Cable translations take the Lord's name in vain

Viewer: Translating commonly used English slang beginning with "holy" as "Elohim" is standard practice.

television 88 (photo credit: )
television 88
(photo credit: )
As that loyal superhero sidekick Robin might have said to his boss: "Holy translations, Batman!" A "holy war" (of words) is smoldering over the translations from English to Hebrew provided by satellite transmitter YES and cable company HOT for slang expletives beginning with the word "holy." According to frustrated YES subscriber Dov Ivry, every time someone says "holy sh**" or a variation on the slang term in an English-language movie, the word "Elohim" (Hebrew for God) appears as the translation in the Hebrew subtitles. From Arnold Schwarzenegger innocently declaring "holy shmoly" in 1988's Twins to The Dukes of Hazzard's Jessica Simpson's more descriptive "holy sh**," to Tony Soprano's complex, expressive "holy f****** sh**," the Hebrew subtitles always read "Elohim," claims Yokne'am resident Ivry. According to Ivry, translating "holy s**" and other commonly used English slang beginning with "holy" as "Elohim" is standard practice. "This goes way back from the time I subscribed to HOT in 1993. I've seen it go on all the time," said Ivry, who switched from HOT to YES five years ago. "The word 'Elohim' first appears in the first sentence of Genesis, referring to the Supreme Being. The word for 'shit' is 'hara.' There is no possibility of confusing the two," he added. Ivry, who is originally from Canada and has lived in Israel for 26 years, cited the phenomenon in films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jr., Nell with Jodie Foster, and Hugh Grant uttering "holy crap" in American Dreamz. All translated slang words for excrement as "Elohim." "If someone in a mental hospital was asked to translate 'holy shit' into Hebrew and said 'Elohim,' you would conclude that he is not getting out any time soon," said Ivry. "I understand the root of the problem - English is such a rich language with so many expressions, some of them slang. And there's hardly any of that in Hebrew. So they just use 'Elohim' as a wild card for any variation of 'holy something' that they come across to cover a multitude of coarse and vulgar slang expressions coming in from English," he said. Linguistics doctoral student Aviya Hacohen from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said there may not actually be a better translation for the English phrase in the Hebrew lexicon. "I think they're just going for the 'oh my God' equivalent in the translation," Hacohen said. "I wouldn't say Hebrew's not a rich language. It's extremely dynamic with tons of slang, but I can't really think of anything better - maybe 'ya'ala,' but that's Arabic." A representative of Kibbutz Elrom Translations, which provides much of the translation services for the television providers, confirmed that "Elohim" was used, for example, to translate "holy sh**" in The Dukes of Hazzard, but stood by the choice. "The word 'Elohim' in written form doesn't represent the 'God' we say verbally, but represents an exclamation. It's an accepted expression in spoken Hebrew. There's no accurate parallel expression in Hebrew for 'holy sh**' that appears in The Dukes of Hazzard. There was certainly no intention to offend anyone's sensibilities," said the representative, who described The Dukes of Hazzard as a teen comedy full of slang, and rude and offensive material with young characters often in a minimal state of dress that a religiously observant person would not watch in any case. Ivry said he first complained about the practice back in 2006 in a letter to Communications Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) as well as to the offices of YES and HOT. He was told his complaint had been passed on to the proper channels, but has seen no change. "I thought that by writing a letter to Attias, and drawing their attention to it, something would happen. But nothing's changed. I just saw a Bruce Willis movie last week with the same translation," Ivry said. He admitted that he now habitually checks the subtitles of all the shows he watches to catch the glitch. "The problem is that the rabbis and religious communities that would be upset by this don't know about it, because they don't watch TV. And if they did watch TV, they wouldn't be watching these movies on YES or HOT. That's why when I sent the letter to Attias, I thought he'd show some sensitivity." But apparently, Attias isn't that sensitive to the subject. A Communications Ministry spokesman referred a query by The Jerusalem Post to the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting, which regulates the broadcasters. But it declined to respond before this (holy) deadline.