Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony





GEO – Strasbourg University (France)

Un grand merci a Mr Jonas Sibony 

Abstract. As the other Moroccan Arabic speakers, Jews from Morocco use many kinds of curses and profanities, some are very common but others are more specific. Alongside the ones they share with their

Muslim neighbors, they’re used to borrowing words and concepts from the Jewish texts, mostly from the Bible and the Talmud. Those Hebrew and Aramaic words, are integrated in Arabic syntax to formulate innovative and peripheral sentences. Today most of this community has left Morocco and lives in the state of Israel. Those curses and profanities are still used in this very new context, sometimes just the way they were and sometimes in the middle of Hebrew sentences and therefore now integrated into Hebrew syntax.

Judeo-Arabic dialects are the Jewish counterparts of the Arabic“dialects”. In other words where there is a Jewish community in an Arabic speaking area, there is a Judeo-Arabic dialect. If the specificities of those dialects are mainly noticeable (actually emphasized) in the written language, the spoken language retains nevertheless particular features such as

discreet Hebrew or Aramaic loanwords originating from written religious sources1. Other specificities are to be found in accents (Leslau 1945: 63), use of old-fashioned terms, archaic syntactic structure or preservation of other traits belonging to earlier stages of the language than in other Moroccan dialects (Vicente 2010: 148). Actually, most of those Jewish dialects present distinctive features of the Pre-Hilali dialects (Lévy 2009 : 176). All those specificities are due to the particular history of the Jewish community – mainly migrations and social isolation –, in other words, specific linguistic features for specific context Moroccan Jews used many kinds of curses, insults, teasing or various phrases of harsh criticism, in Moroccan Arabic (darija), or more specifically in their dialects within the Arabic dialects, the Jewish sociolects. A large number of those curses are actually the same one can hear from the Muslim speakers. But some contain specificities. These include the use of Hebrew words (or so-called Hebrew words) (See Sibony 2019b) or references made to the Bible or the Talmud, to various Jewish concepts, to Jewish culture or Jewish life in Morocco, life in the Mellah, the organization of the cult and the condition of the Jews.

This article is not intended to be exhaustive with regard to the unlimited number of phrases existing nor to the presentation of the various formats of curses. A number of very serious studies have already dealt with the subject of North-African Arabic curses, such as Westermarck (1926, 1930), Boudot-Lamotte (1974), Steward (2014), and even specific studies on the Jewish ones: Malka & Brunot (1939), Stillman (2008) and Sibony (2019b).

The object of this article will be, as a first step, to emphasize the specificities of the Moroccan Jewish curses by adding a number of linguistic comments; I'll start giving a few examples of expressions heard from Jewish speakers but without any special feature, then I will quote ones with specific references. In a second phase, I will try to examine what is left of this cultural aspect in Modern Hebrew as spoken by Israelis from Moroccan origin.

Məllāḥ is the generic name for Jewish neighborhoods in Morocco.


Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

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!”

Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

Other very simple curses are obviously ironic. At first sight very cruel, the following curses are frequently used by fathers toward their children and therefore are to be understood as terms of endearment:

imōt mōl-ək! (Brunot & Malka 1939: 159):

אִימוּת מוּלָאכ

 “May your master (i.e. father) die!”


imōt l-ək bū-k!:

אִימוּת לֵכּ בּוּכּ

“May your father die!”


Sense of humor combined with vivid imagination can lead to some quite excessive images. The following is most often used by a mother sick and tired of her child refusing to eat:


țgṛēḍ l-mṣāṛn (Brunot & Malka 1939: 157):

תְגְרְרּד אֵלְמְסָארן

 “May your intestines be cut into pieces!”


Another excessive expression, this time from a West-Algerian Jewish speaker:

elli ma-iḥǝbb-ni-š nākǝl l-o rās-o nūkǝf a'la na'š-o 'o nǝbkā 'orā-h:

אֵלִּלי מָא יִּיחְבְנִיס, נָאכֵּלְלּוֹ רָאסו, נוּקֵּף עְלָא נְעַשׁוֹ וּנְבְּקָּא אוּרָאהּ

נאעש-نعش– ארון קבורה (א.פ)

“He who has no love for me, I'll eat his head, stand by his coffin and stay after him!”


מתוך ספרו של חנניה דהאן

3544 דְעְוָוא דֵל־בַּאטֵל, כָּא תְרְגֵ׳ע ל־מוּלָאהָא.     

קללת שוא, חוזרת לבעליה. (למקלל)


קללות שבות לחיק המקללים, כיונים אל ארובותיהם.

           זה לעומת זה) 503(

קללת המקלל שבה אל ראשו. (שם)

קללת שוא חוזרת לפה המקלל. 336 refranero

 ברכות – מברכות לבעליהן, וקללות מקללות לבעליהן.

(רות רבה א׳)

יש קללות שיש בהן ברכה, ויש ברכות שיש בהן קללה.


כציפור לנוד, כדרור לעוף – כן קללת חינם לו תבוא.

משלי כו'-2

Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

Even if this formula uses particularly brutal and cruel images, it may obviously notbe understood literally.

The expression nākǝl l-o rās-o,

נָאכְּלוֹ רָאסוֹ….

“I'll eat his head” actually means

“I'll make him pay, I'll crush him”. That's a typical case of exaggerated violent image in use in those sentences.


 The last part: nǝbkā 'orā-h

נְבְּקָּא מוּרָאהּ

“I'll stay behind/after him” actually means “I'll outlive him”.


Some formal categories are very common too, such as sentences beginning with nṛāk

“May I see you”, with preservation of the ancient meaning of the verb ṛā “to see”, as illustrated here:

nṛā-k ma-țḥyā-s u-ma-tskā-s ḥătta l-hād n-nhāṛ! ( Brunot & Malka 1939: 159) :

נְרָאכּ מָא תְחְיָיאס וּמָא תְסְקָּאס חְתָּתא לְחְד אֵנְהָאר

“May (I see) you not live and not last until that day!”


nṛā-k b-ṛ-ṛdǝm iṭēḥ ălī-k!

נְרָאכּ בְרְרדְם יִּתֵח עְלִיכּ

( Brunot & Malka 1939: 157): “May (I see) rubble come

down on you!”


nṛā-k b-l-'ətțāl!:

“May (I see) you run into a murderer!”

נְרָאכּ בְּלְקֵּתָאל


nṛā-k b-l-bāṛōḍ l-inglīzi!

נְרָאכּ בְּלְבָּארוֹד לִינְגְלִיזִי

(Brunot & Malka 1939: 157): “May (I see) you run into a

British gun!”

nṛā-k ḥzoṭ mḥazzaṭ!

נְרָאכּ חְזוֹת מחאזאת

10: “May I see you in the most awful situation / poverty!”


Finally, among those non-specifically Jewish curses are found sentences used mainly by Jews; old-fashioned sentences, referring to ancient social realities:

wəld ṭəṛṛāḥ!:

ווּלְדְ תֵרָּראח

baker’s boy! > you're useless”

Ṭəṛṛāḥ (Premare 1999 (8): 277) initially refers to the job of boys wandering in the streets to find bread from individuals and bring it to the oven of the village. The speakers most often don't know what the sentence refers to but are still aware that it's an insult.

Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

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