The difference between an acquired knowledge of a certain language, and the spoken language of somebody who has been born or has lived in a country, is a considerable one. People who have taken a course in a certain language, learn the regular meaning of the words and their phonetical pronunciation. On the other hand, people who have been born or lived in a country, use words and expressions which, very often, have a different meaning. In every language, there are typical expressions or colloquialisms , the result of everyday use of the language. For example, the word "cool'', is translated by the Oxford dictionary as "moderately cold", whereas in the everyday spoken language, this word is used to describe a person who is trendy or fashionable. The expression "it is raining cats and dogs", does not mean that cats and dogs are falling from the sky, but that the rain is very strong.
A common characteristic of both popular words and expressions, is that they are usually quite difficult to translate as they have surged exactly, because of the need to express something which can not be expressed by regular words.
Translating popular ladino words and expressions, is even more difficult for the following reason: after the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews from Spain, in 1492, they reached various countries in the Diaspora. Their ladino, was greatly influenced by the language of the people among whom they lived. Thus the ladino spoken by Bulgarian Jews, is somewhat different from the ladino spoken by Sephardic Jews in other countries of the Diaspora.
Following, are a number of ladino expressions used in Bulgaria, before the mass emigration to Israel, of the Bulgarian Jews in 1948-1949. However I must make few clarifications: I have put in brackets, the origin of the words as known to me, by using (S) in order to designate Spanish origin, (P) for Portuguese origin (I), for Italian origin and (T) for Turkish origin, which is the case in most of the expressions. In cases where the origin of the words is unknown to me, I have written a question mark (?).
I would like to add, that it is quite possible that in other countries of the Sephardic Diaspora, the expressions, are slightly different, have a different meaning and sometimes, are even unknown. As the title of this article says, the following ladino expressions, are typical of Bulgarian Sephardic Jews, as I remember them, since my emigration from Bulgaria, exactly 60 years ago.

Joseph Covo

A`i le di`o
(S) – "He is so obstinate" or "look at him, in spite of all he
sticks to his opinion" (usually said as a reproach in the presence
of the obstinate person).

A ki`en avlash!
(S) –"I am talking to you!" – used as a reproach.

Alma apretada
(S) - Said about someone who gets easily worried.

Ancho Duducha -
(S) + (?) - Said about somebody who takes things easy, somebody who does not hurry and takes his time.

Apreto di alma
(S) - Something which is depressing as in "the film was

(H) -"a corps". Used as the exclamation "God forbid"or "how awful"!

Bavajadas y patranias –
(S) ¨Nonsense!¨, "Absurd!¨

Beraha i salud!
(H) + (S) "blessing and health". Used wishing somebody "Good Appetite" or "enjoy"or as "if he so wishes – let him have it his way"!

Beza mano!
(S) – "Kiss my hand". Said by somebody who gives someone (usually a child) a gift or money.

Buen Pepino!
(S) – Exclamation when something turns out as being very bad. For example said after seeing a bad movie.

De alma y de korason!
(S) - "From soul and heart". Something which is done whole-heartedly

De mi kulo!
(S) – "it/he is like my ass". Popular expression meaning something is bad, or describing
somebody who does not corres-pond to the expectations, or somebody who is not what he pretends to be!

Echo I derecho!
(S) - Done as it should be.

Ech`o la fiel
(S) – "He showed his bile". Used to describe somebody who, after all, showed his real (bad) face.

Echos y munchos!
(S) Wishing somebody to enjoy many good years.

Est`o bisgin
(S) + (?) –" I am fed up!"

Falso mentirozo
(S) – "He is a hypocrite and a liar".

Gana si keri
(S) – "It is too complicated" or "I am not in the mood".

Guai de mi
(S) – ¨Poor me!¨

Guai de mi no!
(S) – "God forbid!", " Poor me!"

Guay de onde pasa
(S) – "Poor the ones who get it".

Guerko bivo
(?) + (S) – "How smart!" Or "Smart guy" (Usually meaning the opposite: How stupid he is!).

Ijo de un mamzer!
(S) + (H) - “He is a (son of a) bastard!"or " a son of a bitch!"

Me incho la kavesa
(S) – "He talked so much, my head was exploding"!

Kada anio amijurado
(S) –"To be better each coming year", used as a blessing.

Kaminando i avlando
(S) – "Walking and talking" meaning: "slowly, with time it will be O.K."

Kanio kon lodo
(S) –"Gutter with mud", used to describe a very bad and mean person.

Kavesa di lenio
(S) – "a wooden head", said when talking about a very stupid person.

