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17th century egyptian curses

4 September 2009

Returning again to the annals of the erudite Yusuf al-Maghribi’s cleverly-titled Dafʿ al-iṣr ʿan kalām ahl miṣr, we find recorded various curses and swear words used by Egyptians in the 17th century. There isn’t much analysis, just observation. Though al-Maghribi must have had an opinion on using swears/curses, he seems to have been mainly interested in them as linguistic curiosities. It is fascinating to see a linguist at work during this period in Egypt. His book could have been supplemented, though, by a transcribed, voweled passage of someone speaking the Egyptian dialect (because sources for “Middle Arabic” are so scarce).

Because curses and swears are usually based on what cultural mores or religious morals deem bad (which changes over time), such words and phrases can be quite humorous out of context.

Some insults and swears:
زِبْل مُفَرَّك zibl mufarrak “crumpled dung”

وَغْل waghl “parasite”

نِغِف nighif “dry snot”

تِرّل tirril “oaf”

مَهْبول mahbūl “simpleton”

بَهْلول bahlūl “silly, foolish”

هَبيل habīl “stupid”

عِكْفِش ʿikfish “stupid”

Some curses:

سُخام و لُطام sukhām wa luṭām“filth and slaps!”

رَغَم الله انْفُه ragham allah anfu “may god rub his nose in the sand”

نمّلت اِسْتُه nammilet istu “may his ass tingle”

في رقبة العدوّ سِلْعة fi raqabet alʿuduw silʿah “a cyst on the enemy’s neck!”

على قَلْبِهم دَبْلة ʿalā qalbihum dablah “may there be a lump on their hearts”

للعدا الَحكّة l-lʿada l-ḥakka “may the enemy get the itch!”

For those interested in vulgar expressions used in contemporary Arabic, the website mo3jam.com, a user-generated compendium of slang in the different Arabic dialects, is highly useful.

Reference: Egyptian Arabic in the seventeenth century: a study and edition of Yusuf al-Magribi’s Daf’ al-isr ‘an kalam ahl Misr, Ph.D dissertation, Liesbeth Zack, Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics 2009. View the original Arabic text.

From → arabic, language

9 Comments
  1. Josh permalink

    why do you think its للعدا الحكة and not للعدو؟

    • that’s a good question. according to the dissertation, al-Maghribi’s orthography was pretty erratic, frequently leaving out hamzas and even alif madda, so عدا could represent اعداء “enemies.”

      but then there isn’t any comment about that, so my guess isn’t for certain. and it doesn’t sound right to say the curse in the plural. in the Arabic text it’s folio 57A near the bottom, but al-Maghribi doesn’t say anything about that.

  2. Karl Rieb permalink

    My favorites were:

    1. “may his ass tingle”
    2. “may the enemy get the itch!”

    hahahahaha, oh man. You will have to tell me how to pronounce it correctly next time I see you. By the way, here are the words I had to look up while I read your post:

    annals
    erudite
    mores

  3. I am going to go out and use each and every one of these today.

  4. Eyeris permalink

    These are great! Thank you for posting them :)

  5. Fantastic.

    Interesting that none of the curses involve mothers or body parts – or is this a PC selection?

    • Indeed, it’s not a ‘pc’ selection. I don’t recall finding mother-related insults, though I’ll dig a little more. Given the abundance of them around the world, 17th century egypt surely had a few.

  6. Liesbeth Zack permalink

    No, al-Maghribi did not mention any mother-related insults.
    As for للعدا, I checked the manuscript again and that’s indeed what is written there. It could either be a mistake, or he could mean the plural عِدا (which is one of the plurals of عدو in Egyptian Arabic), or perhaps the masdar عداء .
    Anyway, I’m happy that you enjoyed reading my PhD thesis!

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