Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden used the Arabic word “inshallah” during a discussion on President Donald Trump’s tax returns at the first presidential debate Tuesday night.
“I’ve paid millions of dollars, and you’ll get to see it,” Trump replied.
“When?” Biden asked. “Inshallah?”
Biden’s campaign confirmed to NPR that the former vice president had used the Arabic word that means “Allah willing” or “if Allah wills it.”
The word is often used sarcastically by Muslims to express doubt that someone will do something that they claim they plan to do.
Some American Muslims and others praised Biden on social media for his inclusivity.
A BuzzFeed News immigration reporter called it “a historic moment in America.”
Other people were not impressed.
One commentator even called Biden’s use of the word “colonial and derogatory.”
Fadi Helani, a linguistics professor at Montclair State University, told The Washington Post that the phrase seemed too sophisticated for someone who doesn’t speak the language to use in a presidential debate.
“Inshallah” is used to expressed hope for the desired outcome in formal Arabic, including in media interviews and news conferences, according to Helani.
When it is used in informal conversation, the word can be used sarcastically “to mean that the hope or statement is too good to be true,” The Post reported.
“If somebody says talks about passing a test, and you say, ‘inshallah,’ that means you’re hoping they pass,” Helani said.
“But if somebody says that, and you know they’re a lazy student, ‘inshallah’ means you don’t believe them at all.”
Helani said that Biden’s use of the word was sarcastically “casting doubt” on Trump’s claim he would release the tax returns.