Tag Archives: Arabic folk speech

Evil Eye Jewelry

Main Piece

Informant told a story about the Evil Eye within Arabic communities, involving a ritualistic wearing of an object (and phrase, within some communities).

“So the concept of the Evil Eye is that you have to wear it somewhere on your body, otherwise when people think bad thoughts about you it’ll come true, and then, like, the Evil Eye absorbs them all. And then, once it’s absorbed too much, it breaks…this is only in some Arabic cultures, but when someone goes ‘Oh my god, I really love your purse,’ they have to go ‘مَا شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ’ (informant then translated phrase as “praise be to God”) after it, otherwise you have to give it to them – like, cause then the Evil Eye will get you. It’s kinda like a “oh my God, I love your earrings!” and now they’re jealous, so if you don’t give them the earrings or they say ‘مَا شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ,’ their jealously will start ruining your life – like seep into you.”


Informant Interpretation: Informant heard about it from his Mom, who told him to wear it all the time for protection. “It wasn’t something I learned, it was just something I knew.” He still frequently wears Evil Eye jewelry as a method of protection for himself, and knows many others who do. He sees it as something more inherent to his family and society, and directly associated with paying attentions to others’ emotional states.

Personal Interpretation: This is an example of a folk belief or superstition involving a ritualistic object and many ritualistic tendencies, primarily practiced as a method of protection for oneself. I personally found its interaction with ‘magic’ to be the most interesting–the idea that someone else’s negative thought of you could seep into you feels like contagious magic to me, which wearing the folk object (Evil Eye) or repeating a ritualistic phrase can protect you from.


Informant is a 20 year old college student primarily raised in Birmingham, UK. He is male-presenting, Black, and of Sudanese descent, and speaks English and Arabic fluently.

“The hit of the blind is on target” – Arabic Saying


He was in Jordan when he learned it as a kid from his Syrian neighbor, who has a proverb or saying for every single occasion. She would say this when she did not expect someone to do something right, but they do it right.


Original Script: ضربة الاعمى صيب

Transliteration: Darbet el ama saib

Literal Translation: The hit of the blind on target

Smooth Translation: The hit of the blind is on target


Although I found the saying strange, it made sense after hearing the explanation; the probability of the person doing it right is like the probability of a blind person hitting a target. Because of its similarity to the English saying “Beginner’s luck,” this saying may be used to prevent someone from thinking too highly of themself. Since Arabic cultures are past-oriented,* this saying could be used to make sure that respect for elders who consistently do that task well is not lost.

*Alan Dundes talks about past-oriented and future-oriented cultures in his “Thinking Ahead: A Folkloristic Reflection of the Future Orientation in American Worldview.”Dundes, Alan. “Thinking Ahead: A Folkloristic Reflection of the Future Orientation in American Worldview.” Anthropological Quarterly 42, no. 2 (April 1969): 53–72. https://doi.org/ 10.2307/3316639.

“Your mother-in-law loves you” – Arabic Saying


He “heard it from almost everyone [he] knew when [he] was a kid” in Jordan. You would say this “to someone who is lucky enough to show up just in time to share the food of the people he’s visiting.”


Original Script: حماتك بتحبّك

Transliteration: Hamatak but-hibbak

Translation: Your mother-in-law loves you


I did not understand the saying until I realized that the only way for it to make sense was if Arab mothers-in-law rarely like their children-in-law. I find this quite odd, since it goes against the general tendency of Arab families to be tight-knit. After that realization, I was able to connect the saying and its meaning. Generally, Arab families like to eat together, and tend to prepare more than enough food, so if someone is lucky enough to visit someone as they are eating, they are likely to have some with the family. The comparison is that the luck of someone that shows up coincidentally at mealtime is as lucky as one who is loved by their mother-in-law.

“Your onion is burnt” – Arabic Saying


He heard it at his grandma’s house in Jordan when he was around 6 years old. He says that the saying means “You are impatient.”


Original Script: بصلتك محروقة

Transliteration: Basiltak mahrou’a

Translation: Your onion is burnt


This saying made little sense to me until I was told by someone else that onions burn quickly when being cooked. With that in mind, I made the connection that the impatient person is like a cooking onion: neither can wait for long. The purpose of this saying is to point out another person’s error in such a way that would have been easier to take than if it had been said plainly (“You’re impatient”). Although not technically a proverb, this saying does give a piece of advice in an indirect way.

“Do not put me in front of the cannon” – Arabic Saying


He heard this in Jordan when he was a teenager. He said that “this comes [up] when there is a crucial discussion, and someone wants to know who is responsible for something. The person volunteered by the group would say ‘Ma t-hotni bi bouz el madfah’ because they are going to see the person’s first reaction.”


Original Script: ما تحطني ببوز المدفع

Transliteration: Ma t-hotni bi bouz el madfah

Literal Translation: Do not put me in face of cannon

Smooth Translation: Do not put me in front of the cannon


I found this saying really funny, since it compares a person’s potentially unpleasant reaction to a loaded cannon. Although today was the first time I heard this, I remember experiencing the same feeling when there was bad news that had to be told to someone. People generally don’t like to be the bearer of bad news because of how the person might react. I find this saying to be similar to the English saying “Don’t shoot the messenger,” which is what the person would tell the recipient of the bad news. “Ma t-hotni bi bouz el madfah” captures the cross-cultural dislike of witnessing the first reaction of someone who was told bad news, since they might direct their anger or frustration towards the messenger. This may put a strain on the relationship between the messenger and person, and most people would not want to put unnecessary strain on their relationships.