University of Iowa

Morocco as told in 7 Darija (Moroccan Arabic) Phrases

May 5th, 2015

By Alexandra Kolker*


'Zina' (a Lebanese version of the word 'Zwina') that has become popular during my time in Rabat.

1. Labaas? Kul shee bi-khayr.

Literally: How are you? Everything’s good.

This phrase is the Moroccan version of “How are you?” and it functions the same way. The expression works as a greeting, a question, and an answer. “Everything good?” “Everything’s good.” The phrase is met with the same response as in American “How are you” – no one gives honest or in-depth answers, but agrees that everything is good and continues on his way.

2. Koolee!

Literally: Eat!

Arguably the most common word in Moroccan Arabic, it floats from open windows in the medina during Friday couscous and around the city during dinner (which is usually eaten between 9:00 -11:00 PM). My host mother, in the midst of a heated conversation on the phone, pauses often to point at food, motion toward my plate, and exclaim “Koolee egg. Koolee bread. Koolee chicken.” Each refusal to stuff my face is grounds for an argument, so in Morocco I eat well.

3. Wiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwiliwili!

Literally: Oh my God!

My favorite phrase in Moroccan Arabic, wiliwiliwiliwiliwili is often more a high-pitched shriek than an actual word. Usually expressed in surprise, disbelief, or astonishment, this phrase is as common as “Oh my God,” in English, but a lot more fun to say. The trick to pronouncing it correctly is to say it as fast as you can without your tongue getting tied.

4. Allah akbar!

Literally: God is the greatest. This simple sentence can be heard five times a day from each mosque in the city. The muezzin stands on the minaret (tower which stretches upward from each mosque), speaks into a microphone and the line reverberates throughout the medina and over the new city. At first, the voices seem to clash, but by the time the call ends, they have settled into a single, steady rhythm.

5. Anti mutizowja?

Literally: Are you married?

This question is thrown around casually when walking through the suq on the way to school, buying toilet paper at the local convenience store, or hailing a taxi. Often jokingly followed by “How many camels do you want?”

6. Shwiya.

Literally: A little/kind of

This is the mother of all Darija words needed to communicate with Moroccans. It works as a beautifully ambiguous, perfectly acceptable answer for any question.

Examples: Do you speak Arabic? Shwiya.

Did you like the liver couscous tonight? Shwiya.

Are you married? Shwiya.

7. Zwina.

Literally: Beautiful/good.

Zwina is one of the most beautiful (ha) words in the Arabic language, in part because it can describe literally everything – the food is zwina, the weather’s zwina, this class is zwina. The idea of food being beautiful or tasting beautiful is a strange expression in English, but is common and complimentary in Darija. In Rabat, Morocco, the world is zwina – the people, the ancient city, the cafés on the corners and morning call to prayer. The weather is a sunny 75 degrees, and coastal breeze blows in each evening from the sea. The Kingdom of Morocco is zwina.

*Alexandra Kolker is a senior from Mt. Vernon, IA., majoring in international studies and English at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the IES Program in Rabat, Morocco.

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