I was looking up the meaning of the American slang-word “shlong,” which in my generation’s parlance used to mean a long dangling penis. For sometime I had suspected a connection between it and the Farsi word for the garden-hose, shelang. I checked my collegiate dic-tionary but had no luck, as the word shlong did not appear there.
Then I checked my Haim’s Inglisi-Farsi-Inglisi dictionary, agian to no avail. The word shelang or shilang did not appear in the Farsi part, and the meaning that it gave for garden hose was luleh abyari: a watering tube. So, I Googled “shlong,” and — bingo: According to Urban Dictionary, in English, the word schlong (variation: shlong) means a penis. It comes from the German “schlange,” which means “snake.”
Intuitively, I knew that the Farsi equivalent of the English schlong is, you guessed it, kir-e khar. The career linguists (not me) however tend to demand more proof.
I opened my Haim again and fell on the letter “kh.” I stopped at the noun “khar” and noted that it means an ass, a donkey. As an adjective, the word means a fool, a stupid person. I was surprised however to note the absence of an entry for “khar” meaning great, or big.
I do not know from when or why but for a long time now I had assumed that khar also meant “big.” I cannot say every Iranian child but most do arrive at this innocent conclusion early in childhood. I first noted this when learning the word “khar-goush” for rabbit – the word “goush” meant “ear” and so “khar goush” could only mean “long or big ears” a perfectly logical and empirically observable connection. Do you see where I am going with this?
If the word “khar” in khar-goush is an adjective that refers to the long and prominent physical feature of a rabbit, then what could it refer to in connection with a donkey? My money is on the hypothesis that the word khar, as in a donkey, is the contraction of khar-kir, referring to the animal’s long dong. Some time, for the sake of decency, the word kir was omitted from the beast’s name and so henceforth the animal was referred to as simply khar. Sure, the donkey could have been called also a khar-goush due to its long ears – not. We know that is not always the case because nothing beats the size of an elephant’s ear and yet we call this animal “fil,” and not khar-goush.
If “khar” were indeed synonymous with big, then we must revisit the meaning of the term khar-bar or khar-var, not as something that referred to a donkey-load of cargo but rather a large cargo regardless of the beast carrying it.
In this discussion there is a blind spot, though. We have the term “gur- khar,” which means a wild ass. We call this, in short “gur.” In elementary history class we all learned about the Persian king Bahram who loved hunting “gur” and then one day, while chasing a gur, fate returned the favor and the king and his horse both sank and died in the swamp.
The question is: what does “gur” mean? Surely, one meaning is “grave,” which may or may not be connected to the fact of people going to their graves chasing the animal gur. It may also be that the term “gur,” as in “gur-zad,” means a “pygmy.” If khar meant big then a gur-khar would be an illogic, an absurdity, because the combination would mean little-big.
I think the key to all this is in the term “gur-asb,” which means a zebra in Farsi. Obviously the word “gur” does not refer to the stripes of the animal, but rather to one of two possibilities. Gur, like in “gur-khar” could mean “wild,” as opposed to the domesticated donkey or horse. Or, gur could mean small and refer to the zebra in comparison with a horse (asb), like little-horse. I like the “wild” connotation for “gur” because it answers more.
It makes perfect sense for Farsi to describe the zebra in relationship to a horse. Zebra is not native to Iran. But, as a famous anthropo-geographer may have once said, by contrast, ta delat khahad dar Iran-shahr khar-kir khyzandi (long-dongs breed aplenty in the land of Iran). And guess what – some of them walk on two legs! Yeah, like you did not know, please.
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