Hebrew Hear-Say: Winners and losers

...and loozers

"Zeh rak sport," "It's just sport," goes the song performed by Dafna Dekel in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest. An admirable sentiment, but even Anat Atzmon, the close runner-up to Dekel in the Pre-Eurovision in which the song was chosen, fought to get it invalidated and prevent it from participating in the competition in the days when the Eurovision was still meaningful. Ultimately "Zeh rak sport," not one of Ehud Manor's best efforts, came in sixth in the contest but lives on as a sporting spirit (ruah sportivi) of the most literal kind: played for consolation around every major sports failure (don't mention Betar Jerusalem's recent soccer fashla, please) and doing reserve duty every four years as the Olympics rule. You can repeat the mantra "ha'ikar lehishtatef," "the main thing is to participate," all you want, but which competitor wouldn't want to bring home a medal? Israel accepts silver and bronze medals (medaliot kesef ve'arad) with good grace, but, naturally, prefers to go for gold (zahav). Of course, the Olympics - Ha'olympiada, as they are called in this tiny but competitive state - are not just about sports. If they were, countries wouldn't compete to host the event - a security and financial nightmare. Politics and sports are always clashing: Israel obviously can never forget "hayud alef," 'The Eleven," - the sportsmen killed at Munich in 1972. China has been struggling to keep Tibet and human rights issues out of the limelight as part of some kind of political game (mis'hak politi). And as the Iranian delegation entered the stadium at the opening ceremony, an Israel Television presenter announced: "Here is the country we love to hate," "hamedina she'anahnu ohavim lisno." The feeling is obviously mutual; on the first day of the competition, an Iranian swimmer had a diplomatic headache/leg-ache/pain in the neck and pulled out of a race which included an Israeli. Most sore losers wait until after a contest to sulk. Iran must be one of the few countries which, openly flouting the spirit of the games, sulks before the starters' whistle (shrikat hapetiha). This year, the games were marred from the start by events far from Beijing which led Yediot Aharonot to begin its front page on August 10 with the double headline: "War and Peace" - "milhama," appeared over a gruesome photo from Georgia - and "shalom" next to a shot of the Olympic opening ceremony. I doubt world peace can ever be achieved: You just have to watch the average soccer match (mis'hak kadur-regel) to realize that tribal warfare will always survive in the games people play. Nonetheless, like millions around the world I have found myself watching the Olympic coverage. As I followed events from judo to fencing, however, I realized that the fighting spirit battles with the competitive spirit in Hebrew: Whereas English talks of "rounds" and "bouts," Hebrew has "kravot" - battles. A foul - "avera" - also translates as a transgression in non-sporting language. And while my mother tongue has "referees," Hebrew has judges, "shoftim". This year I have been taking time out (pesek zman) to watch a lot of judo with my yellow belt son, who, to my great surprise, seems familiar with many of the Japanese terms which are Greek to me. My pleasure has been listening to the Chinese and trying to recall the language I studied at university many Olympic Games ago. Sports, of course, is an international language of sorts. We can all appreciate the effort of the competitors (mishtatfim), marvel at the winners (menatzhim) and feel bad for the losers (mafsidim). A bad loser (like the poor Iranians who aren't even allowed to test their skills against the Zionist entity) is such a universal figure that Hebrew slang uses the English word for it: "loozer." The games have come a very long way from classic Athens to today's commercial global village. As the countdown (sfira le'ahor) began, business interests around the world were saying "Ready, set, go...," "lamekomot, hikon, tzeh..." and gearing up to make the most of the free world's captive audience. One local ad caught my attention from a linguistic point of view. My favorite form of doodling is to write down words in such a way that the form is self-descriptive: "High," for example, with the 'I" above the other letters. A creative team at Adler, Chomski & Warshavsky-GREY came up with some competitive gems for PelephoneSport. For instance: merotzei hamesuchot/I> - hurdle races, where every other letter is in the air; kfitzot lemerhak - long jump - with a gap between the first and second syllables of merhak; kravot hajudo, in which the letter dalet is pushing down the vav of the word judo; and hatalot hakidon - where the last letter, like a javelin, is being hurled across the page. What a pity there's no Olympic event for word play - mis'hak milim. [email protected]