Hebrew Hear-Say: Technically speaking

"The times they are a-changing," Bob Dylan sang out in the early 1960s. They are changing even faster this millennium. Consider the line: "Come writers and critics/ Who prophesize with your pen." The pen might be mightier than the sword, but the computer, and especially the Web it cast around the world, has conquered the ballpoint. It might be poetic to talk of songwriters penning their lyrics, but it hardly does justice to the reality. The times have changed and the world has grown smaller and, as if to emphasize both points, a reader in California recently sent me an e-mail and asked if I could write about technical terminology. I have to admit that I am technologically challenged. My world is still the old-fashioned one. My ancient Macintosh at work is far from being the Apple of my eye, and as for my home computer, mark my Word (Word 6, to be precise) Bill Gates didn't get rich at my expense (although I assume the Window of opportunity has not yet fully closed). If I talk about an attachment, there's probably an emotional element, not something virtual that the blasted computer can't open; icons are to be worshiped, not clicked on; I eat cookies (and not in small "bytes") and do my best to rescue any mouse my cats bring home. Life in Israel seems to have changed even faster than life in the Diaspora. When my family made aliya in 1979, our (unfulfilled) dream was getting a home phone within a year, while a "mobile" was something you hung above a baby's crib; color television was just being introduced, and there was much discussion concerning the arbitrary use of the untranslatable mehikon, the eraser device used by the Israel Broadcasting Authority to wipe the color off any sets capable of receiving technicolor broadcasts when the country still saw things in black and white. When I sent a fax from Jerusalem to my parents in Karmiel at the end of the '80s, work at the post office at the receiving end (only post offices had fax machines) came to a halt while the crowd admired what seemed like a magic trick. And when I started my journalistic career, the term cut-and-paste meant just that - literally cutting the paragraph or phrase you wanted to move from the typewritten text and sticking it somewhere else with Sellotape. Hebrew has had a hard time keeping up. It might be the language of the prophets, but few could foresee just where the technological world was heading. Nonetheless, the Hebrew Language Academy in September 2004 creatively drew up a list of words in the holy tongue for the computerized age, although it should be noted that for the most part there has been no click (or as they say locally "kleek"). Few Israelis anywhere in the global village talk about the mirshetet for the Internet (based on the word reshet for net); and turning the World Wide Web into the ma'arag klal olami (hama'arag, for short) didn't bring it closer to home (the word is based on ariga, weaving). Attachments (of the type that might damage your computer's memory but not your own personal recollections) should be called tzrufa, but no one feels bound by it. A cookie is a little easier to swallow in Hebrew, handily turning into "kookit." The word was chosen in part for its similarity to the English word but rather creatively was also chosen in part to describe its function. The academy notes that a computer cookie - the file of identifying information that a Web server puts on a hard drive so the server can continue to identify the computer - acts in a similar manner to the cuckoo (kookia in Hebrew) which lays its eggs in another bird's nest. The cookie is not the only thing easily digested: Israelis ubiquitously refer to the @ symbol as a "strudel" ("kruchit" according to the Academy), because of its similarity to the rolled pastry. Elsewhere, looking for classic inspiration, the academy ruled that a font should be known as gofan, from the Mishna where it was used to refer to the style of writing. A portal in Hebrew is portan, again chosen for its similar sound to the English word but also taken from the Hebrew root letters peh, resh, tet to suggest the perut or itemization on lists commonly found at the gateway to the Web. Technologia illit, not surprisingly, has yet to widely replace "hi-tech" in everyday Hebrew and technologia pshuta ("simple technology") has not kicked out low-tech, but as we noted in a previous column, tochna and homra easily beat software and hardware, which do not drop readily off the Hebrew-speaking tongue. Misron is gradually taking over SMS, but partzufon (literally a "facey") has yet to take over the emoticon - the smiley or sad face used to express emotions in a generation in which communication leaves you increasingly speechless. liat@jpost.com