy student, ‘inshallah’ means you don’t believe them at all.”

This reminds me of how the phrase "bless your heart" has evolved in the American south.

It also echoes an early LLOG conversation about the original meaning of "under God":

"One nation [head], under God [adjunct]", 6/14/2004
"Dysfunctional shift", 6/16/2004
"Never say never", 6/16/2004
"I might have guessed Parson Weems would figure in their somewhere", 6/20/2004
"'(Next) Under God,' phrasal idiom", 6/20/2004

Geoff Nunberg's conclusion from that series:

In short, the phrase "under God" had nothing to do with God's temporal sovereignity; it was, rather, a way of acknowledging that the efforts of men are always contingent on His providence. And that is how Lincoln intended it, as meaning something like "with God's help, of course":

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom…

Meanwhile, here's the debate fragment, if (like me) you had bailed on that dumpster fire earlier in the evening:




  1. Philip Taylor said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 7:06 am

    It is now some years since I adopted "insh'Allah / D.v." or some variant thereof as a fairly standard qualifier to a wished-for outcome in my e-mail correspondence — two examples follow :

    Thank you, Akira-san — noted for future reference. I am in the middle of setting up a new web site at the moment, but will test TLSHELL with your suggestion incorporated later today (D.v. & insh'Allah).
    Philip Taylor

    And if you do, how would you deal with the odd pathological case that requires three lines ? Insh'Allah I will have none of the third type, but I would still prefer to write my code to properly handle such cases if and when they do occur.

  2. GeorgeW said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 8:04 am

    It has a different meaning with Muslims and non-Muslims.

    We (non-Muslim Westerners) tend to use it as something that is highly contingent and would require divine intervention. Where Muslims take it seriously, understanding that nothing happens without divine sanction.

    I was on a flight to the Middle East from Rome years ago and the pilot (an Arab) came on and said the flight would make an unscheduled stop in Greece for fuel, "insha'Allah." The westerners on the flight universally laughed, thinking, Oh sh*t, we may not make it.

  3. Thomas Hutcheson said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 8:23 am

    It may refer to the joke that "inshallah" is like "manana,": but with the same sense of urgency. :)

  4. Rose Eneri said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 8:26 am

    I've had many Muslim friends from Syria and Iraq and they used "insha'Allah" frequently, always in the sense of "God willing" and always in a reverential way. My Muslim friends, all of whom spoke Arabic as their L1, would never invoke any name of Allah in a sarcastic way. They always pronounced "insha'Allah" with 4 syllables with the main stress on "in" and secondary stress on "Al".

    It seems to me that Biden was trying to pander to the American Muslim community. I doubt he succeeded. He might have scored some points had he used the invocation reverentially and pronounced it correctly.

    Perhaps I'm being too sensitive, but I think of "insha'Allah" as not just Arabic, but as profoundly Muslim and deserving of respect.

  5. Luke said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 9:02 am

    It sounded like Biden was about to say "In ?" but his mind slipped while saying it.

  6. Luke said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 9:04 am

    It seems as if this commenting system doesn't allow for angled brackets, what I meant to say was "In [date/period of time]?".

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 10:09 am

    Luke, constructs commencing < or & are interpreted as HTML fragments wherever possible.

    [(myl) If you want the angled brackets to show up (rather than disappearing into the html interpretation attempt), use the html entities &gt; for > and &lt; for < ]

  8. mg said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 12:22 pm

    Reminds me of how "From your mouth to Gd's ear" is used.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 2:09 pm

    Strictly speaking, I don't think that &gt; is necessary — a bare > should suffice (if one does not appear in this comment after "bare ", I was wrong !). But an ampersand should be entered as &amp;.

  10. George said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 3:29 pm

    I've lived in North Africa and while I don't have the impression that 'insha'Allah' was used in a sarcastic "yeah, sure it'll happen…" way, neither was it particularly reverential. It was just systematically appended to statements referring to the future, in an automatic, unthinking way. Here in Ireland, even today, it's not rare to hear 'please God' being used in the same way, including by people who aren't noticeably pious by any means.

  11. George said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 3:33 pm

    Apologies for the over-use of 'way' in my comment. I didn't proof read it. I don't usually write that badly, promise!

  12. Scott P. said,

    October 1, 2020 @ 11:35 pm

    There is an interesting Spanish equivalent that actually comes from the Arabic — ¡Ojala!

