Photo Credit: Souvenirs That Don't Suck

So, you’ve been on the island for long enough to have heard mela thrown around plenty of times. Maybe you’ve even heard an explanation or two about what the word supposedly means from some locals. Or worse, some other expats. All things considered – or ignored, for that matter – you feel the time is ripe for you to pitch in a few mela’s of your own. Big mistake.

Do not, I repeat, do not think you get what mela is. You are doing it wrong, I can guarantee you. At best, you just sound ridiculous. In addition, you’re quite likely being offensive. You’re offending the language and the nuances it hides.

Take It from Me – I, Too, Have Erred

How do I know so well? I, as so many others, obviously fell for the mystical allure of mela. I felt comfortable enough not just using mela, but also advising others as to what it means and how to correctly use it. The unbelievable arrogance, geez. With that being said, please don’t punch me, I promise, I’ve learnt from my mistakes.

it ISN’t the one-word-solution for “whatever”, no matter how much you want it to be

Mela is incredibly versatile and even though it’s close to impossible to adequately explain what it means, I can tell you what it’s not. It is definitely not the equivalent of the Spanish “mañana” – not by its literal translation nor by where and when it’s appropriate to use it. Nor is it really the one-word-solution for “whatever” or “oh, well, what do you do,” no matter how much you’d like it to be. And just to make it clear, even though it does mean “apple” in Italian, that is not the way this word has entered Maltese.

Mela Can Be Used for Anything

Now that we have the big no-no’s sorted, let me go ahead and completely contradict myself by stating that mela can be used almost anywhere and as anything. By those who know how. Just in case I wasn’t clear on that before, that would ONLY be the native speakers. Never-ever the expats. Sounds like I’m discriminating? Well, show me one expat who is using the word correctly in everyday conversation, and I will retract my statement. Oh, and the correct usage needs to be confirmed by at least 5 locals, of course. It’s not like I could judge whether it’s valid or not.

“Mela! Mela.. Mela. Mela?”

On that note, I happened to overhear a conversation snippet a while ago which was basically this: “Mela! Mela.. Mela. Mela?” I am not even exaggerating, this is literally how it went down. Now, obviously, there was a dialogue before and after this snippet between the sales representative and the client. But this particular sequence of 4 (!!!) mela’s in a row was there, no joke.

The best part is, not only were the people engaged in the conversation completely fine with the statement, so was I. Even with my very limited knowledge of Maltese, all those mela’s actually made sense.

For those who weren’t witnessing the epic moment, here’s a loose translation of the short monologue: “Yes, please, do come in! If you’d be so kind as to follow me into this area.. Now, let me think a little, I believe we do have something that might interest you here. Take a look, how does that one seem?”

Hey, the Estonian in me salutes the practicality in this one. Why the hell would you go for the unnecessarily long “bla-bla-bla”, if you could get the same message across in just 4 little words. In fact, just by repeating one and the same word 4 times. Brilliant!

Versatile, But Not for You

Indeed, based on confirmations from our team’s resident Maltese, as well as some other Maltese, mela can be almost anything. Mela is “yes”, mela can be a sarcastic “no”, or, on occasion, could be thrown in as a place filler. Hm, it sounds a lot like women came up with mela (to all the keyboard warrior feminists out there – relax, just a joke). We’re not done yet, though. Mela is “so”, mela is “or”, and it can, of course, be “of course”. The list is endless, really; these are just some of the most common examples.

Unfortunately, more often than not, I hear mela being butchered by expats and slipped into conversation moments that it surely does not belong in. Just the other day a co-worker pitched it as a final statement at the end of a “Maltese buildings are ridiculously cold” talk. I could grasp from the previous sentences and the vibe of the discussion that he meant it as “oh well, we’ll see how it goes”. But using it there was just the kind of mistake foreigners tend to do and I used to do. And if it, now, makes even me cringe, imagine how bad it must be for Maltese.

Therefore, I have a request for all of you, my dear fellow expats. Be respectful, don’t mela!

UPDATE 03/02/17:

Thank you, everyone, for your comments and feedback. Especially for those who have – and correctly so – pointed out that mela is not really an “or”. After careful consideration and consultation, we completely agree. Our bad. Not an “or”, but perhaps rather an “instead of”, such as “should have done A instead of B”.


