Tunisian Proverbs


  • Al qowt ba3u elyaqut, umelqowt lemu elyaqut. (IY 5)

Also: من القوت كسبوا الياقوت وعلى القوت باعوا الياقوت

For the food they sold pearls (saphire) and by saving on food they acquired pearls (saphire).

– qowt = Fuṣḥā “قوت، اقوات ” (qūt, aqwāt): “nutriment, food, aliment”

– ba3u = باعوا  

– ياقوت  (collective noun) = precious stone, ruby, saphire

– umelqowt  = ومن الياقوت  (note the assimilation of n in “min” which is fairly common, especially if the following word starts with an l)

– lemu  = لموا  from “لم، يلم “: “to collect, gather”


  • Ana ġaniya wenḥab lehdiya. (IY 7)

انا غنية ونحب الهدية

I am wealthy and I still like to receive gifts.

(There is more in a gift than its material value)

– wenḥab  = Fuṣḥā وأُحِبُّ

Note: In dialects to the East of Cairo the first person singular is marked by an n- as a prefix which in Fuṣḥā and in most dialects is used for the first person plural. The first person plural on the other hand is expressed via the prefix n- and the suffix -u.


  • 3aql ennsa zeynhom uzeyn erijal 3qlhom (IY 8)

عقل النساء زينهم وزين الرجال عقلهم

A woman’s intelligence is her beauty and a man’s beauty is his intelligence.

(The best quality for a woman is her beauty, and for a man it’s his intelligence)


  • Dbaret elfar 3ala mul eddar: bi3 elqatusa wešri jebna. (IY 19)

The advice of the mouse to the owner of the house: sell the cat and buy cheese. (If someone gives you advice, it is in his own interest)

– Dbaret  = possibly from دبّر، يدبّر  “to plan, arrange” ?

– elqatusa  = القطوسة  = similar to Levantine قطوطة  (“kitten”)


  • El-jmel ma išufš ḥadbtu. (IY 23)

الجمل ما يشوفش حدبته

The camel does not see its hump.

(One does not see one’s own defects)

– ma išufš = note the ma – š negation

– شاف، يشوف  = to see

– حدبة  = hunchback, hump

– أَحدَب، ج حُدُب  = hunchbacked


  • Elaqareb 3qareb. (IY 25)

الأقارب عقارب (AF 56)

Relatives are scorpions.

– قريب، اقارب  = relative (Fuṣḥā also أقرِباء , ʿāmmiyya also قرايب )

– عقْرَب، عقارب  = scorpion


  • Ela3war beyn ello3mi solṭan. (IY 25)

الاعور في بلاد العميان سلطان (AF 54)

The one-eyed person among the blind is a king.

– أَعوَر ج عُوْرَان  = one-eyed person

– أعْمى ج عميان / عُمي  = blind


  • Elfartasa tetfaxar beša3r oxtha.  (IY 27)

الفرطسة تتفاخر بشعر اختها 

The bald woman boasts of her sister’s hair.

(Do not brag about other people’s accomplishments or qualities, you deserve praise only for your own.)

– اِتْفاخَر ب = to brag, to boast

–  اِفْتَخَر ب  = to be proud of, take pride in

– فَخُور  = pride

– فاخِر  = luxurious



IY = Isaac Yetiv. 1,001 Proverbs from Tunisia. Washington, D.C: Three Continents Press, 1987