the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Monday, September 11, 2006

Speaking Hebrish

This blog was first posted May 29, 2005, on Haaretz Underground.

Hebrew has a strange way of absorbing English words. Some of them get swallowed whole, like "bye" and "okay." It's a little funny to hear one Israeli saying to another, "See yoo toomorrrrow," but at least the appropriate meaning gets transmitted in the linguistic jump.

The phenomenon I find more interesting is when Hebrew steals English words and uses it for its own ends. One of the more ubiquitous such words is "happening." Native English speakers generally use this word as an intransitive verb, as in: "What's going on? I don't know, but something's happening." This usage falls into Merriam-Webster's second definition of "happen": "to come into being or occur as an event, process, or result."

But Israelis go straight to the noun form, preferring the little-used meaning of "occurrence," as in, "There's a major happening in town tonight." This word is particularly beloved of advertisers, I guess because it sounds oh so much hipper than "eru'a," the Hebrew word for event. There's even a store called Happening that sells greeting cards, gifts and other party-related items, in case you happen to be going to a happening happening.

My new favorite Hebrish adaptation, though, is the one I learned before I moved into my new apartment, when the landlord told me he was replacing the broken toilet tank.

Don't get flushed if you thought the word for that was "aslah," the Hebrew for toilet bowl. If you're North American, the word you're looking for is actually much closer to home. That's right, it's a Niagara. But my landlord will have no idea what you're talking about if you pronounce it like the Falls, so be Israeli and call it a Nee-ah-gah-ra.

The lesson here is that even when it comes to words that have their roots in English, native Hebrish speakers have simply got us over a barrel.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favourite word in Hebrish: Barmanit - a female barman

April 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have read about a subject called "the elohim" and this word was used by many such as Rael/Raelian movement, who believe that we were created from outerspace humans, and they are trying to prove that the hebrew word "elohim" is equivelent in meaning to "those who came from the skyes" which will actually make God a plural and that´s what they want, so that they prove that we were created by outer-space organisms. so what i actually want someone to help in, is that if the word means actually a plural, or if it can be used when talking to/about a powerful crator with great respect so that we must use plural, is there is something like that in hebrew??? to know more about there point of view, concerning ur torah and my bible, go to, or search for rael or raelian movement or the elohim on youtube.

January 23, 2009  

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