As a multilingual person, I'm addicted to words; they get stuck in my head like song lyrics. The deeper I go learning a language, the more certain words become indispensable regardless of the language I'm speaking.
Here are some of the most useful words and expressions in Moroccan Arabic (or "darija"). I find myself itching to say these things even when speaking English!
1. Alhamdoulillah - الحمد الله
Praise God! This is always the correct response to good news or to bad news. It's also the one size fits all answer for "how are you doing?" Tack alhamdoulillah on the end of whatever you say - it gratefully acknowledges that good fortune, expresses steadiness in suffering, and sums up a humble, mindful, & devout approach to life.
2. Bessaha! !بصحة
Bessaha (pronounced bsa7a) means "to your health" and is used in Morocco for everything from "bon appetit" to "enjoy" to "good for you." Bessaha is the polite thing to say in the following occasions:
is eating, or about to eat something
just had a shower or a bath
just had a beauty treatment done (haircut, shave, waxing, nail polish...)
got a new outfit
is about to take / is taking a vacation....
Useful, right? We say bessaha so much in darija that I find myself trying to say it in English. It usually comes out as a confused pause as I try to figure out what the appropriate English word is and finally settle on "...enjoy!"
Allah i3tk sa7a! !الله يعطيك صحة
Allah i3tk sa7a means "may God give you health." It is the response to bessaha, so naturally it's just as useful.
3. Inshallah - إن شاء الله
As soon as I started learning Arabic in college, this word became a staple for me, even in English. Inshallah means godwilling, literally "if God has willed it." We use inshallah any and every time we talk about something in the future.
Inshallah expresses the belief that we don't know for sure what will happen. It acknowledges that there is a power larger than ourselves directing events. Inshallah can mean yes, or it can be a polite way of saying no, which can be useful.
4. Shwiya - شوية
Shwiya is another power word in Moroccan Arabic. It means "a little." You can use shwiya to express quantities but also qualities. If someone asks how you're doing and you say "shwiya" it means "not very well at all." If you ask your neighbor if her son can cook and she says "shwiya," it means the quality of the cooking leaves something to be desired.
5. Bizzaf! !بزافّ
Bizzaf is the opposite of Shwiya and means "a lot." To speakers of other Arabic dialects, bizzaf is one of the most stereotypically Moroccan words.
bizzaf 3liya - a lot for me
There's not a way to say "too much" in darija the same way one would in English, but to say something is bizzaf 3la someone communicates a similar idea.
Kanbghik bizzaf- "I love you a lot."
6. Saafi !! صافي
That's enough! Saafi also means "all done" or "cut it out!" It's a useful word for times when you just can’t take it anymore. It's the title of a break up song by one of my favorite Moroccan pop stars, Asma Lmnawar.
Shwiya w saafi - just a little bit (and that's it)
Q: Wax kthddar darija? - do you speak darija?
A: Shwiya w saafi - just a little bit
7. Bshwiya - بشوية
Literally "with shwiya," bshwiya can mean slow, slowly, quietly, and gently. It's used in some very useful Moroccan Arabic expressions.
Shwiya bshwiya - little by little
Me: "I'm so stressed with this project right now!"
Moroccan friend: "Shwiya bshwiya" - take it easy, you'll get there
Bshwiya 3lik - slow down
Boy: *runs down the street*
Auntie: "GHEIR BSHWIYA 3LIK!" - Slow down, kid!
8. La shokr 3la wajjib - لا شكر على واجب
"You're welcome." La shokr 3la wajjib literally means "don't thank me for doing my duty." To my American ears, this sounds like either the over-the-top kindest way to say "you're welcome" or the most passive-agressive one. Depending on context and intonation, it can be either one.
9. Bismillah - باسم الله
"In the name of God" are the words that begin the Koran. Because of this, bismillah is another deliciously multi-purpose expression, used when beginning things in general. For example Moroccans say bismillah
when handling money
when holding a baby
when entering a house
For those of you scoring at home, bismillah also makes a cameo in "Bohemian Rhapsody."
10. Allah irhhamlk lwalidin - الله يرحملك الوالدين
Allah ir7amlk lwalidin is used as both "please" and "thank you." The literal translation is "May God have mercy on your parents," which again is quite a nice sentiment. One of my language teachers explained to me that this means "may God let your parents into heaven." Getting into heaven is a big deal in Islam (as in other religions), so extra prayers can be very useful.
11. Zwin! زوين
Zwin (or mzeewin in the north) means beautiful, and by extension everything that is good. The opposite, naturally is khayyib (ugly, bad, etc.). As a foreigner living in Morocco, you’l be asked variations of this question on a weekly basis:
Wax lmaghreb zwin wlla khayyib? - Is Morocco good or is it bad?
And the answer, of course, is Zwin!!
On Arabic dialects
#1 and #3 and #9 are staples in any dialect of Arabic because of their association with Islam.
I believe #4, #7, #8 and #10 are understandable across dialects of Arabic but may not be used in exactly the same way. The transliterations are based on Moroccan pronunciation.
The rest (#2, #5-7, and #11) are very Moroccan darija .
Darija in this article refers to Moroccan darija, but there’s also Tuisian darija, Algerian darija, etc.
On transliteration choices
Because these words are in Arabic, the transliterations are approximate. I made my choices based on standard usage, readability, and personal preference.
For ش I use “sh” in this post for readability. You'll also see things spelled with "ch" (the French equivalent). Personally I find “x” the most useful since it’s just one keystroke.
For the voiceless, back of the throat H (ح) I tend to generally use 7 according to standard texting practice.
Naturally, ع is 3. This is the back of the throat ‘aa which is a quintessential 3aarabic sound.
Language is Culture and culture is language. See this guest post I wrote for Blue Door Cuisine about Cultural Tips for Visiting Morocco (specifically the section about tips for communicating with Moroccans)
*Because these words are in Arabic, the transliterations are approximate. You'll also see things spelled with "ch" as this is the French equivalent of the English sound "sh" which is the Arabic "ش." (When I text with friends, I tend to use "x" for this sound.) I tend to generally use 7 for the back of the throat H (ح) and 3 for 'ain (ع) except when I feel like it interferes with readability.