Episode 4 – Proverb: A handful of lentils

A handful of lentils

There is a popular proverb people use in Lebanon when others comment about something without knowing the real story behind it. It translates as “Those who know, know, and those who do not know say ‘A handful of lentils’. Leen explains this proverb, tells us about its origins, and how the proverb applied to one of her neighbors. So, next time someone remarks about something they do not really know its reality, you will have the perfect response ready.

Lebanese-Arabic Transcript and English Contextual Translation


مرحبا وأهلا وسهلا فيكن بحلقة جديدة من لانغويج وايف. اليوم رح نحكي عن قصة مثل لبناني معروف ومعظمنا سامع فيه بس ما منعرف شو قصتو. فخلونا اليوم نتعرف سوا أكثر عن هيدا المثل، ومن وَين إجا، وأيمتا بينقال.

Hello, and welcome to a new episode from Language Wave. Today, we will speak about the story of a renowned Lebanese proverb, which most of us have heard of, but we do not know the story behind it. So, let us learn more about this proverb together, where it came from, and when it is used.


مثلنا لليوم بقول :”يلي بيعرف بيعرف، ويلي ما بيعرف بيقول كف عدس“.

Our proverb today says “Those who know, know, and those who do not know say ‘A handful of lentils’”.


كان يا ما كان بقديم الزمان، بضيعة صغيرة من ضيع لبنان، شاب وصبية كانو جيران، حبو بعضن وتعلقو ببعضن كتير، لدرجة إنو اتفقو يتزوجو. بس كان في مشكلة كبيرة، وهي إنو بيَا للصبية ما كان بيعرف بهيدا الحب، و كان بنفس الوقت عم بخططلا لحياة تانية و مع حدا تاني. مع مين؟ مع ابن عما يلي كان البي حاسو إنو مناسب لبنتو وحيعيشا حياة حلوة وحتكون مبسوطة ومرتاحة معو.

Once upon a time, in a small village in Lebanon, there was a young guy and a young lady who were neighbors. They fell in love, and they were very fond of each other to an extent that they agreed to get married. However, there was a huge problem. The young lady’s father did not know about this love and was at the same time planning a different life for her with someone else. With who? With her cousin whom the father though was suitable for his daughter, that he will give her a beautiful life, and that she will be happy and comfortable with him.


عرف الشاب والصبية بهالخبرية وكانت صدمة قوية. احتارو، شو بدن يعملو وشو حيصير بمستقبلن وحبن الكبير؟ فكرو كتير وقررو إنو أحسن طريقة هي إنو يتلاقو على سطح بيتا للصبية، بحجة إنو هي طالعة تنقي العدس من البحص والقش لتخزنن للمونة وكان الشاب طالع تيساعدا. وهيك مرقت الإيام وهني عم يتلاقو على السطح وعم بنقو العدس سوا، وحبن عم بزيد يوم بعد يوم، و ما حدا بيعرف بهيدا الحب ولا بهيدا اللقاء السري.

The young man and lady learned about this plan, and it was a big shock. They were confused. What are they going to do, and what is going to happen to their future and big love? They thought a lot and decided that the best way is to meet at the rooftop of the young lady’s house. Her excuse was that she is going up to clean lentils from small stones and hay for the food storage, and that the young man was going up to help her. The days passed while they were meeting at the rooftop and sorting lentils together. There love was growing day after day, and no one knew about this love or this secret meeting.


بس لسوء حظن، بيوم من الإيام بشوفا إبن عمَا للصبية بالصدفة مع حبيبا على السطح، وبسرعة راح خبر بيّا يللي جنّ وخوِت من هالخبرية، وبلا تفكير طلع على السطح ناوي على هالشاب المسكين.

Unluckily for them, one day the young lady’s cousin spots her by coincidence along with her lover at the rooftop, and he quickly went to tell her father. The father lost his mind and went crazy because of this news, and without thinking he went up to the rooftop planning to teach the poor young man a lesson.


شافو الشاب وارتعب، وضلت كمشة العدس بإيدو وهرب. ولحقو البيّ وركض وراه بهالضيعة وأهل الضيعة محتارين شو عامل هالشاب حتى لاحقو البيّ بهالطريقة؟ واستغربو أهل الضيعة إنو معقول، معقول لاحقو كرمال سرق منو كفّ عدس؟

The young man saw him, and he was frightened. The handful of lentils remained in his hand, and he ran away. The father followed and chased him in the village, and the residents of the village were confused. What has this young man done so that the father is chasing him in such a way? The village residents wondered, is it possible… Is it possible that he is chasing him because he stole a handful of lentils?


هرب الشاب واختفى، وما عاد حدا لا سمع فيه ولا شافو.

The young man ran away and disappeared, and no one heard of him nor saw him ever since.


وصار البيّ يسمع أهل الضيعة عم بلوموه، وعم  بألفو قصص وحكايات عن هالخبرية.

The father then started hearing the residents of the village blaming him and making up stories and tales about this incident.