  1. “Mela” varies by context, but it’s not without meaning.. certainly nothing like the Spanish ‘vale’, the French ‘voila’ or the German ‘aber’

    Context 1; “So/Therefore”.. usually used as a sentence opener or as a transitional. “Mela, let’s get this washing done..” or “It’s 6pm mela it’s time to leave work”.

    Context 2: “Of course”… used in the same way as in English – either literally or sarcastically. “Do you like this dress? Mela!..” “Would you eat dogfood? Mela le!” (Note the ‘le’ (which means no) addition to indicate sarcasm, but this is not always used when it’s implied by tonality).

    I don’t believe it’s ever used as an ‘or’. Or is ‘jew’ (pronounced like ‘yo’, not the religious kind.)

    There is one more use of ‘mela’ as a past tense verb- where it means “he filled”, as in “he filled the fuel tank = mela it tank tal-fjuwil”.

    You probably notice it often in conversations because it usually starts or ends sentences or debates, which the Maltese have a lot of.

    • I personally think, if you went back through history and traced the word, the “therefore” use could derive from Arabic/Muslim “Bismillah”. We just dropped the “Bis-” off the front.

      Bismillah means “in the name of God” in Arabic, which pious Muslims use to call on God to bring them luck in an imminent task. From possible introduction of this word into Malta by the conquering Arabs in the Middle Ages, it takes some time (and a strong shift in religious influence, and a cutting off of Arabic that allows the Maltese language to drift) to start changing the word’s pronunciation and context/use. 1000 years later we have “mela”, a word which sounds like bis”-millah” and is used to mean “therefore” or “so this is about to happen”. That use isn’t that far removed from how “bismillah” is used, it’s just lost the religious connotation.

      This is just my speculation anyway. I might be totally off the mark, it just strikes me as being a possibility. The many other uses of “mela” might be more recent developments, or perhaps the “of course!” approval, in its early days, came from invoking God to express how content one was.

    • The French “voilà” also has a pretty clear meaning, what are you on about? It’s used in much more specific contexts than “mela” and roughly translates to “here it is” or “here you go”.

  2. A really enjoyable article, and I can see that your repention is genuine. I congratulate you.

    But now, please stop referring to Malta as a “rock”. I know, I know, some Maltese use it too, but they sound like asses when they do.

  3. Sometimes this site is just plain rude, we live in Malta, accept that for what it is after all it is their country. This article is just stupid. Mela.

  4. It’s funny how the Maltese have become so arrogant to actually think they had a culture they themselves invented…. They still don’t get that they are at best a blend of conquerors and people who give them money (EU/Arabs etc.), which is essentially the same. Or do you really think the Maltese economy has it in itself to build such roads and generate such expenses… Just think about that mela, when you see “85% EU Money…”

    But it’s normal, if you don’t have it in you yourself, and get it from somewhere else, you have more time to focus on your ego and make that go large. That’s exactly what has happened to them the last 17 years.

    And living there since 1985, I am so sick of the fake bullshit you see and hear nowadays and this article is just another piece of it. Start being real guys and stop faking everything you are.

    • Sir, I would suggest you read about your country’s history, whichever that might be – as the conclusion will always be the same. You clearly know nothing about linguistics and your own history. Oh, and the article was not written by a Maltese. Oh, and all EU countries utilise EU funds to improve their infrastructure. Oh, and if you’re so sick of living there, I don’t think anyone’s going to complain if you leave.

    • I am very sorry you are so frustrated. We MALTESE with our “mela” and all have a long and illustrious history including a beautiful and rich language. Mela go and have a coffee!

  5. Oh Brooklyn701, sad, insecure creature with no knowledge of how culture works, your xenophobia is showing. I’d tell you to stop embarrassing yourself publicly, but no, you actually deserve the humiliation.

  6. The French “voilà” also has a pretty clear meaning, what are you on about? It’s used in much more specific contexts than “mela” and roughly translates to “here it is” or “here you go”.

  7. I can’t believe I’ve been offending my fully Maltese ma all this time.Even though she taught me to say these words since I was young and gets so happy when I make an effort to form sentences in Maltese. But obviously I’m a foreigner so I’m not allowed to say “mela”. Mela le. Bullshit article. Can I hear from an ACTUAL Maltese person instead of some entitled foreigner because it’s making me anxious for when we finally go. The only family I have apart from mum are out there and I’d hate to offend them by not being 100% fluent Maltese.


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