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Proverbs In Moroccan Arabic That Don’t Make Much Sense When Translated Into English

posted on: Jan 24, 2022

30 Best English Proverbs For Children, With Meanings
Photo: 30 Best English Provers for Children with Meanings

By: Nouha Elyazidi / Arab America Contributing Writer

Have you ever been told, “actions speak louder than words?” The phrase’s central message is “what you do is more significant than what you say”. When this statement is said, most English speakers immediately understand the message, but if you look at the sentence from a literal sense it, does not make much sense, for how can actions speak? This is called a proverb, a general saying providing advice or truth that can be metaphorical.

Proverbs also exist in Arabic. Seeing as each dialect in Arabic varies, today we will be looking at proverbs in Moroccan Arabic or darija. I will write the transliteration of 10 proverbs, then the literal translation, then the explanation. Yalla, let’s start!

He who has gone died – Lifat mat

This short saying essentially means that the past is gone. The context is usually when someone is advising another person they will say “lifat mat,” the past is dead, so forgiveness is the best option. In summary, it advises people, to move on and forgive.

Photo: Forgive to Move On

Butter and milk were once sisters, but the women separated them – El zibda wa ellaben kanu khwatata, mafar9ouhoum ghir el3aylat

This saying has to do with people interfering in relationships. The saying is metaphorical, saying that butter and milk were once one entity, but are separated by humans. The message is that two things that were once so close, have successfully been separated once people got involved. The moral of the proverb is that human intervention can destroy even the closest of relationships. 

Photo: Mixing milk and butter creates a substitute for heavy cream

If you freind is honey, do not lick all of him-Ila kan sa7bek el 3sel, matla3soush kolo

This one sounds a little funny in English, but the message is pretty important. The central message of this proverb is not to take advantage of your friends. It is saying that even if your friend is as sweet and nice as honey, do not take advantage of them and exploit their sweetness. The licking is a metaphor for taking advantage of people. So no matter how nice your friends are do not take advantage of them.

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Photo: National honey board

He who was bitten by a snake will fear rope – Li 3adoul el 7nish, ey khaf min el 7bil

This proverb is communicating the impact of trauma from past experiences. If a person is bitten by a snake, they will be fearful and wary of ropes because a rope has a similar shape to a snake. The message here is that traumatic events can lead to irrational and paranoid fear for a person in the future.

Photo: Rope-Snake Analogy Using Logic

He came to put eyeliner on her and made her blind – Ja ey k7oulha ou 3maha

Has eyeliner gone wrong? Yes. This saying is referring to a person that innocently tries to help someone else, but it backfires and the situation gets worse. The tale behind this saying is that someone tried to help another person put on eyeliner, but he ended up making her blind instead. And seeing as Arab eyeliner is placed very close to the eye, this also could be a cautionary proverb! 

Photo: Terracotta Kohl

The mice were arguing over the neighbor’s yeast – Dabzou el firan 3la khmirat el giran

To my knowledge, yeast is not a delicacy in the mouse world, but that is the point of this proverb. Mice have no business arguing over the neighbor’s yeast. Not only because mice do not particularly like yeast, but also because it belongs to the neighbors and is not even theirs! The moral of this proverb is people often argue about things that do not even concern them. 

Photo: Scared Elk

One hundred thinks and thinks and don’t hit the scissors – Miyat tfkira ou tfkira wa lad drub el m9as

This proverb translates kind of funny to English, however, I will explain. This piece of advice is telling a person to think one hundred times over before doing anything. The significance of the scissors in this sentence is the idea of changing something permanently. It is telling the person to think 100 times because if you use the scissors to cut something, you can not return it to its original state. Seeing as cutting scissors is a permanent change, it is better to think about something multiple times before making a permanent decision that might have irreversible consequences.  

Best Scissors for Cutting and Trimming Paper –
Photo: The Best Paper Scissors for Cutting and Trimming

He who wants honey must be patient through the sting of the bee – Ili bgha el 3sil, isbar 3la el 9rous el n7al

No one wants a bee sting, but it might be worth it for someone who really wants honey. This proverb is about patience, that if you want something bad enough, you must be patient and good things will come to you in the end.   

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Photo: San Antoni New Honey Bees

Who cares about you? You are harira (soup) on the day of eid – Shkoun daha fik? el harira nhar el 3id

So this one is a little more complicated because of the cultural ideas integrated. Harira is a soup served a lot during the month of fasting for Muslims, Ramadan. Eid is the holiday the day after Ramadan, and it is a celebration for the end of fasting. On the day of eid, most families have large feasts of meat and serve tons of sweets and delicious food. Harira is usually not something people choose to make or eat on eid, for they have so many more other options on the day of eid. So this saying is essentially telling a person they are like soup on the day of eid, they are irrelevant. It is not the nicest thing you could say to someone, but it is usually used to humble a person who is full of themselves.

Moroccan Harira Soup (Vegan and Gluten Free) - May I Have That Recipe?
Photo: Moroccan Harira Soup

Nothing itches my back other than my own nail – Ma kay7ouksh dahri gheir dafri

We have all been there when you have a frustrating back itch. This proverb is not literal, but it means when someone has a bad itch, only their own nail can get rid of the itching. It means that only that person can solve their own issue, no one else can help them.

✓ cartoon of itchy free vector eps, cdr, ai, svg vector illustration  graphic art
Photo: Cartoon of Itchy

These 10 proverbs definitely sound a little funny when directly translated into English, but each of them has valuable life advice that can be used by Arabic and non-Arabic speakers alike!


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