A good word

Where Hebrew has put an accent over the years.

City Market 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
City Market 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Next time you think to yourself, “There must be a word for it,” take a look at the Hebrew Language Academy website (hebrew-academy.huji.ac.il).
As part of the Independence Day celebrations, the academy has published a list of 64 words, one per year. The string of nouns in itself tells an amazing story of who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re heading.
The revival of Hebrew is, after all, one of the country’s greatest success stories. Like the ingathering of the exiles, words have “made aliya,” and gradually changed. It might be fashionable among Israelis to use English terms, sometimes even correctly, but Hebrew words put up a good fight.
Most immigrants gradually find more and more Hebrew creeping into their everyday speech and consciousness. When it comes to words proposed by the academy, their klita, as we quickly learn to call absorption, depends on many factors, including how easily they roll off the Hebrew speaker’s tongue.
One of the great things about Hebrew – apart from its impeccable sources – is the way that words are built around three root letters and a set meter (mishkal), making it easy to create new words (or guess their meaning).
Perhaps the most important point raised by the list is the proof that Hebrew is thriving. Only dead languages don’t change over the years.
In a case of the medium being the message, one encouraging sign that Hebrew is alive and kicking is the fact that Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet dedicated its Independence Day broadcasts to discussions about the language, slang and even dialects, and the station’s daily language corners are immensely popular. Even the way Israelis can name various authorities on the language – Avshalom Kor, Ruth Almagor and Ruvik Rosenthal all spring readily to mind – is a sign that people take what they say seriously.
The academy’s birthday list of renewed Hebrew words starts in 1948 with matheha (spelled with two guttural hets) for an agricultural implement. It obviously didn’t hit particularly fertile ground, but it’s an interesting reminder of the days when the country’s kibbutzim and moshavim grew something other than expensive housing projects.
The following two years produced words that could be put on a Hebrew greatest hit list: antibody became nogdan and texture (a.k.a. textura) became mirkam.
Some words are still struggling – gaver instead of dominanti has been fighting for dominance since 1954; neker for puncture (1955) still falls slightly flat (the word has penetrated common use, but the tire repair service is still known as a puncheria.) I guess it wasn’t as marketable – shavik – as the academy hoped (to use a word created surprisingly early, in 1956.) Other words have become a part of Israeli culture and speech: Ta’agid replaced corporatzia (corporation) 50 years ago, and mavzek for flash was inspired in 1967.
The 1970s saw a good crop of words. You might have something to say about the term feedback turning into mashov as early as 1970. Hadmaya is frequently used for simulation (known only as simulatzia until 1973); and gofan for font (1974) is in widespread use, as is tardemet for coma (1979). Miz’eret had minimal success as miniature (1976) but the success of meravi has been what used to be exclusively called maximali until 1978.
The changing world of the 1980s is reflected in the Hebrew lexicon when has’ada began to replace catering (’81), although the English word still has snob appeal often combined with prices to match; mihzur made its first appearance as recycling in ’82; and ilhush began to knock out anesthesia the following year.
Kaldanut (keyboard data entering) has been heard since 1986 and mekuvan for online since 1988. Masof for a terminal came into use in 1989.
You might call a speed trap all sorts of things, many not publishable in a family paper, but michmonet (1990) is probably not one of them. Other words from the ’90s, however, are gradually gaining popularity, and certainly suggest the rising quality of life: There is saman for cursor (’92); ya’efet for jet-lag (’93), and samlil for logo (’94). Yedu’an has garnered only limited fame as celebrity since 1995, but ha’atzama has been gathering strength as empowerment since the following year.
The year 2000 (or the Hebrew year taf-shinsamech, to be more precise) ushered in a new age with hevrat heznek for start-up company, although mirshetet (2002) has yet to replace Internet (which by its very nature favors English over other languages.) Certain words of the last decade deserve more success than they have so far achieved in my opinion, including mir’ash for sensatzia (2005) and hafitz for gadget (2006). And I’d like to see mutatzia mutate into tashnit (2009).
I’m not sure yemamit (2010) will make it for a 24/7 convenience store, but there is no other word for it in Hebrew so far. I just thought I’d spread the word in a act of collegiality (better known here as kollegialiyut, but apparently, according to the academy’s word for 2011, amitanut).
The Hebrew Language Academy, after all, deserves the last word – and the credit, although its learned members prefer to call it mizkeh.