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كلمة: HASHAK / حاشاك
“Hashak” is ritualized politeness. There is not really an English equivalent. The closest would be, “Pardon me for mentioning a word or phrase or expression that is contemptible in some way.” Or maybe “Sorry for saying something nasty!”
It does not just mean “pardon me” or “sorry”—you would say “smH li” or “smH liya” (excuse me) for those general moments when you accidentally bump into someone, interrupt a room, etc. “Hashak” is always specifically used as a pardon for saying other words.
“Hashak” is very telling of what Moroccan society or a Moroccan individual thinks is dirty or uncomfortable to mention. Of course, any gross bodily function is included. But also: dirt, dogs, donkeys, trash, spitting, bathrooms, sex work, swear words, etc.
The case of donkeys (Hmar) being “hashak”ed is interesting because it seems pretty unfair to a lot of people! Donkeys aren’t contemptible. They do so much important work in society. Moroccans use them for everything, and they bear such great burdens for human comfort. Plus, they’re even kinda cute! So, why do we need to say “hashak” every time we say “Hmar”? It does make sense in a way. Linguistically speaking, ass is a synonym of donkey in English, and ass is certainly considered a dirty word. Practically speaking, donkeys are very often used as trash animals here. They haul and eat trash. Still, I’m against the use of “hashak” for donkeys! I’ve seen how people can disrespect them because they’re considered “hashak.” Too many kids in my neighborhood like to play chase-the-poor-frightened-donkey-with-sticks. 😦
That was a digression, sure, but it shows how dynamic the use of this word is. One Moroccan friend told us, “Honestly, you could probably argue whether or not ANYTHING needs a hashak.” On the other hand, one Moroccan mama told us, “When something is hashak, it is hashak. Safi!”
When someone else performs a dirty task for you, you thank them and add a “hashak.” For instance, if someone cleans up your muddy shoes or washes your underwear. (As much as you try and avoid having other people do these things, Moroccan hospitality will inevitably win.)
One very ritualized place you use “hashak” is when someone (usually the host) is washing someone else’s (usually the guest) hands. Before important events, or when important guests come over, Moroccans often use a special handwashing basin. The host pours warm water over the guest’s hands, and the guest murmurs “hashak.” Then the guest dries their hands with a towel, which is passed around the room.
Saying “hashak” is not always necessary, especially as a foreigner. Our language trespasses are more easily forgiven. But if you do use it, it always garners appreciation and often garners laughs! And it definitely makes it less awkward to ask strangers for the location of the bathroom!
Robert & Julie