There is a mode in Arabic literary rhetoric (balāgha) for a statement that is true in itself, but the intended message is implied by the phrase "secondarily", but is not directly represented in the structure of the phrase: (kināyah)

-- what is the word for this in English?

e.g. "There is a 'far' drop from her earing [to her shoulder]" = she has a graceful long neck. or, "his campsite leaves copious amounts of ashes" = he's very generous (many cooking fires) or, "Honour tossed its saddle into the courtyard of the family of Talha, and never moved on." and, "They lower their 'superfluous' glances--whenever he appears--from an august personality, beloved in the hearts." * sounds better in Arabic

its like innuendo or double entendre but not meant in any sort of derogatory or sarcastic way. Rather as stylistic praise.

Thank you

Here is a Norwegian study of a text I studied in a village up in the Minor Atlas mountains. These--means of non-literal interpretation--things are no longer taught and inaccessible to the non-Arabic enabled; (with rare exceptions of course--pardon the hyperbole):

Jenssen, Herbjørn, and Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn ʻAbd al-Raḥmān Qazwīnī. The Subtleties and Secrets of the Arabic Language: Preliminary Investigations Into Al-Qazwīnī's Talkhīṣ Al-miftāḥ. Bergen, Norway: Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Norway, 1998.

Currently awaiting an intrepid student to retrieve it from the library. I'm expecting authoritative translations of terminology.

Much appreciation to all.

More concise examples:

A fourth of four modes from literary rhetoric—helpful for understanding the controlled latitude of interpretive possibility—is kināyah [allegory?]. It is a phrase that is deployed where its implicit meaning is the actual intent; while its literal meaning remains plausible. Examples include one’s saying, “the drop, from her ear-ring to her shoulder, is a far distance;” which is true when she has a long graceful neck. “His campsites leave behind copious amounts of ashes;” due to the high frequency of cooking fires where a generous person is constantly hosting guests. Al-Buḥtarī would describe the legacy of nobility running deep in a family saying, “have you not seen how honour finally tossed its saddle into the courtyard of the family of Ṭalḥa; never to move on.” Or, “A people who you see, on the day of battle, their spears enthralled with lust for the places of secrets;” a foreboding statement once the place where secrets are kept is considered. “Whenever he appears among them they avert superfluous glances from an august demeanour, beloved in the hearts;” where it is not fear but rather awe they hold for their leader. Or when a bedouin woman once complained to the governor of ‘how few mice they have;’ she was politely intimating that, “we’re starving here.” Another Bedouin said assessing his visit to Baṣrā, “I entered a city and saw the clothing of free-men on the bodies of slaves.” Apparently, he wasn’t impressed with the mettle or constitution of ‘city-slickers’.

{Metonymy} :: OK, I've just gotten ahold of a (2006) Routledge text; Arabic Rhetoric: A pragmatic analysis (Abdel-Raof).

His classification is as follows: al-Bayān (art of clarification), one of three sub-disciplines of literary rhetoric, deals patently with "figures of speech".

He calls tashbīh simile. Majāz however, he calls "allegory". Majāz has two sub-modes; he uses "metaphor" for istiʿārah. This does make sense. I have seen a definition of metaphor that says it is a simile without using a comparative device (e.g. like or as). This is the exact definition of istiʿārah in the Arabic, which was throwing me off regarding the right term for majāz.

The second sub-mode, al-majāz al-mursal (literally majāz without qualification, i.e. unfettered), refers to as "hypallage". Intriguing.

Kināyah--our culprit here, which I was trying to call allegory--He is calling "metonymy".

I'm not finished the research and still want to cross-reference with other academic studies, but its an interesting start.

I am happy to hear anyone's assessment. I can provide English definitions of the Arabic definitions; and a diagram tree of the inter-relationship between the modes.--> Please feel free to correct my English as well; twenty years between Damascus and the Atlas mountains doesn't make for good English usage/style.

The text I'm looking at:

Abdul-Raof, Hussein. Arabic Rhetoric: A Pragmatic Analysis. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.

Kināyah doesn't have to be negative or cynical (innuendo, double entendre) but here is a stinging burn by Mutanabbi and its "reveal" lifted straight out of the classical commentaries on his diwān:

Here is al-Mutanabbī describing his departure from Aleppo, “When I left, how many eyelashes of young gazelles poured tears over me; and how many eyes of lions cried at my departure. No beauty adorned with earrings there, was more sorrowful than one adorned with a cleaving sword. Were my current situation due to the actions of a veiled lover I would excuse it. But instead it is due to a bosom friend with turbaned head. He fires arrows and protects himself from my arrows; without protecting himself from a passion that stops my hand and breaks my bow and my arrow too. If a person’s deeds are bad his assumptions will be bad. He will believe the delusions he accustoms himself to.”

But here is what he really said: When I left, the women cried but the powerful Sayf al-Dawla cried more. No girl was more upset with my departure than he was. If these damages I’ve incurred were due to the treachery of a woman, I would forgive her. Because it’s expected that a woman will change up on you. But instead it is because of a man acting as fickle as a princess. He takes shots at me and hides behind others. But what he really hides behind is my unfailing love and respect for him that prevents my responding in kind; and he knows it. His own behavior is vile so he can’t have a good opinion of anyone. He will be prone to believe all the rumours and gossip he’s content to surround himself with.

  • 1
    Hmm. Commonly understood subtext? Code language? Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 7:38
  • 1
    You could call it an oblique reference. But are you sure your Arabic examples wouldn't qualify as cliches? Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 14:17
  • I'm thinking "allegory" at this point--so long as allegory can transpire in a single phrase and doesn't have to be an "entire narrative" story; like "Little red riding hood" being an allegory for ...
    – j.brown.t
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:22
  • A couple other ideas: speaking in riddles, flowery language. Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 4:31
  • any of a hundred words and phrases could describe those phrases in the first section because english has different definitions for different groups of intentional subtext. for one generally applicable that i don't see mentioned yet: trope
    – Giu Piete
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 21:08

2 Answers 2


An implication perhaps?

The conclusion that can be drawn from something although it is not explicitly stated.



It could be to 'insinuate' something, i.e. to imply or suggest without directly stating it.

It depends on the context of your text, which is why it's quite difficult to use with those examples, but allegory is not a very common word so I would refrain from using it unless you know that it absolutely fits the context.


  • I get you and appreciate the response. So I'm translating concepts and looking for a term to use as English nomenclature for a literary concept.
    – j.brown.t
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:50
  • tashbīh = simile / majāz = metaphor / istiʿāra = (?metaphor by proxy? sub-category of metaphor) / kināyah = (where the implied meaning is intended while the original meaning is still quite plausible) -- whereas in majāz, the literal meaning is not rationally or circumstantially possible. -- so I'm not so worried about stylistic usage to the degree I might be when writing proper "prose".
    – j.brown.t
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:58

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