Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

  1. Curses and profanities in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic

The field of “curse” is extremely wide in Arabic and there seems to be an appropriate sentence for every single annoyance one can experience in life.

Common curses, profanity, criticism and teasing:

Some phrases are very humorous, others are terrible, but consistently strongly accurate in order to match very specific situations, just as for blessings or proverbs. Those expressions describe, portray, characterize and categorize everyday common situations, sometimes in a very schematic way, often represented in an exaggerated, caricatural or grotesque way.

However, curses (and blessings) are supposed to have a concrete effect on the aimed person.

I'll give a few standard examples before getting into the specificities of the Jewish expressions.

Each curse is supposed to match something specific and cannot be used for the wrong purpose which anyway would be useless, as stated in this first sentence:

d-dă'wa blā sbāb ma təqṭă' ši l-bāb :
אְדְעְוָוא בְלָא סְבָאב, מָא תְקְטְעְסִי לְבָּאב

“a curse without causes will not pass through the door” (Westermarck I 1926: 491).


“A curse without causes" not only would be useless but even dangerous. The fact that the curse wouldn't “pass through the door” is to be understood as a threat recalling the risk that the curse would return against the speaker if it was summoned for unfair reasons.

Therefore, it's not just an advice, but a real curse itself. The upcoming example is even more explicit:

d-dă'wa blā dnūb fi rās mulā-ha ddūb :

דְּעְוָאה בְלָא דְנוְב, פִי רָאס מוּלַהָא דְדְוּב

 “a curse without sins will melt on the head of its master” (Westermarck I 1926: 491).

Some general ideas are illustrated by series of similar sentences, with slight variations of vocabulary; or containing more or less details, since any speaker can remove or add elements in order to simplify the sentence or on the contrary, for instance, to highlight the comical aspect.

For example, to put in his place a difficult or pretentious kid (or even for anyone who did something wrong), people will mention the school he attended:

ttəḫla dīk s-skwīla fayn t'əlləmti!:

תְתְכְלָא דִיכּ סְכּוּאֵלַה פָאיְיְן תְעְלְמְתִי

“May the school you attended be devastated!”


tkūn ḫālya məḫliya lā bū-k dīk s-skwīla fayn t'əlləmti!:

תְכּוּן כָאלִיָיא מְכְלִיָיא עְלָא בוּכּ, דִיכּ סְכּוּאֵלַה פָאיְיְן תְעְלְמְתִי

“May the school you attended be a devastated ruin on your father!”


tkūn ḫāliya dīk s-skwīla!:

תְכּוּן כָאלִיָיא דִיּכ סְכּוּאֵלַה

“May it be destroyed, that school!”


nəbkī la s-skwīla fīn mšīti!:

נְבְכִּי עְלָא סְכּוּאֵלַה פִין מְסִיתִי

“I cry on the school you attended!”

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