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    October 2, 2020 @ 2:13 am

    Tangential but still worth noting, perhaps, in the context of Luke's comments above : not only do < and & have a special meaning within this site's commenting infrastructure, so too does the dollar sign (which I do not know how to enter directly — maybe $), which both introduces, and later terminates, a subset of TeX maths mode, as in (e.g.) $x^2 = y^2 + z^2$.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    October 2, 2020 @ 2:21 am

    … which went wrong. Omitting the parenthesis which fouled things up (it ended with ", which rather than typesetting a dollar sign as I had intended had the (unwanted) effect of a bare dollar sign, the last part should have read "so too does the dollar sign, which both introduces, and later terminates, a subset of TeX maths mode, as in (e.g.,) $x^2 = y^2 + z^2$. If Mark, or some other knowledgeable person, could note how one can have a dollar sign typeset if one wishes, that might be useful information in the future.

  15. Roly Huebsch said,

    October 2, 2020 @ 2:34 am

    It exists in Portuguese too as —oxalá— hopefully

  16. Michael Watts said,

    October 2, 2020 @ 6:41 am

    From The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin:

    Nasrudin had saved up to buy a new shirt. He went to a tailor's shop, full of excitement. The tailor measured him and said: "Come back in a week, and — if Allah wills — your shirt will be ready."

    The Mulla contained himself for a week and then went back to the shop.

    "There has been a delay. But — if Allah wills — your shirt will be ready tomorrow."

    The following day Nasrudin returned. "I am sorry," said the tailor, "but it is not quite finished. Try tomorrow, and — if Allah wills — it will be ready."

    "How long will it take," asked the exasperated Nasrudin, "if you leave Allah out of it?"

  17. Marie said,

    October 2, 2020 @ 3:08 pm

    In the moment, I thought he said "When, in July?"

  18. Michael Watts said,

    October 2, 2020 @ 7:53 pm

    It was just systematically appended to statements referring to the future, in an automatic, unthinking way. Here in Ireland, even today, it's not rare to hear 'please God' being used in the same way, including by people who aren't noticeably pious by any means.

    I have seen an Irish friend of mine use a "please God" tag, but it doesn't seem to have been totally bleached: he didn't use it normally, but invariably appended it when referring to his wife's potential recovery from cancer.

  19. George Hegarty said,

    October 3, 2020 @ 3:26 am

    @Michael Watts

    Your friend's usage is almost certainly more typical. There is huge variation by region, by age or by social background. I've lived mostly in Dublin, I'm in my fifties, I'm a 'middle-class professional' and 'please God' simply isn't part of the language I speak. My mother would use it much like your friend does, with a conscious element of invocation. Her mother (born at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries) used it at insha'Allah rates of frequency. I now live in the south-west and I hear things like "OK, I'm off now, see you tomorrow please God" frequently enough to no longer find them odd.

  20. Philip Taylor said,

    October 3, 2020 @ 7:00 am

    George, is there any difference (as far as you are aware) between the usage of Irish "please God" by Catholics and by Protestants ? I would expect it to be more of a Catholic thing, but never having had the good fortune to live in the Emerald Isle, this is just a conjecture on my part.

  21. George Hegarty said,

    October 3, 2020 @ 10:20 am

    Philip, my impression is that it's more a Catholic thing. But that isn't based on anything scientific.

  22. Viseguy said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 12:16 am

    Begging your indulgence, I'm trying $ ($) and &dollar (&dollar;), out of sheer curiosity, just to see if they work.

  23. Viseguy said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 12:19 am


  24. Philip Taylor said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 4:33 am

    Another try from me : $

  25. Philip Taylor said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 4:35 am

    Yay ! Code was <span>$</span> (and please don't ask me how I entered that !).

  26. Göktuğ Kayaalp said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 8:12 am

    Interesting for me, as someone born and raised in Turkey, reading that "inşallah" is/should be used reverentially. In Turkey this is not the case, and for many a reverential use of the word would be sarcastic or be perceived "excessively religious", so to speak. The way Biden seems to use it, in Turkey it'd be perceived as sarcastic, denoting doubt in the possibility of what the interlocutor says.

    Tangentially, there's the formula "Allah Allah", which is again used casually, to express a variety of meanings, including incredulity, surprise, "wtf" / "wut?", doubt, despair. Other words used casually that include Allah "eyvallah" (="thanks", "ok", "alright", sometimes denoting despair and disappointment), "estağfurullah" (="you're welcome", "no worries", also sometimes to express humility), "tövbe estağfurullah", "fesuphanallah" (interjections expressing despair, resignment, containment of anger), "yallah" (="let's go/do it", "go away", sometimes even equivalent to "get off me" or "f*ck off").

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