Daesh: what does the word mean? Is David Cameron's use of it significant?

Prime Minister David Cameron is debating extending air strikes against Isis over Syria 

Rose Troup Buchanan
Wednesday 02 December 2015 14:55
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The Prime Minister has said he will refer to Isis as “Daesh”, but what is the meaning behind the name – and is there any significance to David Cameron’s decision to use it?

It comes as Mr Cameron attempts to persuade the House of Commons to vote in favour of extending air strikes against Isis, also known as the Islamic State, over Syria.

What does Daesh mean?

It is an Arabic acronym derived from the phrase “al Dawlah al-Islameyah fi Iraq wal-Sham" or literally, “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”. In the same manner we refer to Isis or Isil, Daesh is the Arabic equivalent.

Are reports of its negative connotations correct?

Yes, although some experts believe the significance of this aspect of the word has been overplayed.

In essence, the insult of the acronym stems from the fact abbreviations are not nearly as widely used in Latin-Arabic languages as in languages based on the purely Latin alphabet, Arabic-English translator Alice Guthrie explained.

“Thus, the creation and use of a title that stands out as a nonsense neologism for an organisation like this one is inherently funny, disrespectful, and ultimately threatening of the organisation’s status,” she wrote.

“So the insult picked up on by Daesh is not just that the name makes them sound little, silly, and powerless, but that it implies they are monsters, and that they are made-up.”

In Arabic, the acronym ‘Daesh’ is one letter from the word ‘daas’ – meaning to trample or crush something underfoot. ‘Daas’ connotes a humiliation and lack of dignity, which Arabic speakers are aware of when using the word, but it is an overly simplistic interpretation of the Daesh acronym to place too emphasis on this interpretation.

How should the acronym be pronounced?

US president Obama appears to pronounce it as one syllable (“dash”) as you can hear here. But French leader Francois Hollande uses two syllables (“Daesh”), pronouncing it phonetically.

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