Hebrew Hear-Say: Is there a word for it?

The holy tongue often seems forked when it comes to the treatment of English names and words.

By
May 12, 2006 16:31
2 minute read.
Hebrew Hear-Say: Is there a word for it?

Hebrew Hear-Say logo. (photo credit: )

Poor Abraham Lincoln. Not only was he assassinated, his name is constantly mutilated. Ask the average Jerusalem taxi driver to take you to Lincoln Street and you won't get very far. You have to ask for "Lincolen" - it's near the YMCA (that's ubiquitously known as Imka to the locals). The holy tongue often seems forked when it comes to the treatment of English names and words. The spread of digital cameras, not the Hebrew Language Academy, is what is killing the word "filem." And "sveders" were for a while on the firing line when the IDF reportedly considered retiring military pullovers from service as soldiers were not wearing them. Apparently, the mighty home front of Jewish mothers got wind of the idea and forced the army to retreat. But there was no such victory for the correct Hebrew word for a sweater, "pakres." Similarly, Hebrew-speakers continue to drag "kitbegs" containing their unworn, unmacho "sveders." Pronounce it the English way and you mark yourself as an outsider forever. There is even a telling term, "she'elat kitbeg," taken straight from military experience. Literally a "kitbag question," it refers to the sort of query that brings the rookie who asks it an even heavier load to bear. I recalled the phrase when I asked the Hebrew Language Academy's Rachel Selig if there was an official Hebrew word for "kitbeg" (there isn't) and found myself then being asked to come up with one. (My suggestion is tsiudonit, from the word tsiud [equipment] and tsidanit [a picnic hamper].) Recently, I thought the academy had reached the end of the line when it discussed the word "rinton" for cellular phone ringtones. As I considered dialing M for Murder I found I had the wrong number. Although Israel Radio seems to have adopted the "rinton" version, the academy, it turns out, was considering "rinaton" from the Hebrew "rina" (song) and ultimately rejected it on exactly the grounds that it sounded too much like a distorted version of the English. The correct word is now "ne'imon," from "ne'ima" (tune), although given the noise and nuisance factor it might be preferable for people to mistake the word for broken English than for the root of the word "na'im" (pleasant). Selig notes that the academy does not rule out creating words that sound like their English equivalents. Muffinim (pronounced "moofinim") was easy to digest because of its resemblance to both the little cakes in English and the biblical word "tuffinim" and "ma'afeh" for baked goods. Similarly, there was no need to water down the word for aquifer which became "akva" from the combination of "aqua" and "mikve." And "monitor" in Hebrew became readily accepted as "nitur" due to its similarity to the English. But there are still plenty of battered English terms out there looking for their blue-and-white equivalent. And every time I see an advertisement in the local press for a kitchen "build-in," it makes both the Hebrew purist and the English editor in me metaphorically sic (sic). [email protected]


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