In our own words

At first glance the text in the Sapphire Dictionary of Foreign Words and Terms looks like Yiddish.

October 19, 2006 08:17
3 minute read.
In our own words

yiddish dictionary 88. (photo credit: )


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The Sapphire Dictionary of Foreign Words and Terms Eitan Avneyon Itahav in cooperation with Keter 560 pages; NIS 158 Idioms Dictionary Arieh Golan Schocken 438 pages; NIS 129 At first glance the text in the Sapphire Dictionary of Foreign Words and Terms looks like Yiddish. The letters are Hebrew characters, most of the words are not. The impression is not inappropriate; just as many Yiddish words entered the Hebrew language, today the the new words are more likely to be English. In this evident work of love, Avneyon has compiled a huge selection of some 30,000 terms of words which, for better or for worse, can be heard in the Israeli environment. As Avneyon notes in his preface, and others have been noted by many before him, it is only natural and perfectly legitimate for living languages to change. Some terms undergo so successful a Hebrew conversion that he prefers to call them "adopted" words rather than "borrowed": Pardes for orchard and traklin meaning parlor, for example, have been in use so long in Hebrew that they are completely accepted and even considered "classical" Hebrew. Others are on their way to acceptance despite the best efforts of the purists: To zap, flirt, and discuss, for instance, are such a part of everyday speech that even Israel Broadcasting Authority announcers can be heard saying: "Ha'erev nedaskess...." ("This evening we'll discuss.") Avneyon doesn't judge the terms. Wherever possible he includes the Hebrew synonym and sticks by the rules of the Hebrew Language Academy, handily including the original foreign spelling when relevant both as a guide to pronunciation and a sign of origin. (Both the German Waffel and the English wafer, for example, appear under the entry of the immensely popular Israeli cookie.) The result of his work is a comprehensive, albeit eclectic, compilation of terms ranging from "Outing" (spelled with a double aleph), in the sense of forcing someone out of the closet, to Tathata (with a triple tav), for the Buddhist concept of "suchness" and includes a vast selection of idiomatic phrases alongside the purely professional such as medical, musical and Internet terms. Native Hebrew speakers who perused my copy pronounced it both "cool" and "magniv" - rather proving Avneyon's point. A handy glossary of Hebrew-Foreign terms appears at the back of the book, underscoring Avneyon's approach that the use of such words is legitimate and inevitable. Equally inevitably, like most dictionaries, let alone those dealing with idioms and slang, the Sapphire Dictionary will become dated as Hebrew continues to develop. But it should prove useful for many years to come and could outlast some of the unfortunate Eskimos quirkily included under the entry "piblockto," the name of a syndrome which apparently causes attacks of uncontrollable screaming and crying while running on the snow. ARIEH GOLAN spent more than 10 years writing the English-Hebrew Idioms Dictionary. It might seem excessive, but they were years well spent from the users point of view. The result is a comprehensive compilation of more than 17,000 British, American and Australian expressions which might not be exhaustive but must have been exhausting, if fun, to collect. In the preface, Golan writes that the dictionary is aimed at "readers who have a thirst for knowledge, translators, teachers and students who are interested in enriching their language and at the same time acquiring a deeper understanding of English idiomaticity." Obviously aimed primarily at Hebrew speakers - it should be strategically placed next to the computer of anyone translating subtitles, novels or magazine articles - it is nonetheless useful for those of us who speak English from birth, given that the English we speak often incomprehensibly differs from one continent to another. For example, you can find the British expression "fall off the back of a lorry" (referring to stolen property) along with the American "fall off the wagon" (to resume an addiction) ; the American "Monday morning quarterback," translated into Hebrew as "hacham le'ahar ma'aseh," to be wise in retrospect; and "turn King's/Queen's evidence" (become a state witness/ lehafoch le'ed medina, in Hebrew). The dictionary is nicely laid out and easy to use with excellent cross-reference of entries. A perfect gift for any Hebrew speaker likely to get burned when trying to translate terms like "an old flame" or "go out in a blaze of glory." It is handy, too, for all those English-speakers who have lost sight of the Queen's English (or at least "don't take a blind bit of notice" of it). Golan might do well to "burn the midnight oil" some more and produce a second volume and a Hebrew-English version, preferably in less than 10 years.

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