Giving thanks to the "kesh"
November 25, 2005
In Persian, kesh is a simple word and yet without it a huge part of Farsi will shut down. Okay, may be that is stretching it a bit too far. To comprehend its ubiquity however requires no great stretch of either imagination or research. It is everywhere in one’s daily speech. In a most ordinary sense, the word means a rubber band or elastic. When I unfold the newspaper every morning or unbundle the mail every afternoon, I do so by removing the kesh that surrounds it. When I kesh-o-qos, I stretch and arch myself as if afflicted with a spell of yawn or ennui, restlessness, really.
The word I remember for the Persian ice cream is bastani-keshi, literally, the ice cream that stretches.
When I use a pashneh-kesh (shoe horn) I pull up the back part of the shoe over my heel. The notion of “pull” that resides in kesh is multifaceted. First, there is word ab-kesh, which in English means a strainer, but in this sense in Farsi the word refers to the act of pulling down – the drawing out of the water, to drain.
In most kitchens the act of draining cooked rice or spaghetti, for example, benefits from the force of gravity that exerts a downward pull on the water that leaves the sift. But kesh is so versatile that in a word like doud-kesh (chimney, flue) it obviously defies gravity as it sucks or pulls up and out the smoke. To smoke a cigarette is sygar-keshidan. The notion of pulling-in air is also apparent in nafas-keshidan, to breathe. If you are pulling in smoke the chances are that eventually you will need help to breathe.
And if one is really itching for a fight one demands nafas-kesh (accompanied by a King Kong-style of thumping of the chest). Don’t ask me what that's supposed to mean.
Up or down -- there is also a lateral sense to kesh – that occurs when one holds up into the light a pair of underwear, hooks one’s thumbs at the opposing ends of the waistband and examines the latitude of the garment by pulling away the thumbs in opposite directions as far as possible. The word kesh-tomboun is the very post-modern way of saying band-e tonban, a drawstring for pants.
In the realm of back-and-forth, kesh too plays a role. In pish-keshidan, one is putting forth something for consideration, raising an issue. In pass-keshidan one withdraws or pulls back (in the military sense the term is agab-neshastan, or agab-keshidan). In the form pish-kesh, kesh refers to offering with an open palm, in a gifting giving sort of way.
The master verb keshidan means to draw – such as in the term naqsh-e keshidan, which literally means drawing maps and plans, but in the vernacular it is almost used in the sense of making up mischief and conspiring. But the kesh (doer) in naqshe-kesh is truly a cartographer. The verb keshidan also denotes suffering, tolerating or bearing a burdensome weight. In gham-keshidan, one bears sorrow, and in zahmat-keshidan, one toils, labors, suffers inconvenience and difficulties.
While zajr-keshidan is the equivalent of bearing sorrow and misery, the sadistic command bekesh in that sense leaves no room for wishing one a lighter alternative. What is worth remaking here is that in these verb forms the root sentiment is expressed in Arabic words, each of which may be conjugated in Arabic but in Farsi it is combined with the Persian kesh and keshidan in order to form a conjugate-able verb form.
If memory serves, in ranj-keshidan (to toil, labor) the root ranj is Persian, lingering from the more elaborate form of baranj, which one can recognize in the present-day berenj (rice). The word berenj derives from vrjana in Sanskrit (village, enclosed settlement) through old Iranian varez (to work) and barzigar and barzan (husbandman). In the vernacular however the word ranj-bordan has come to mean to suffer pain, agonize, while ranjbar means laborer, toiler. I digress.
The suffix kesh sticks itself to all sorts of nouns in order to produce a good many number of doer-nouns. For example, ab-kesh is also the person who carries water. The guy who sweeps (sweeper) is jarou-kesh and the ship or truck that transports/carries petroleum is naft-kesh.
The word kesh is so versatile that with its own antonym it creates a third word! The word is kesh-makesh, which literally means “to pull and not to pull,” tugging back and forth, really. In the literature, the word means altercation, fight, quarrel, tussle. In its original form it would have been bekesh-o-nakesh.
The versatility of kesh is most apparent in word formations describing carnal transactions. The words koskesh and kounkesh in English translates as a purveyor of the female sexual favor (as represented by the word kos, vulva) and of anus (read: boys), respectively. In either case the pimp is the peddler. The word jakesh refers to a person who introduces a woman to a man.
A jakesh can be either an agent for the woman (purveyor) or one who is acting on behalf of the man looking to get laid (procurer). Not that I know much about the subject, I have been told by those who do, however, in the common practice of whoring the term bekesh is often used to refer to the guy who pimps the streetwalker. Regardless, etymologically, each of these carnal kesh-words is gender neutral, even though culturally the pursuit of pimping has been apparently the province of men for the benefit of men.
In this connection, two points jump out. First, it is worth noting that in a culture that much is done through a vaseteh (intermediary, middleman), the transaction of a carnal kind would benefit from a koskesh,kounkesh or jakesh as a middleman. Second, that there should be a middleman presumes a profitable enterprise in which sex is transacted more as a commodity than service. The equivalent of the American English for “What a babe!” or “What a piece of ass!” in Farsi is “che mali” or “che jensi.” The first literally means “what a product, possession, or thing” and the second one means “what good,” as in article of commerce.
Where I am stymied is the meaning of ja in jakesh. Any further elucidation of the subject ought to be addressed to those in the profession. Among them are a few who cowardly hide behind bombastic screen names or unsigned letters, often devoid of anything new to say, in order to heap personal invectives on the folks whose writings and other works appear on this site. Before any of them falls prey to the easy temptation to call me or mine one form of kesh or another, he first should ask his relatives if I have peddled any of them.
No erudite discussion of such matters is complete without a reference to the Farsi term daeyous, cuckold, which in English refers to a man married to an unfaithful woman. The word derives from the Latin cuculus, which is the same root (coucou) for the French cocu, commonly referring to a two-timing person.
Curiously, in French, cocu, while it is a famine noun, it applies equally to an unfaithful wife or husband. In Farsi, on the other hand, all this entrepreneurship is bundled into one convenient term ghoromsagh, which means one who pimps one’s own wife! While a ghoromsagh by definition is a daeyous, the reverse is not necessarily true. In any event a ghoromsagh in any event is a koskesh and a jakesh. I digress.
Lest I be accused of kesh-dadan (belaboring, stretching, drawing out or dragging) of the subject, I stop with a passing salute to the genius of a few more kesh-words. The kesh-e-ran, literally, means the extension of the thigh and so it refers to groin. In kesh-raftan (to pinch, steal) kesh embodies the notion of extraction (keshidan, as in dandan-keshidan, pulling teeth). In kenar-keshidan one speaks of stepping or pulling aside, such as a car ordered by the police to pull over, or I, per admonition of a recent note from a detractor, to cease my work in writing about language and meaning.
Funny about kesh, though, one can kesh the word kesh as long as one can kesh one’s breath.
Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at trapworks.com. Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences (BA), Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston College Law School (JD). He is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea >>> Features in iranian.com