Hebrew Hear-Say: Word games

When it comes to sports, sometimes you just have to run with the ball.

I am not much of a sporting person, but I like to think I am a good sport - sportivi rather than atleti, as they in these parts. Hence I am willing to tackle a column on games and sporting terms and I hope don't meet my match. When it comes to sports, sometimes you just have to run with the ball. My problem isn't so much the Hebrew terms, but, how can I put this delicately, some of what North Americans do with the language is not quite cricket as they say where I grew up (London). Reading the recent article on the aliya and touchdown of American tackle football, I realized that many of the terms that were being kicked around were so abused that they were no longer English in any sense Her Majesty might understand. Mind you, a lot of what passes for sport in Her circles leaves me dribbling - and I don't mean in the soccer sense (when it is mekadrer - literally "balling" from the word kadur, ball). Polo, as far as I'm concerned is more likely to be a mint with a hole in it or a neckline than a lot of people on horseback doing whacky things with a ball. But as long as they treat the horses OK, I'm game. However, I can't stand the phrase "blood sports." It's (oxy)moronic: Shooting into a net (sal) gives both sides a sporting chance which cannot be said for shooting to kill. In Hebrew there is a phrase "zeh rak sport" - basically, "it's only a game." But lately, you can judge for yourselves what's going on, particularly in soccer (kadur regel). The players (sahkanim) might be all right, but the fans (ohadim) are a whole different ball game. All too often, the decent majority are finding themselves, as we say "mihutz lamis'hak" - outside of the game, used to mean without any influence. The games people play are not child's play (mis'hak yeladim). In fact, the ball's in the other court: People take sports so seriously that it's not only the players who are getting hurt - an obvious occupational hazard - but the supporters and the game itself. Apart from the increasing violence - still thankfully nothing like the British are used to on their greener fields - you can bet on the fact that when there's money to be made, someone is going to try and create what is known here as a mis'hak machur - literally, "a sold game" but used to mean any endeavor where the results are a foregone conclusion: It is a foregone conclusion, for instance, that eventually sports teacher Ran Erez, head of the striking teachers union, for example, is going to have to stop playing mis'hakei eggo (ego games, but used as power struggle) and get the pedagogic staff back in schools. Then he will, as they the locals put it, have to leave the game (yetzei mehamis'hak), leave the picture. Some matters tend to get decided in court (beit mishpat) rather than on the sports court (migrash), but interestingly enough, the word for a judge and a referee is the same: shofet. A few years ago, concerned at the growing violence, a band of referees' very Jewish mothers grouped together to cry foul in a public campaign with TV spots whose goal (as in target) was to make the public to act more sportingly and stop saying nasty things to their kids (things which, admittedly, often referred to their moms and sisters). The other type of goal, by the way, is technically a "sha'ar" (gatepost or goalpost) but "g-o-l" is often shouted out by both broadcasters and fans. A "gol atzmi" is an own goal, the one type of goal you don't want to score. Israel obviously excels at certain sports thanks to homegrown talents (anyone for tennis?), imported help and the input of immigrants from the FSU. Pole vaulter Alex Averbuch, for example, has raised the bar - "he'ala et haraf" - in the athletics field. We also had a superb team participating in the Special Olympics. But that's in a different league ("liga aheret"). You'd be bowled over by the sudden passion for lawn bowls (but don't ask me how to pronounce this with a Hebrew accent - I'll just set the ball rolling and you can let your imagination take it from there). We're getting along swimmingly in the pool (breicha); riding a wave of success with water sports such as windsurfing (galshanut) and have been wrestling for the top judo spots for years. Whatever you get your kicks from, Israel is doing it. Look at the number of Israelis who are not so much beating the English at their own game as joining them, such as Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun and in the case of Chelsea's Avraham Grant, even training the Brits at soccer. Sixty years after the Mandate ended, we have definitely, as they say "sihaknu ota" - the slang way of saying "we succeeded." [email protected]