Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Iranian Death Wish

*Updated 5/29* Sometimes my mind wanders thinking about random Persian phrases (especially these days as I watch the comedy Shahgoosh which is just an amazing study of the Persian language). The other day I was feeling frustrated and muttered under my breath, khabare margeshun!, the news of their death!, and chuckled upon realizing what I had said. Suddenly all these phrases related to death started piling up in my head like Jenga: marg!, death!, boro bemir!, go die!, che margeshe?, what's his death? And then the mother phrase of them all came to me: marg bar [Amrika]!, death to [America]! It seems we Iranians have a death wish worse than Charles Bronson.

Now just a word about my people and this last phrase (and yes, this is where my Iranian and American identities conflict). Ask any Iranian, and they will tell you how ugly this phrase is, but don't be offended, Americans. I remember chanting marg bar bādemjun, death to eggplants, when I was little. It's just how we express ourselves linguistically. And when we do use this phrase, it strictly refers to governments, not people (and we use it to refer to our own government just as much as others). Unfortunately, this is where a lot of misunderstanding happens. The way I see it, Iranians don't view governments as representative of the people, so it's very clear to us that when we say death to America (or any place else), we are solely talking about the government. I think Americans, on the other hand, tend to view governments as representatives of the people and therefore equate the two. So when they hear this, they think it's about them. Trust me, it's not. Oddly enough, the U.S. could be the one country above all others that Iranians love the most. How many Americans would say the same about Iran?

But back to more important language matters. These death-related phrases may sound strange in other languages, but they just fit with Persian. You'd think that being the poetic creatures that we are, we'd find a more lyrical way of expressing ourselves, but I guess death is, after all, the ultimate sacrifice. One minute we are willing to die for you: ghorbunet beram, fadāt besham, elāhi bemiram barāt!; but get on our bad side, and we will just as soon wish for your death. 

Marg! Death! This is similar to the expressions khafe sho!, literally choke!, or zahre mār, shut the hell up! Your tone makes a BIG difference in if you mean this or are saying it in a joking manner because it can go both ways. 

Khabare margesh!, the news of his death! You'll usually use this referring to someone you don't like. Take a politician you don't care for who made a stupid remark. "Every day s/he makes an idiotic comment! Khabare margesh!" You could, however, use it with someone you like, but who is annoying you. In this clip from the comedy Shahgoosh, Officer Sorkhi is annoyed with his subordinate's dillydallying and says, "Weren't you supposed to return the car, khabare marget!?" Again, tone has a lot to do with it. 

Morde shuresho bebaran/morde shur borde, may they take his washed, dead body. In Islam, when someone dies, the body is taken to a mordeshur khune, a place where the body is washed. So you can imagine that when you hear this phrase, the person is so fed up that they are wishing for someone's death, kind of like khabare margesh above.

Boro bemir!, go die! This means something along the lines of shut up! or get out of here! It's a little like boro bābā, but stronger. In this clip, also from Shahgoosh, Officer Sorkhi is telling his friend that he needs to lose weight. Offended, Officer Khofte turns to him and says, boro bemir kachal!, go die baldy! Again, tone makes a big difference in how this is conveyed. (Conversely, you could also say namiri, don't die, sarcastically to mean don't strain yourself when someone is half-assing something.)

Che margeshe?,
what's his death? This would be like what the hell is his problem!? You can use it for objects too. Like if your car won't start, you could say in māshin che margeshe?, what the hell is wrong with this car? It's pretty strong if you say it to a person, though- stronger than English.

Marge man, my death, is used the same way as jāne/joone man in swearing that you are telling the truth. Yes, you can swear both on your life and death. 

Khodā margam bede!, oh God, give me death! used when you hear absolutely shocking news or you have done something that you are completely ashamed/embarrassed about.

There is also man bemiram, if I die. You may hear this during exchanges of taarof over who is going to pay. "Man bemiram, I won't let you pay!"

The theme of death can be found in the origin of khāk to saret, dirt on your head, which comes from pouring dirt of someone's head at a funeral. I've also written about goore bābāsh, but you could also say kodum gooriye/goori hasti?, literally which grave is s/he?/are you?, which is like where the hell is he/are you? When you are searching for someone and can't find them, you think they are dead, so you say this. It's not a nice phrase to use, but it is used when you are angry. In yet another clip from Shahgoosh (and I can't stress just how linguistically clever this show is) Officer Sorkhi can't find his subordinate, Āb Parvar, and over the speaker declares "Āb Parvar, khāk bar sar (a play on words as this phrase sounds similar to and has the same number of syllables as the soldier's name), kodum goori hasti?, literally, Āb Parvar, dirt on your head, which grave are you!? or Āb Parvar, you idiot, where the hell are you!?

Why so many phrases related to death? Well, let's just say we are passionate people (with a flair for drama).


  1. Oof, what a pandora’s box! Hope to hear more on this and related knotty topics one day as I’m sure these go to the heart of the matter.

    vase to … qadde ye barg am
    pishe to … razi be marg am

    …. just kinda sprang to mind, dunno why. Too much razi be marg around the place I guess.

  2. That's great! You're right, though, too much razi be marg in our culture...


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