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When Arabs talk about how great a person is, relative to others, they talk about the person's family (birth or descent, or nasab) and the person's or his family's achievements or attributes (hasab). So, someone who belongs to a great family with bright doctors and judges, for example, is said to be of noble descent. I'm struggling though to find an English word for hasab, i.e. for "the achievements or attributes of the individual and/or his family or ancestors".

The word can be used to shorten such a long question as: What qualities or great achievements do you or a family member have or had? One could answer: "I have a PhD, my father is a successful politician, and my great-great-grandmother was the first person to establish an orphanage in my town".

Hasab is derived from another word meaning calculation or counting. The idea was that Arabs, a long time ago, would compete against each other in terms of whose hasab was greater than others, and the competition involved each one of the competing group counting or listing all the things they prided themselves on.

Today, the pair hasab and nasab is most likely to be seen or uttered when a man asks for a woman's hand in marriage. The family of the woman would investigate or even ask the man directly about his hasab and nasab.

Some people would translate hasab as status. I think this translation may capture the essence of the Arabic word, but it misses the whole story.

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    Just as Western civilisation has largely rejected the Old Testament (non-)ethical principle of blaming / punishing descendants for the sins of their ancestors, so we also tend to avoid according higher status to people whose ancestors did "good" things (a person's value lies in what they themselves think, say, and do, not what their parents did). You could refer to someone having an illustrious pedigree, for example. But don't assume all Westerners would necessarily hold that in high regard. – FumbleFingers Oct 8 '18 at 13:17
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    We don't do either, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a word for the concept. After all, it's a word inherited from long ago. – Sara Oct 8 '18 at 13:25
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    If a person comes from an accomplished and prestigious family, would they say "my nasab is great" or "my nasab is extensive"? Can the possessive pronoun be used with nasab? Could you use the words in a couple of sentences to show how you want to use them? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 8 '18 at 21:48
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    "my grand grand grandmother". In American English, she would be referred to as your great-great grandmother. (Don't ask me why, though...) – RonJohn Oct 8 '18 at 22:59
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    English doesn't seem to have a good word that combines the individual achievements (honours, accolades, rank, etc - Roget 866) and family background (ancestry, pedigree, lineage, etc - Roget 868). The word that falls nearest to the middle is probably standing, which covers a person's reputation in the community, and probably moves from the familial to the individual as a person grows and makes their own way in life. – Toby Speight Oct 9 '18 at 14:46
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The best approximation I can think of is

You and your family's legacy.

It's often only used at the end of someone's life, when considering a future after they are deceased, though.

Another idea is

Your family's heritage.

This refers to the reputation, wealth, example, and anything else you got from your family's prior achievements, but does not refer to your achievements. If anything it implies that a lot is to be expected from you.

In the case of a marriage or trying to impress someone generally, I think you will need to use two concepts

His accomplishments and family heritage.

Or possibly

His and his family's notoriety and reputation.

  • +1 I was thinking of answering with legacy myself when I noticed you had already provided this answer. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Oct 8 '18 at 18:29
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Another possibility is pedigree:

[Merriam-Webster]

1 : a register recording a line of ancestors
// The pedigree traces the family back to the 18th century.
2a : an ancestral line : LINEAGE
// That horse has an impressive pedigree.
b : the origin and the history of something
// Democracy's pedigree stretches back to ancient Greece.
broadly : BACKGROUND, HISTORY
3a : a distinguished ancestry
// actions spoke louder than pedigrees in the trenches
—Dixon Wecter
b : the recorded purity of breed of an individual or strain
// vouch for a horse's pedigree

Although I am more used to hearing it in the context of animals, I am certainly not unaware of its use with respect to people and "what they bring to the table" in terms of family achievement and social class.

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    Pedigree seems to fit well with the OPs note about the current usage of hasab - 'The family of the woman would investigate or even ask the man directly about his hasab [pedigree]' – Michael J. Oct 8 '18 at 21:25
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Laurels

This is normally heard of in the context of someone who has already accomplished much, but not content to bask in the glory of his past achievements ("rest on his laurels"). It comes from the ancient practice of honoring heroes with a crown of foliage from a laurel tree.

Definition 3b:

[Merriam-Webster]
1 : an evergreen shrub or tree (Laurus nobilis of the family Lauraceae, the laurel family) of southern Europe with small yellow flowers, fruits that are ovoid blackish berries, and evergreen foliage once used by the ancient Greeks to crown victors in the Pythian games
 — called also bay, sweet bay
2 : a tree or shrub that resembles the true laurel especially : mountain laurel
3a : a crown of laurel awarded as an honor
b : a recognition of achievement : honor —usually used in plural
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We also speak of a family's standing and an individual's standing in the community. It refers to status and reputation, especially as built or earned over a decent length of time, which could be over several or even many generations for a family.

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