Team Nisreen: Actually-or-not-actually swearing

Our previous post was on replacing diin with diib to produce a more family-friendly version of various swear words. This is not the only example of this phenomenon in Arabic (apparently called a ‘minced oath‘, if you like that sort of thing) – at least in Syrian Arabic.

One of the first swear words you learn in Arabic is of course خرا khara ‘shit’. This is not the most offensive word available in the broad canon of swear words, but it’s still not TV-friendly or acceptable in polite company. Just as diin (‘religion’) can be minced into diib (‘wolf’), khara can be minced into hawa (‘wind’). This happens most commonly in the various forms of أكل خرا (literally ‘to eat shit’), which has different meanings depending on context:

كول خرا kool khara ‘eat shit!’ The equivalent of ‘shut up’, ‘screw you’ etc.

اكل خرا akal khara ‘ate shit’. Used in its various conjugated forms to mean something like ‘be in the shit’ (in English), ‘be screwed’, ‘be in a difficult situation’ etc. This can be used about people or about things:

موبايلي آكل خرا – my phone’s screwed up

ولله ياخي اكلنا خرا – honestly, man, we’re screwed (we’re in a shitty situation)

It can also pleasantly be used in a sense similar to English ‘talking shit’ (in this example minced with hawa):

لحتى ما تقعد تغرب وتشرق على كيفك وتاكل هوا la7atta ma té23od tgharreb w@tsharre2 3ala keefak w-taakol… hawa – so you don’t sit there saying this and that (lit. westing and easting) and talking… air

Whilst here it obviously refers to talking, it generally just means ‘dicking about’ or ‘messing around’:

لك قوم يا زلمة بلا اكل خرا lak 2uum ya zalame bala ak@l khara – get up, man, stop talking shit/dicking about

هاد اسمو اكل خرا haad 2ismo ak@l khara – what you’re doing right now is talking shit/dicking about

It can also be used to describe an object that you don’t like:

شو هالموبايل يلا اكل خرا shu hal-mobayl yalli 2akal khara – this phone is terrible (literally ‘what’s this phone that has eaten shit’

And it can be stuck onto other verbs as an expletive to mean doing something you don’t want to do/something difficult:

لازم آكل خرا واكتب هالتقرير laazem 2aakol khara w éktob hat-taqriir – I’ve gotta write this shitty essay

All of these can be minced with conjugated forms of 2akal hawa. A related expression, shi bikharri (lit. ‘a thing that makes you shit’), also exists. This is used similarly to English ‘it’s messed up!’ (where shi is not literally translated into English) or means a stupid, annoying or terrible thing.

ولله يا زلمة شي بخري waLLa ya zalame shi bikharri – I swear to God, it’s messed up

ليش معصبة؟ شي بخري leesh m3aSSbe? shi bikharri – why are you upset? it’s really stupid

لما تعمل شي بخري و إمك تبلش تندب بحظها lamma ta3mel shi bikharri w 2immak tballesh tindob b7aZZha – when you do something really stupid and your mum starts to regret her bad luck (in having you)

You can also use it with mn iD-Da7@k ‘from laughing’, which makes it a more sweary version of بفرط or بموت ‘splits your sides’ or ‘kills you’:

شي بخري من الضحك shi bikharri mn iD-Da7@k ‘it’ll make you fucking die laughing’

You can also use it with من to insult a specific person:

شي بخري منك shi bikharri minnak – screw you

These can all be minced in a similar way using a derivation of hawa, بهوّي bihawwi. شي بهوّي literally means ‘a thing that airs out’ (e.g. a room), but carries (in a less sweary way) the same meaning as the various uses of shi bikharri above.

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