Klma = Word. Klmatic Monologues is a semi-regular series on words in Moroccan Arabic (Darija). Note 1: I am neither a linguist nor a native speaker, so this should be taken as amateur antics. Note 2: Darija is not a standardized written language, like Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa) or Standard English, so my Latin letter transcriptions are subjective. In other words, spelling will always be questionable.
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كلمة: Deba / دبا
“Deba” is the Moroccan Darija word for “now.” It is wholly unique to Morocco. However, the concept that English speakers might know as “now” is pretty different.
When an English speaker says “now,” they mean the literal moment that we are living in. When a Moroccan says “deba,” they could mean that OR they could mean a few hours ago, a few minutes ago, a few minutes from now, an few hours from now.
If someone tells us that we are leaving “deba” or eating lunch “deba,” it is always wise to clarify with them. “Deba wlla deba deba?” (Now or now-now?) “Deba deba” is usually a closer approximation to the English “now.”
It still gets me. One time, I asked the train ticket counter guy when my train was leaving. He replied, “deba,” causing us to freak out and rush madly to the platform—where we realized that his “deba” was “soon-ish” and our train still had ten minutes before departure.
I’m not a very exact or time-oriented person, so sometimes I adore “deba.” I can call someone to let them know we’re coming over “deba” and still have time to finish up whatever else I was doing and meander over slowly. Other times, my American sensibilities cause me to be very frustrated with “deba.”
“Deba” is a reminder that knowing the translation of a word doesn’t always mean knowing the exact nuances and complexities of a word. One can read as many textbooks and dictionaries as one wants—but true knowledge of a language comes from communication in real-life. True understanding does not come from codex-bound lexicons, but from contexts and conversations. From people.