Hebrew Hear-Say: Happy beginnings and endings

Right up there with Remembrance Day and Independence Day as a unique, only-in-Israel experience is Hebrew Book Week, which started on May 28. True, you could celebrate it anywhere, but it wouldn't be the same - like reading a Xeroxed copy of a story rather than holding the book in your hands. The fact that we are still here, still able to drag the nation's kids away from computers and get them to an event dedicated to the holy tongue, is a sign of the country's strength and future. This year, one of my favorite books was a pocket-sized freebie. A friend came across 60 milim: Hazmana letiyul be'Ivrit (60 words: An invitation for a trip in Hebrew) when she was on a day trip with her family, and gave me a copy. The mini-dictionary was produced by the Hebrew Language Academy and distributed at nature reserves and parks. The introduction notes the academy's attempts to create Hebrew terms as an alternative to foreign phrases - in keeping with Hebrew's impeccable sources as well as the spirit of the times (after all, the language of the global village easily grabs Israelis in its worldwide Web.) The compilation marks both the 150th anniversary of the birth of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, as well as the country's 60th anniversary, and it contains many a nice turn of phrase. The academy's failures, by their very nature, are forgotten. The successes trip off the tongue. Some words, even in this booklet, are somewhere in between. Among these I would include the first few offerings in the section titled "On the road" "Baderech": migdol for pylon (migdal being a tower); ma'agana for a marina (ogen is an anchor) and mitzpor for a constructed look-out point (giving a bird's eye view; tzipor is a bird.) In the environmental department, mihzur for recycling is already being put to repeated use (shimush hozer); akva is an obvious for an aquifer (sharing the root of mikve for a body of water), while kayamut for sustainability needs yet to prove itself if it is going to be around for future generations. Readers of this column get a bad trip from the back axel kidmi (the "front back axle"), but some terms should stop you spinning: neker is definitely replacing pantcher as a puncture; tz'migiya (instead of a pantcheria) is the place to go to fix a tire (tz'mig) and make sure you have a spare wheel, galgal hiluf, previously known in what passed for Hebrew as a spare. Magbe'ah for jack sounds very reasonable in Hebrew (obviously coming from the root "to raise"). Galgeshet stands a sporting chance of making it as a blue-and-white term for skateboard (hinting at both "wheels" and the verb "to skate"), and kapetzet could bounce trampolina (a trampoline) off the funfair map. The Net is a trap for those who don't speak English as a mother tongue, but Hebrew is putting up a good fight: From the country that gave the world the Disk-on-Key there comes a Hebrew word for it: hechsen nayad (mobile storage) and Weblog understandably in Hebrew becomes yoman reshet (Net diary). The potential of misron as SMS (it comes from messer or message) has been tapped into. Taklitor for CD/DVD is already part of the language the same way that kaletet ousted kassetta for cassette. Hafitz for gadget deserves to gain popularity... I could go on and on, but I don't want to make you sick - although how do you feel about shlomut for wellness, rageshet for allergy and hamarmoret for hangover (from an ancient word for wine)? Feedback is welcome, although I prefer to call it mashov. [email protected]