Tag Archives: iranian

Farsi Curse #1

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well.

Context: I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below. She was sharing with me her favorite Persian curse words and phrases.

Lauren does not know how to write the curse in the original Farsi. The pronunciation is based on how Lauren said the phrase during our interview, keeping in mind that she is not a native Farsi speaker. Her first language was English and she also learned Hebrew growing up, and while she understands Farsi her speaking capabilities are, in her own words, limited.

The phrase: “pedar sag”

How to pronounce it: ped-ah-r sag

“It means your dad is a dog. My friend’s mother used to just blurt out this word all the time when I was at their house. Matin is from Iran, and she knows this word because its a common word that Persians use when they want to cuss, but it was never really used in my house because my parents did not really say cuss words. Matin had no problem. You would say this word towards someone when they’re being annoying. She would use this word towards her dog, which is more appropriate, but normally people would say it to someone who’s bothering them.”


“Yeki bood, yeki nabood”

My friend Panteha is of Iranian descent on her dad’s side. She recalls a phrase in Farsi that her dad would always use to begin stories or fairy tales he told her as a kid.

The phrase is, in the original Farsi:
یکی بود یکی نبود

It is transliterated as “Yeki bood yeki nabood,” which roughly translates to “once there was one and once there wasn’t one.” This phrase is used in essentially the same manner in which many english speakers use “once upon a time” to begin folk narratives, particularly tales. Although these phrases have different literal translations, they serve the same purpose: to establish the fantastical or fictional nature of a folk narrative.

The Following Home

My informant provided the following story/rhyme as something his grandmother would recite to him before school, which she drew from her Iranian heritage and knowledge of Persian folklore:

Alright so “The Following Home” is one that my mom’s mom, my grandma, told me in childhood. Growing up both of my parents worked and my grandma took care of me a lot, so I would spend the night often, and every morning before I went to school (I think it was either pre-school or kindergarten) uh, I, she and I would say this poem together, and the poem is kind of like, it describes a morning ritual that a child does before he goes to school, and in Farsi it goes like this:

Mamani mamani mamani joon. Chai ra bezar
ro fenjoon. Vakhti ke chai ra nooshidam,
mamani ra boosidam, miram koodakeshan
Shadam o khamdan, shadam o khamdan

what the poem is saying is, it says: “grandmother, grandmother, grandmother, dear. put the tea to steep, when I drink the tea and kiss my grandma I go to preschool with laughter and joy, with laughter and joy.” So it’s a very positive way I guess to get your children to go to school and drink their morning tea, and that’s basically it.

As it is a children’s rhyme, it makes sense that it is uplifting, and is a happy admonition to behave and go to pre-school obediently. It is likely designed to make the sometimes unpleasant activity of going to school more appealing, and my informant mentioned how he felt happier and willing to start his day cheerfully after reciting it with his grandmother. Indeed, he thinks one of the reasons he remembers it is that reciting it sticks out in his memory as an especially happy time with his grandmother and brings back pleasent familial memories.

“After a lot of laughing always comes some crying.”

A Persian saying described verbatim by informant:

“I can’t remember the Persian translation of it but in English its becomes like ‘After a lot of laughing always comes crying.’ They would say that to me when I was a kid. Say I was like laughing a lot at a joke cuz in the culture you’re supposed to be like very modest conservative, like kids are supposed to be quiet I had a really loud personality so if a kid was every misbehaving and being really hyper and laughing they’re like ‘Okay your laughing your laughing your laughing’ but soon like you’re gonna get smacked in the face and you’ll start crying cuz you’re being obnoxious. And that’s a thing they always say to little kids. My parents definitely said that to me, all the time. I would definitely say it to my cousins, I would say it to my cousins, but I would joke I wouldn’t actually like smack them but its like after a lot of laughing be prepared to experience the opposite of that.”

I find it interesting that my informant has turned this oppressive proverb into a joke she can share between her cousins, who are also first generation Iranian-American. The Persian culture from her description basically suppresses joy in the name of obedience and conservatism, which in her personal experience has been one of the biggest points of contention with her Iranian parents. The fact that this is a commonly said to children points to subjugation and authority which is core to the clan and family dominated culture. By turning the proverb on its head and saying it to her grown cousins in a joking manner she can softly criticize the strictness she struggles with.

Protection Ritual for Travel using the Qur’an

Protection custom for travel using the Qur’an described verbatim by informant:

“So every time I go on a trip, you have to walk outside someone has to bring a Qur’an and someone brings a glass of water and they say a certain prayer and they rush the Qur’an over you head in circles saying this prayer and then when you get in your car as your pulling out of your driveway to like go to the airport they throw that glass of water behind your car. It’s like protection, yeah. My parents do that every time, even though they’re not that religious. It’s like a religious thing. It’s like praying to Allah, it’s just like it’s a certain line of the Qur’an that my dad knows in Arabic and he just like does that around my head and I go. And every time I go on a trip, cuz my parents never travel, so it’s me that has to do it.”

My informant couldn’t remember the prayer since she cannot speak or read Arabic. She knows it to be a religious practice in terms of Islam, so the use of their holy book the Qur’an and a glass of water, which is often viewed as a purifying substance is not surprising. I am unfamiliar with Islamic practices, but the circling of the Qur’an around her head seems like a familiar ritual movement, like it’s a spotlight, calling upon Allah to watch over her, especially since the prayer is recited as this is done. I suppose the water may be purifying or may be like a sacrificial thing since it is thrown. This could make sense too because water is a precious substance all over the world. I’m the first to admit my knowledge of the Qur’an and Islam is limited, but I do believe there is some mention of Allah’s throne being over water in the Islam’s story of creation.