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:

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Driving me to drink

My brother-in-law Yaakov has unwittingly resolved a minor mystery that has plagued me since I moved to Israel. For years I have seen stickers on car windows that say "טסט ליין" (which, given the vowel-lessness of Hebrew, transliterates roughly into "TST LYYN") and had absolutely no idea what it meant.

Although it could have passed as a bumper sticker, it didn't convey any political message that I could discern, and moreover, I wasn't even sure how to read the sticker in the first place. Since the first word is not actually a word in Hebrew as far as I know, I figured it must be English, but I was tripped up by the second word, which - even though it is written in Hebrew letters, constitutes a Hebrew word and appears all over Israel - I was dimwitted enough to actually read in Hebrew.

This left me reading the second word as "leyayin" ("for wine"), and given that context, I could only surmise that the first word was an Israeli rendering of the English word "taste." And so I reached the uneasy conclusion that the car owners with the sticker on the window were basically telling the world that they had a taste for wine.

I was a bit uncomfortable with this reading of the text, in part because, well, what kind of a statement is "taste for wine"? It's a lot more vague and a lot less fitting to pithy bumper sticker style than more formulaic messages like "I love wine" or "I'd rather be drinking." And why did the number of Israeli car owners seemingly advertising their taste for wine seem to exceed the number of Israelis who have actually developed a taste for wine?

More than that, though, the logo of the sticker - a kind of jagged line with peaks and valleys, like the results of a polygraph test (at least when shown on cop shows on TV) - really didn't seem to have anything to do with wine. I mean sure, I could make something up - the peaks represent the good wines and the valleys represent kiddush wine, for instance - but it wasn't exactly an instantly recognizable symbol of wine, like the bottle or glass you might expect if the sticker was really about a taste for wine.

And finally, I was pretty sure that "taste" would more likely be rendered into Hebrew as "טייסט," but the vagaries of transliteration are such that people can write a word from another language pretty much however they want. (It may come as no surprise that Israelis have yet to come up with a uniform transliteration for a word that appears in the newspaper daily: Palestinians. But that's another story.)

For all my hesitations, though, I couldn't come up with a better option that made any sense to me, and settled on "taste for wine" until I found a more fitting solution to the puzzle. Of course, I suppose I could have asked an Israeli, but this was one of those things that occupied my thoughts for the few seconds I caught sight of yet another of those stickers and flitted out of my head again as the car left my field of vision.

But then along came Yaakov, who wrote this blog on vehicle inspection, which happens to be held at a place called (drum roll, please) Test Line - spelled, yes, טסט ליין

When I read this, discovering in the process that my ignorance was a hitherto unforeseen disadvantage of my pedestrian lifestyle, the asimon finally dropped. (The phrase harks back to the days when Israelis used asimonim, metal tokens with holes in the middle, to make calls on pay phones.) It all seems so obvious now that the longstanding mystery threatening to drive me to drink has been resolved at long last.

Next time, at least, I'll hopefully know better than to read Hebrew signs in (gasp!) Hebrew.



Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

My worst moment like that was when I realized that there are signs all over the country pointing to the nearest "makolet"...

err, miklat.

July 11, 2007  
Blogger Shoshana Kordova said...

Maybe they should be combined - I mean, who wouldn't want overpriced strawberry-banana juice (or, at the better makolets, a lotto card to fill out) while huddling underground?

July 11, 2007  
Blogger JamesBombed said...

Usually too busy dodging their driving to work out what their stickers say.

June 03, 2008  

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