Hebrew Hear-Say: Almost exactly the same

Hebrew-speakers differentiate between mehablim, terrorists who attack Israelis and Jews, and terroristim, who attack anyone else.

June 19, 2008 10:55
3 minute read.
Hebrew Hear-Say: Almost exactly the same

Hebrew Hear-Say logo. (photo credit: )


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We are all used to immigrants making mistakes. I got a head start making my first blooper in the taxi (what is known as a "special") from Ben-Gurion Airport to Haifa when I visited the country as a teenager. At some point it became apparent I was being taken for a ride in more senses than one, and I began my initiation into Middle Eastern bargaining when we arrived and my aunt and the crazy taxi driver began haggling over the fare. Having passed several branches of Bank Discount on the way, I decided the word "discount" existed in Hebrew and tried in fractured terms to reduce the price. Now I realize just how laughable my mistake was. No wonder the taxi driver had no idea what I was trying to talk about. The bank's name is pronounced "Diskont" and not as someone born and bred in London like me had assumed. And in Hebrew, hanacha is the only word for the reduced cost. The driver might not have understood me, but the mistake, however, was understandable. Some of the trickiest words that non-native Hebrew speakers have to come to terms with are those that look like they should mean one thing but actually mean something else. Yesh li simpatia for the newcomers who make many such mistakes, simpatia being one of those catch phrases: It does not mean sympathy in the English sense but rather is a term of affection. If an Israeli is simpati, he is likable rather than sympathetic, similar to the Italian simpatico. Similar mistakes which have made me feel sympathetic in both the Hebrew and the English senses include the immigrant who had an experience not for the fainthearted at a doctor's surgery. She didn't realize that "angeena" is used in Hebrew for a sore throat and she was not at risk of having a heart attack from angina - although her heart skipped a few beats until the misunderstanding was sorted out. Many of the double-take words that readily spring to mind are concerned with safety and security. Take terrorism for example. Due to a strange linguistic quirk, Hebrew-speakers differentiate between mehablim, terrorists who attack Israelis and Jews, and terroristim, who attack anyone else. A fighter (roll that "r") is not necessarily a fighter in the military sense - that's a lohem - but someone who fights for his rights and for values. Another type of "fighter" is a pantare - a panther - used as a tiger. A disaster is an ason, but a catastrophe in the sense of failure or fiasco is more understandably a catastropha. If you are very active in something, you are pa'il: To be activi is less than complimentary, suggesting somebody (usually a child) is overactive. Of course, to get things done you have to be pa'il. It also helps if there is a bulldozer in the picture. A bulldozer is a person who really knows how to push and get things done. The machine used in construction work is a dahpor. Unfortunately, too often, things get done as a result of a combina - that is a manipulative maneuver, not a combination of factors. There are many talented people out there, of course. They are muchsharim. If they are described by the word "talent" in Hebrew, it implies someone with celebrity status that does not necessarily reflect skills. Kaliber, on the other hand, reflects the English caliber in the sense of quality, but has the connotation of a heavyweight. We all have our "favoritim." But you can't put them to the test. Test in Hebrew is used only for a driving test or for the annual roadworthiness test of a car. I'm not sure how the first Israeli taxi driver I met and his vehicle passed either. He had difficulty preserving the distance (lishmor merhak) from the cars ahead of him and he didn't keep enough distans in the Hebrew sense to earn any respect along with the exorbitant fare. liat@jpost.com

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