EM JAY says...

She's learning how to drown

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Moroccan Phrases: Lesson No. 1 - Ah, weeli!

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”

Note: In the transliteration below, 7 is used to denote the harsh ‘h’ sound found in Arabic. 3 is used to denote the letter 'ayn.

Mum: “Bsh7al shreetiha?" [How much did you buy it for?]

Me: “£90.”

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.

Filed under Moroccan Phrases No 1 language Darija Arabic weeli waily woe personal educational humour

  1. chellealicia reblogged this from emjaysays
  2. seventeeneightyfive reblogged this from emjaysays
  3. meryemelm reblogged this from after-t-houghts and added:
    Hahahahahah, just made my day
  4. tashilhit reblogged this from maghrabiyya
  5. bloodpactscout reblogged this from curlymoroccan
  6. curlymoroccan reblogged this from maghrabiyya and added:
  7. pagodone reblogged this from maghrabiyya
  8. maghrabiyya reblogged this from emjaysays and added:
    WEELI WEELI WEELI -dramatic hand gesture-
  9. la1nnn reblogged this from moroccanstateofmind
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  11. losinguselesspride reblogged this from souada
  12. bintrushd reblogged this from moroccanstateofmind
  13. souada reblogged this from moroccanstateofmind and added:
    i hate it when they say that and hit their own face with their hands fcgbhj hate it
  14. moroccanstateofmind reblogged this from emjaysays and added:
    I don’t think you could have picked a better phrase to define. Ya wili wili.
  15. moroccanstateofmind said: Haha. Epic
  16. taskeatorange said: Nice! waiting for the next one inshallah :D
  17. nolandwithoutstones reblogged this from emjaysays
  18. seinedol said: My mum always says “Ah weili wa7di!” haha, that’s how annoying I can be :-p it’s a very dramatic expression though. A lighter one would be “nari!” What do you think?
  19. havesomeatay said: I love this! I look forward to more!