Klmatic Monologues: WILI WILI WILI

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.

For more Klmatic Monologues, go here.

كلمة: WILI / ويلي

The first time we encountered this Darija phrase, we looked at each other and burst out laughing. Our 14-year-old host sister Ahlam had just said something sassy and almost-inappropriate—and in reply, her 11-year-old sister Imane gasped and exclaimed, “Ahhhhh wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili!”

The next day in class, our CBT mate Kinsey beat us to the punch and asked our teacher Khalid about it. The rest of us chimed in, saying we’d encountered “wili wili”-ing too.

Khalid told us, “It’s like Hshuma [“shame/shameful”], but not as bad.”

We confirmed with him: “Wili” is a milder, nicer version of “Hshuma.” You might say “Hshuma 3lik” (“shame on you”) to a kid if they are bullying someone. You might shout “Hshuma 3lik” to a creep who is harassing you. (These are the serious ways to use “Hshuma,” but people do kiddingly use “Hshuma” with friends.)

“Wili” is more like “Oh my God!” or “Oh my gosh!” or “Oh my!” in its usage. In the region we live in, people often use the word “nedi” in the same way. You can extend the “wili” (“wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiili”!) or add more “wili’s” (“wili wili wili wili wili wili wili”) to taste. Rarely do you simply use one shortened “wili.” It is often accompanied by the gesture of pulling your cheek down with one finger, like this:

CBT Wili Wili

CBT Wili Wili

Here are some of the ways you can use it:

In cases of clumsiness. Ahlam, who is basically composed of long lanky limbs, falls a lot. Any time she tripped or fell off her chair during lunch (which was a lot), she would emit a loud “ah wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiili!” Any time someone drops something or accidentally bumps into something or spills something, they or someone nearby will wili.

In cases of awkwardness. One of my favorite “wili” stories is from Kinsey, whose 4-year-old host sister, in the midst of trying & failing to put her pants back on after peeing in a field, blurted out “wili wili wili wili wili wili!” Other awkward circumstances it can be used for: when your friend tells you that someone icky has a crush on you, when someone walks in on your while you’re changing, when you pull a door that needs to be pushed… or when your cat gets her paw stuck in her tail and you’re alone and you’re a crazy cat lady. Haha.

In cases of shock, good and bad. The other day, we overheard a fruit guy tell someone that avocados are 50 DH per right now (that is a quarter MORE than my daily salary). The guy was like “wiiiiiiiili!” and left the fruit stand quickly. You can use “wili” when you’re bargaining to express shock at the ridiculously high price the vendor tells you. Or it can be used for a positive surprise as well, like…

In cases of delight/awe. Like when we show someone an extraordinary photograph. Or like when we tell someone we’ve had a Moroccan wedding thrown for us (“ah wili zwina!”). Or like when we actually say a grammatically correct sentence in Arabic. Or when a ridiculous plot twist happen on one of the Turkish soap operas everyone watches. The positive wili is rarer, but it exists.

In cases of expressing “WHAT?!” to others saying things for shock value. This one is kind of specific, but I’ve come across it a lot because I have some sassy students in my Advanced English Class. For example, one time right before Eid al-Fitr, we were discussing holidays. I asked everyone to tell me their favorite holiday, and one particular rabble-rouser said “The best holiday is Christmas,” to which everyone in the class shouted out “AHHHHH WILI!”

In cases of mild annoyance/disapproval. Someone’s trying to wake up a deep sleeper. Someone just learned that guns are legal and easily accessible in America. Someone’s kid is being irritating. Someone tells you they have a full schedule when you’re trying to hang out with them. Another favorite from Kinsey, the Queen of Wili, is when a waiter tried to take her plate away before she was done eating. She reached for it while blurting out “wiiiiiiili!”

Again, this isn’t comprehensive at all! There are waaaaay more ways to wili it up.

According to some sources, “wili” comes from Al-Wayl, which is the name of a valley in hell. (I’ve also heard “river in hell” and “mountain in hell”…some sort of geographic feature in hell, I suppose.) “Wayl” / “Wil” originally meant “punishment” but now the word is closer to “woe.” When you add “ي” (i) at the end of a word in Darija, it means “my ______.” (Ex. Bint = girl/daughter. Binti = my daughter. Ktab = book. Ktabi = my book.) So when you exclaim “Ah wili,” you are literally saying, “Oh, my woe!” 

“Wili” is one of my absolute favorite words in Darija, and I’m sure a lot of Americans who learn Moroccan Arabic would agree. Like many Darija words, it’s just so versatile. And uniquely, it’s absolutely hilarious! Plus, it has a special place in our hearts because our CBT dubbed ourselves “CBT Wili Wili” because of our penchant for the inappropriate and the awkward.

Our adventure has been full of wili wili wili moments, and I’m glad of it. Traveling/living abroad isn’t always sleek and photogenic like any Wanderlust Pinterest board might suggest. There are so many messy moments—clumsy, awkward, shocking, irritating moments. They are just as authentic and valuable as scenic Tangier beaches or giant colorful couscous platters or camels resting beneath date palms. Hamdullah for each and every wili wili moment, and hamdullah that we have the language to properly express our feelings when they happen.

ahhh wiiiiiiiiiiiili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie


2 thoughts on “Klmatic Monologues: WILI WILI WILI

  1. taplatt says:

    Great post – I love learning new words or phrases like this that can have so many different meanings or contexts in another language. I was a PCV in Ukraine and the closest thing I can think of to “wili” is “nu” (ну), which is more of a flavoring particle but which can be used to express agreement, defiance, questioning…


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