Ah weeli: Oh, my woe!
Oftentimes, in the presence of Moroccans, especially - but not exclusively - in all-women gatherings, you will hear a phrase that, to the average English-speaker, sounds very much like, “Ah, weeli!”
The Arabic would be written as follows: أ ويلي (transliteration: ah weeli or the-easier-to-recall ah wheelie). Arabic speakers further east (from Egypt onwards) as far as I know pronounce this as ‘wail-i’. (See if you can spot it here.)
Literally translated it means, “Oh, my woe!” which doesn’t make much sense in modern English. For Darija speakers (the dialect largely employed by North Africans Arabs, i.e. Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians) it can be interpreted as “Oh my word!” or “Oh my gosh!” and other such similar phrases. It is used in most situations to express worry, shock, grief or disapproval, depending on context.
This phrase can be repeated quickly for emphasis giving the slightly more amusing “Willy-willy-willy!”. It is commonly accompanied with hand gestures such as one hand slapping the top of the other, or pulling one cheek downwards with the index finger, coupled with a disbelieving look (this is a family favourite!).
Examples of using “ah weeli”
Mum: “Bsh7al shreetiha?" [How much did you buy it for?]
Mum: “Ah WEELI! Ts3een ponda?!" [What?!/Oh my word! Ninety pounds?!]
Let us use another example.
Aunt: “Ma sm3teesh ashno gal liha? Howa gal ma bqitish 3ajibteeni." [Didn’t you hear what he told her? He said I don’t fancy you anymore.]
Cousin: “Weeli.” [Oh my gosh.]
Here are a few more.
Spilling cherryade on the new cream carpet: “Willywillywilly!" [Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!]
Your parents finding you still on Tumblr after they’ve told you to do the dishes four times: “Ah WEELI, staghfirullah!" [Oh my GOSH, God give me strength! lit. Oh, my woe! God forgive me!]
The above example means you should get up off your backside double-quick-time because the parent is probably asking God to forgive them for what they’re about to do to you.
Darija (the North African dialect of Arabic, mostly incomprehensible to other Arabs) is a very colourful language, with an accent that sounds like you’re cussing somebody out even if you are complimenting them. It is a mish-mash of Arabic, French, Spanish and Tamazight.
Next time you’re with a Moroccan/Algerian friend who drops an unbelievable fact, surprise them with your newly acquired nugget of knowledge. You may gain begrudging respect or just a laugh in the face but just remember, “willywillywilly” isn’t what you thought it meant.