بس ما كان حدا بيعرف شو هيّ القصة الحقيقية يلي البيّ ما خبرا لحدا، لأنو كان بيعتقد إنو هيدا الحب السري بأثّر على سمعتو وسمعة بنتو وصورتن بالضيعة. فهو ما كان لاحقو كرمال سرق منو كف عدس. وصار كل ما البي يسمع حدا عم يحكي أو عم يسألو بالقصة بقلو، يلي بيعرف بيعرف، ويلي ما بيعرف بقول كفّ عدس.

However, no one knew the real story, which the father did not tell to anyone, because he believed that this secret love will influence his reputation, his daughter’s reputation, and their social image in the village. In reality, he was not following the young man because he stole a handful of lentils. And so, every time the father heard someone speaking or asking him about the story, he would say “Those who know, know, and those who do not know say ‘A handful of lentils’.”


وهيك ومن وقتا، صار المثل بينقال وقت الناس تحكي شو عم بتشوف بلا ما تعرف الحقيقة. ويلي بيعرف بيعرف، ويلي ما بيعرف بقول كف عدس.

Thus, and ever since, this proverb would be said when people speak about what they see without knowing the truth… and “Those who know, know, and those who do not know say ‘A handful of lentils’.”


وهلأ خليني خبركن شوي عن قصة صارت معنا عن هيدا المثل. من سنتين تقريبًا، انخطبت بنت جيرانا. والجيران ما في غير بشوفو هيدا العريس عم يفتح باب السيارة لخطيبتو كل ما بدا تطلع أو تنزل من السيارة وبقولو: “مش قليلة هالعروس، طالعلا حظ، ومش بعيدة تكون عاملتلو سحر. إنو على شو كل هيدا الحب والاهتمام؟ إنو معقول كل ما بدا تطلع وتنزل من السيارة بدو يفتحلا الباب؟”

Now let me tell you a bit about a story that happened to us regarding this proverb. Approximately two years ago, our neighbors’ daughter got engaged. The neighbors would always see this groom opening the door of the car for his fiancée whenever she wanted to enter or leave the car, and they would say “This bride is not easy, she has luck, and it is not excluded that she might have bewitched him. What is all of this love and care about? Is it possible that every time she wants to enter or leave the car he would open the door for her?”


بس يلي ما كانو بيعرفوه إنو باب السيارة ما بيفتح إلا بالمفتاح، لأنو كان الباب منزوع، فالعروس ما فيا تفتحو لحالا. وهيك بس وصل للعروس خبر شو عم بقولو الجيران، تنَهدت وقالت ”ايه يلي بيعرف بيعرف، و يلي ما بيعرف بقول كف عدس.”

However, what they did not know is that the door of the car does not open except with the key because the door was broke, and so the bride cannot open it herself. Thus, when the news of what the neighbors were saying reached the bride, she sighed and said “Those who know, know, and those who do not know say ‘A handful of lentils’.”


وهيك منكون حكينا شوي اليوم عن المثل اللبناني المعروف وحكينا شو القصة ومن وين إجا وأيمتا بينقال. بتمنا تكونو حبيتو حلقتنا لليوم، ونحنا كالعادة منحب نسمع اقترحاتكن وتعليقاتكن على حلقاتنا.

Thus, we have spoken today a little bit about the known Lebanese proverb, and we told its story, where it came from, and when it is said. I hope you enjoyed our episode for today, and like always we love to hear your suggestions and comments on our episodes.


وأنا لين وبشوفكن بحلقة جديدة من لانغويج وايف. مع السلامة!

I am Leen, and I will see you in a new episode on Language Wave. Goodbye!

Comprehension Questions (try to answer the questions while speaking out loud to yourself and using full sentences in Lebanese-Arabic)

  1. How would you describe the meaning of the Lebanese proverb, “Those who know, know, and those who don’t know say ‘A handful of lentils’”?
  2. How would you summarize the story this proverb is based on?
  3. Who did the father think would make a good spouse to his daughter, and what did he hope this person could provide his daughter?
  4. Which character in the story used the proverb and in what context did this person use it?
  5. How did this proverb apply to our narrator Leen’s neighbor?


Vocabulary Table

# Lebanese-Arabic English Transliteration English Translation
1  معظمنا Mo’zamna Most of us
2 نتعرف Net’araf  Get to know
3 كف Kaf A handful / Palm
4 عدس Aa’das Lentils
5 ضيعة Day’aa Village
6 مناسب Moneseb Suitable
7 صدمة Sadmeh Shock
8 أيام Eyem Days
9 سطح Sateh Rooftop
10 سر Ser Secret
11 حظ Hazz Luck
12 ارتعب Ert’aab Frightened/Scared to death
13 سرق Saraa Stole
14 سمعة Sem’aa Reputation
15 سيارة Siyara Car

2 thoughts on “Episode 4 – Proverb: A handful of lentils

  1. I am going to reply to this shortly … I work in the Middle East and a wise Palestinian / Jordanian man explained this to me, on a lunch break, over a cigarette and coffee.

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