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July 17, 2008 Word of the day: Shweeya

Two words that everyone who visits Morocco should know are shweeya and bzzef. They are antonyms, usually translated as “a little” and “a lot”. But like many Moroccan words, they have many possible meanings, depending on their context.

Shweeya can be used to mean “a little bit of”, as in “I only have shweeya money, so can you lower the price?” (a useful line when bargaining) or “Shweeya sugar in my tea, please”. It also works where Americans would say “semi” or “sort of” or “more or less”, as in “There’s shweeya-regular public transportation between my village and the town up the hill; it doesn’t really follow a schedule, and it doesn’t run every day, but it’s there.”

My Peace Corps friends and I even use it when we’re speaking English to each other, just because it’s so versatile. “I was shweeya frustrated when…” or “I’ll be shweeya late” or “The hotel rooms were shweeya, so you might look somewhere else next time.” (In that one, it means dicey or sketchy, not small.) "How are you today?" "Shweeya." "Ooh, sorry."

It’s also part of the phrase “little by little”, which we Volunteers heard several times a day during training, when we were frustrated with our slow progress: “Shweeya b shweeya.” (Literally, “little with little”, or “a little bit and a little bit” – “b” means both “with” and “and” in Darija; “d” means those things in Tamazight.)

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