Fact Check

Fear the Grim Arabic Tote Bag

A viral image of a tote bag with an Arabic inscription is correctly translated, poking fun at non-speakers frightened of the language.

Published Aug. 17, 2016

A tote bag bears a slogan poking fun at people who fear Arabic writing.

On 16 August 2016 Twitter user Zarah Sultana published what became an instantly viral tweet, depicting a woman carrying a tote bag with Arabic writing and bearing a humorous translation:

After tens of thousands of Twitter shares, the image made its way to Facebook, where many appreciated the humor but wondered whether the translation was accurate.

English speakers lacking knowledge of Arabic asked Sultana whether the translation was indeed correct:

An Arabic speaker transcribed the tote's inscription into digital form:

لا يوجد اي هدف لهذا النص الا نشر الرعب في نفوس من يهاب اللغة العربية

Feeding that transcription into Google Translate produces a rough version of what is claimed as the writing's English meaning:

There is no goal of this text that horror published in the hearts of afraid of the Arabic language

Sultana subsequently tweeted contact information for the company behind the Arabic totes, Israel-based Rock Paper Scissors Printshop:

The totes began picking up steam back in May 2016, as noted in a news article from that initial wave of interest:

The message on Rock Paper Scissors’ newest tote bag is simple but powerful.

In pink Arabic lettering it says: "The only goal of this text is to spread panic among those who fear the Arabic language."

Most of their designs contain Arabic words, not as a statement, they say, but “because it is our language, and part of who we are, and we think it should be part of our urban landscape.”

That was the thinking behind the tote. "While fuddling what to write we came to a conclusion that the existence of the font and language — and not necessarily the writing — is what's important," they told SBS.

“We notice here that the Arabic language is starting to disappear from signs and public places,” the designers said.

Arabic is an official language in Israel, but newspapers regularly filled with stories of an ongoing culture war which has been raging for years in the small Mediterranean country. The battle centers around identity, fought between a substantial Arab-Israeli minority, and conservatives seeking to cement Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.


Winsor, Ben.   "The Arabic on This Tote Bag Is Hilariously Edgy."     SBS.   19 May 2016.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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