Four years ago, I made aliya with a strong comprehension of the Hebrew language and an impressive vocabulary. This was thanks to the Jewish private school I had attended in New York for elementary and high school that had stressed the importance of ivrit b''ivrit - studying Hebrew subjects (including Judaics) in the Hebrew language. As we covered a significant amount of Tanach and early Hebrew literature, students were expected to answer questions in class and write their exams in Hebrew. So when I joined a small post-high school program for American woman in Jerusalem my first year here, I was surprised by how my mastery of the language compared to that of other Anglo olim who had also attended Jewish high schools.
I quickly learned though that however extensive my Hebrew vocabulary was, it was also very outdated. The poetry of Solomon Ibn Gabirol and Shaul Tchernichovsky was not useful in helping me order coffee and I couldn''t use the language of the Tanach to write my school papers in. I''ll never forget the first time my shower flooded and I ran to tell the house mother that there was a mabul in my dorm room. Mabul is the biblical term used in Genesis to describe the flood that covered the entire world, and for which Noah was instructed by God to build an ark. The correct word to be used in the context of apartment flooding is hatzafa, she explained trying to suppress laughter.
Since that incident, I have been dedicated to improving my command of modern Hebrew. Fortunately, as I wrote about in my first blog entry, many of the new words I have learned are international terms. Emancipation becomes emancipatzia, reaction is now reactzia and status is simply pronounced with an Israeli accent as statoos. I have come to appreciate how much this Hebrew-ization of international words has eased the process of learning modern as well as academic Hebrew.
The only word that I''m still stuck on is “peepee.”
Make peepee. This is phrase is my own personal pet peeve. I dislike it when people here say it, and they say it a lot. They conjugate the Hebrew verb for “make,” but keep the English word “peepee.” Then they find every opportunity to use it, alerting you to the fact that they are now “going to make peepee,” or have “just come back from making peepee,” or “oomph, really have to make peepee.”
Old people online for bathrooms tell me about making peepee. My friends make peepee. My boss makes peepee. No one uses the bathroom or excuses themselves to the ladies/mens'' room. No one cares if you were in the middle of eating when suddenly informed of the activity at hand. You could be innocently riding a bus, buying a drink at a vending machine, picking up groceries, filling out paperwork at the doctors'' office, when all of a sudden someone will just throw it out. It''s an instant appetite killer, and I can never again look at the speaker the same.
In New York, I rarely ever hear adults excuse themselves to make peepee. Such a declaration would be considered impolite and in many cases inappropriate. My only explanation for why people are so comfortable with it in Hebrew is that they might not be aware of the effect using “peepee” in an English sentence has. This can also explain why Israelis will often throw out English slang or curse words in the workplace or public that Anglos would think twice about using in common conversation.
Have you guys confronted any instances of Hebrew-ized words that just didn''t seem right to you? And if so, how have you dealt with the situation?