Hebrew Hear-Say: Kids explain themselves

There is a pronounced difference in the way teens and adults talk. Not just pronounced, in fact.

There is a pronounced difference in the way teens and adults talk. Not just pronounced, in fact. Israeli adolescents and grown-ups are finding it increasingly difficult to remain on speaking terms when the terms used by the younger age group are incomprehensible to the older citizens. Linguistically, it's getting to the stage where the generation gap is so wide, it takes a leap of faith to cross it safely. Help is at hand, however, for the Hebrew-speaker who wants an answer to that age-old question: What the hell are the kids going on about. Under a new initiative by high-schoolers in Upper Nazareth, the youths can communicate on their own terms, and their grandparents can get a clue about what they are trying to say via the on-line Milon Sababa - a dictionary whose name is a play on the words saba (grandfather) and sababa (fine, all right). The idea for the dictionary, Hebrew after a fashion, was born after Upper Nazareth Mayor Menachem Ariav, a 77-year-old grandfather, told local pupils that he had trouble understanding them because of their use of contemporary slang. "Suddenly we realized there was a problem, that our grandparents don't understand what we're saying and that creates a communication problem," writes Shira Magal on the project's website as the head of the student council of one of the three schools involved in the initial project. The dictionary (only in what nowadays passes for Hebrew) can be found under the spokesman's office announcements on the municipal Web site (www.nazareth-illit.muni.il). "There are some slang phrases that aren't difficult to understand," says Ariav, "like sababa, tachlis [straight to the point] and madlik [great/hot], but there are also many terms that those who don't know them can't possibly understand and might even think insulting, like using the word hores [destructive] as a compliment." Ariav notes in particular the tendency of today's teens to use war-like terminology when they want to be nice: A good-looking girl is a ptzatza (bomb); a guy is a totach (cannon) or til (missile); and a success is a pagaz (projectile). "The idea was to create the dictionary as a gift from the local school students to their grandparents," says municipal spokeswoman Orna Yosef, "but you don't have to be that old to find you can't understand what they're saying. I'm turning 40 and I sometimes feel the kids are speaking some alien language from outer space." Apart from their stridently military terms, the phrases the kids use come from songs, films, commercials and the world of fashion, Yosef notes. The initial project, currently 100 words of a projected 5,000, include remarkably few English words and a great many inventive corruptions of what the contributors' parents might have said at the same age. "Prime time," for the break between lessons, is new and foreign but the various stages of nerdiness are illuminating: H'nun for nerd has turned into h'nana, a nerd who has taken over the hevre (gang of friends); h'nana j'nana, a nerd who does something stupid, and hanevet, highly nerdy. A celebist is someone popular (from celebrity), a girl who's too thin is a Somit (from the word Somalia), but a micro is someone who fans the flames of an argument. A hofer (digger) talks a lot, while a masor (saw) talks a lot and not to the point. Scotch is not politically incorrect: It's the Hebrew word for Velcro and is now used (apparently) for a kid who sticks and just won't go away. The ultimate put down could be "ani lo sofer otcha mimeter," literally "I don't count you from a meter off" but used as "You don't exist" - a phrase that is hores in the old-fashioned and highly uncomplimentary sense. Most Hebrew-speaking older folk have figured out that "sof haderech" (end of the road) means as good as it gets, but you could feel like an ass for not realizing that sus (horse) means great and X lapanim (X or whatever for the face) is "good." The dictionary, marred slightly by the lack of a guide to pronunciation, is arranged alphabetically, starting with ahushluk (very/wonderful) and currently ends with titkamben, a possible corruption of "make a come back" which means "get with it." The project is priceless but not timeless. I suspect some of the phrases will be out of date by the time the compilers are out of school, but meantime take it bekef shelcha - "as you want to." "It's not a comprehensive or professional dictionary," apologizes Magal, "but we're not meant to be Eliezer Ben-Yehuda [the father of modern Hebrew]." Once the compilation is more advanced, the dictionary should become poetic slang in motion: The plan is to go to local community centers and similar places and explain the language to the adults. The work is not scholarly but it's certainly educational. Under the circumstances, the teens should have the final word, so all I can say is the self-explanatory "Bye-ush." liat@jpost.com