"Mother of all X"

David Colburn colburn at PEOPLEPC.COM
Wed Mar 26 00:56:33 UTC 2003

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Orin Hargraves <orinkh at CARR.ORG>
> Subject:      Re: "Mother of all X"
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> There are numerous Arabic compounds in which the first term is "Um"
> source, origin), so it may be that S.H. was just using what is in Arabic a
> pretty ordinary construction: e.g., Um Qasr, Umm ar-rbia (a river in
> 'mother of spring'), Omduran (city in Sudan), Umm al-hasan (nightingale),
> ar-ra'as (skull, lit. 'mother of the head'), umm al-watan (metropolis, lit
> 'mother of the nation'). The Arabic original of the phrase (Um al-Ma’arik,
> "mother of battles") does not have a word that means "all."
Thanks for the clarification. I knew (from looking at other sources online)
that "mother of all battles" was a mistranslation of the Arabic, but I
should have made clearer that it was the English expressions I was really
interested in.

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