Kavesa di mutruk
(S) - "He is a stupid person", "noting gets into his head".

Kara di luna!
(S) – "moon face", describing a person with a round face.

Kara di mushmula
(S) + (T) "face of a mushmula" (the fruit of the tree Mespilus), describing a person with ugly, wrinkled face.

Ke Dio nos guadri
(S) – "God forbid!"

Ke mal lo kera!
(S) - "I wish noting bad will happens to him".

Ladron de kavaios
(S) – "a thief who steals horses", used to describe a dishonest man.

Loko de atar
(S) – "a mad person who needs to be tied" . Used to describe a normal, but unpredictable person who behaves strangely.

Le di'o de si
(S) "He/she felt better".

Le kayo la bava
(S) – "He drooled" meaning that a person was so enchanted someone that he salivated.

Leshos de mi
(S) – "Far from me!", "I hope that it does not happen to me".

Lo izo mat y maskara
(S) – "He took off his mask" meaning: he ridiculed somebody, he showed him, how bad and stupid he is.

Mazaludo que sea
(H) + (S) – "Let him be lucky" used, as wishing good luck to a third person.

Muerto de hambre
(S) – "Dying from hunger" – being very hungry, feeling starved.

Moshka muerta
(S) – "A dead fly" used for describing a useless or passive person.

Ni haber
(S) + (T): "There are no news" – used as "I have (or he has) no idea!

No li kuadra
(S) –Saying about someone that "he does not understand" or "he does not realize (that….)".

No tengas mal!
(S) – "May nothing bad happen to you", used when you tell that something bad has happened to somebody else.

Pikado I mansia
(S) –" It is (was) not worth the effort"

(S) – "He is full of lice" used when describing a very poor or unimportant person

Pizgadu kurshum
(S) + (T) - "Heavy as a bullet", used to describe a very annoying person.

Pishar di reir
(S) – "So funny that it can make you urinate" – used to describe something extremely funny, or as a sarcastic comment on somebo-dy doing something very inop-portune.

Pishkado y Limon
(S) – "Fish and lemon" – expression used when wanting to change the subject after talking about a dead person or persons.

(Lo izo) polvo y seniza
(S) – "He made him dust and ashes", used when talking about someone who has ridiculed and humiliated somebody.

Sanos que stesh! – Istesh!
(S) –"Wish you to be healthy! –the answer: "you too!"

Se arebolteo
(S) –- "He/she became emotional".

Se izo del Mordekhai
(S) + (H) "He turned into Mordechai", meaning: he pretended that he has no idea or had never heard.

Se izo mukaet
(S) + (T) – "He took the initiative".

Se izo pishman
(S) +(T) – "He gave up" or 'he renounced".

Se hizo pishkin
(S) + (T)– ¨He gave up¨.

Se le tomo la kabesa
(S) – ¨He panicked¨.

Sisko preto
(S) + (P) –"Black as coal-dust" Said about somebody who is so dirty that He looks black as coal-dust.

Trokar la keldi
(S) To change the subject (of the conversation).

*The Ladino text is written according to the Latin phonetic orthography adopted by the Israeli magazine : “Aki Yerushalaym"

Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, Joseph Covo graduated from Bulgarian High School, after the beginning of the Second World War. After working two years in forced labour camp, during the pro-nazi regime, he emigrated to Palestine, in October 1944, less than one month after the invasion of the Russian army, and the establishment of the communist regime which followed. Shortly after his arrival in Palestine, he joined the IRGUN liberation mouvement, and in 1947, was imprisonned in the Latrun concentration camp for political prisoners. After the proclamation of the State of Israel, and serving in the Israeli army, he was commissioned by the Jewish Agency to South America, for two years, in order to promote Youth Aliah to Israel, among the Jews in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentine, Chile and Peru. Upon his return to Israel, Joseph Covo graduated from the University of Jerusalem, in Political Science and Journalizm, and received a Master degree in International Law. In the last 22 years before retiring he was active in promoting worldwide the use of israeli developed technological training programs, in all spanish and portuguese speaking countries. After retiring, Joseph Covo studied for three years ladino literature, in the Bar Ilan University, near Tel-Aviv. He is a member of the Israeli Genealogical Society, and dedicates his time in research of the sources of the ladino (Djudeismo-Espaniol) language, and the roots of the sephardic families. Joseph Covo lives with his bulgarian sephardic wife, in Herzeliya, near Tel-Aviv.

Joseph Covo


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- Copyright 2004: Mose Rahmani -