Books: In other words

A veteran English teacher compiles compendium of English translations to Hebrew sayings.

English translations to Hebrew sayings (photo credit: ILLUSTRATION)
English translations to Hebrew sayings
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATION)
The first thing I did when I received a copy of Arieh Golan’s A Comprehensive Dictionary of Idioms and Proverbs (Hebrew-English) was look up the phrase “sof kol sof,” which Golan offers in English as “not a moment too soon, it’s high time.”
I reviewed the compendium’s extensive companion volume Idioms Dictionary: English- Hebrew in 2006 and noted at the time that Golan, an English teacher with more than 30 years of experience, had spent more than a decade writing that compilation of more than 17,000 British, American and Australian expressions and their Hebrew counterparts.
That book (published by Schocken) was obviously aimed primarily at Hebrew-speakers, and I ended my review: “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.”
He only just squeaked in ahead of that decade mark, but it was worth the wait.
It’s clear where the years’ work went. The recently published Hebrew-English compendium is both comprehensive and comprehensible, including some 15,000 expressions, neatly cross-referenced.
As the publicity material notes, Golan gives, for example, 13 synonymous phrases for the Hebrew “Ani lo freier.”
These include “I wasn’t born yesterday”; “Do you take me for a fool?”; “Do you see skid marks on my forehead? (slang)”; “How dumb do you think I am?”; and “I was born on a Friday, but not last Friday.”
In answer to a colleague’s question: Yes, I did read what is essentially a dictionary, and what’s more, I enjoyed it.
Even in the computer era, when you can look up a dictionary and a thesaurus online, there is still a place for the written (or printed) word.
The offerings include a wide range of dialects, including the occasional Irish.
Some entries are simple: “Yeled peleh” is translated as “whiz kid, child prodigy, boy wonder”; others, more nuanced: “Lo ye’amen ki yesupar” has more than 15 English suggestions, ranging from “How about that!” and “Well I never” to “Will wonders never cease?” and “Strike me dead!” The book is slightly marred by typing (or more likely typesetting) errors in the English in more than one place, and it would have been helpful for the non-native English-speaker to have the phrases divided by a semicolon rather than a comma. The way it is laid out, you have to be familiar with the idioms to know when one ends and the next begins.
On more than one occasion, I found an entry that I would have translated differently, although Golan’s suggested idioms provided food for thought, and translation is an art rather than a science.
According to Golan, the book is aimed as “a tool to help translators, lecturers, journalists, students and lovers of language.”
The language-lovers in particular will enjoy perusing the pages and randomly picking out phrases like “yatza me’hakelim/ mi’kelav”: “Fly off the handle (informal), lose one’s cool/ temper, blow one’s fuse/gasket/ stack/top (informal), flip one’s lid (informal), go pearshaped (informal), get off one’s bike (Aus. informal), see the red mist (informal).”
Or: “diber b’tzrorot”: “Talk nineteen to the dozen, have verbal diarrhea (informal), talk a blue streak (Am. informal), talk to hear one’s own voice, talk somebody’s head/ear off (Am. slang), talk a mile a minute (informal), motor mouth (informal), put legs under a chicken (Irish), vaccinated with a gramophone needle.”
Given the way that language develops, some of these entries are passing phrases – there’s a generation that doesn’t know how to place a gramophone needle and possibly considers vaccinations contentious. Golan should start work on a follow- up version now, perhaps an annotated version. I look forward to being able to use it in less than a decade.