Hebrew Hear-Say: Clean thinking

The Hebrew Language Academy has spent the best part of a decade considering environmental terminology.

April 30, 2009 11:45
3 minute read.
Hebrew Hear-Say: Clean thinking

Hebrew Hear-Say logo. (photo credit: )

A little red light ('nura aduma') lit up the other day. Ironically the warning light ('nurat azhara') came on as lights elsewhere were going out. It was during the Earth Day celebrations, which Israel marked on April 23 with much fanfare and environmentally sound pyrotechnics and an hour of "lights out" ('kibui orot') in several cities. You can be green ('yarok/yaruka') without being naïve ('tamim/tmima'). Clearly, the environment - 'eichut hasviva' - is big business. And the Al Gore phenomenon is spreading among savvy politicians everywhere almost as fast as the icebergs are melting. Other papers have already pointed out that for the Tel Aviv Municipality to so ostentatiously turn out its lights at 8 p.m., it required leaving more lights on than usual for about two hours before the event. And, unless every spectator either biked or hiked to the events in TA, Jerusalem and Haifa, presumably a measure of vehicular pollution ('zihum rechavim') was emitted because of the event. Not to mention all the people who burned electricity watching the publicity stunt on TV or via the computer. Of course much can be justified on the grounds of raising public awareness ('muda'ut hatzibur'), but if for the rest of the year there is a blackout on environmental thinking, the future does not look either green or rosy ('varod'). The Hebrew Language Academy has spent the best part of a decade considering environmental terminology. Close to 1,000 terms are being considered - some already finding their place in this green world: 'akva' for aquifer, for example, a combination of aqua and 'mikveh', and 'midbur' for desertification. Others prove that while there's nothing new under the sun ('ein hadash tahat hashemesh'), there are innovations under the ever-growing hole in the ozone layer ('shichvat ha'ozon'). Applying the precautionary principle ('ikaron hahizharuti'), be advised that the list is not finalized. And, of course, as with all new Hebrew terms, not all will take (or, in environmental terminology, not all are sustainable - 'bar kayama'.) One word that English-speakers are always moaning is missing from the Hebrew language is "accountability." The academy has come up with the slightly cumbersome 'ahrayuti'ut', for it. The average member of the public - or 'adam min hashura' as they say around here - might not need many of the terms which range from the everyday 'energia hilufit' (alternative energy) to the highly specific. I only have to read a phrase like "anticyclonic gloom" - 'afela antitziklonit', if you ever need it - to feel bad. The terms are available both on the academy's site (http://hebrew-academy.huji.ac.il) and the site for the Environment Protection Ministry (www.sviva.gov.il). Some of the terms which might take are 'rechev k'layim' for hybrid vehicle and 'rekovet' for compost. The academy might also succeed in stamping out 'tvi'at regel ekologit' - environmental footprint - with its preferred 'midrach ekologi'. Another term gaining attention is a Hebraicized version of NIMBY - not in my back yard. This has been converted to "limbi" - 'lo maskim bahatzeri': not acceptable in my yard. One term which has started pushing even NIMBY out into the cold is NOPE - not on Planet Earth, although I didn't see it among the 989 terms on offer. The "'lo'"s include 'lo mit'hadesh' (non-renewable) and 'lo bar-gilu'i' (non-detectable). A catchy suggestion is 'hityarkut', a cute Hebrew version of "greenwash," the phenomenon of polluting bodies which pretend to be environmental protectors ('shomrei sviva'). Some phrases seem to be more whitewashed than greenwashed: Waste exchange, for example, sounds so much better as 'bursat pesolet', as if it were the diamond or stock exchange. We might not breathe easier, but at least we can come up with words like 'eizor neshima' - breathing zone. Sometimes it seems like the most recycled thing in Israel is ideas. 'Mihzur' (recycling) is still in its infancy compared to other developed countries - not for lack of public awareness and willingness, by the way, but because of the economics of the industry. Nonetheless, we have come a long way since the days when the local environmentalists used to joke that the public's idea of sorting domestic waste was separating what to throw out through the window and what to take down to the garbage. We can all do our bit to help. Maybe by next Earth Day more of the lights that are turned off will have energy-saving bulbs and businesses will realize that greenwashing is fooling no-one. After all, in Hebrew the term for clear profit is literally "clean profit," 'revah naki'. liat@jpost.com

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