Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I do not think that means what you think that means

According to the bylaws of the powerful (yet, admittedly, nonexistent) National Anglo Bloggers Union (slogan: “taking over the country, one Heblish blog post at a time”), Anglo bloggers must - at least once during their blogging careers – write about English words that have crept into Hebrew and are now among the hardest words for non-native Hebrew speakers to understand.

Personally, I fulfilled my blogging contractual obligations over three and a half years ago with my magical post.

Nevertheless, with your indulgence, I’d like to revisit this topic and examine the specific issue of formerly-English words that seem to have acquired a slightly different meaning or connotation when they migrated over to Hebrew.

Of course, in and of itself, this isn’t really a big deal.

That is, except when Israelis try to speak English and insist on using one of the aforementioned, er, evolved words… but with its new, Hebrew connotation.

Which, needless to say, can – and often does! – lead to some a great deal of confusion.

I mean, consider the following examples:

1) סימפטי/סימפתי (sim-PA-ti) (both spellings are used) – According to some of my favorite translation software, this word is the Hebrew equivalent of “sympathetic.” However,  any good dictionary will tell you that the actual definition is “pleasant or likeable”…

2) מייל (mail) – Oddly enough, in Hebrew, mail refers only to email. (The non-electronic variety is דואר – do’ar.)

3) קליפ (cleep) – It may look like “clip.” It may sound like “clip.” But, as it turns out, it isn’t [necessarily] “clip.” For instance, the video in this post is referred to as a “cleep,” even though it’s a complete video…

4) מורל (moh-RRRAHL) – This word obviously comes from the English word “morale.” But in Hebrew, it means a cheer or cheering – as in the loud shrieks and shrill cries that characterize the annual Chodesh Irgun performances and are the bane of Israeli parents’ existence…


Can you think of any other examples?


  1. I think that the word maximum in Hebrew also doesn't match its English counterpart. In Hebrew, it means something like "worst case scenario." -Yaffa

  2. Don't get me started on אקטואלי actually!

  3. I have such a hard time with "Mail"....every time someone Israeli says mail to me I forget they mean e-mail.

  4. Yes, "maximum" jumped right into my head as well. I'll see if I can come up with anything else, while I'm here at my "Hebrew speaking" workplace :)

  5. Risa - LOL! I've always wondered what prompted someone to decide that לא אקטואלי and נושאים אקטואליים should be used as the Hebrew terms for "irrelevant" and "current events"... :-)

    Safranit - Been there, done that... :-)

    Toby - I just remembered that I discussed maximum in a Heblish post two years ago... :-)

  6. When I was in college in the late 70s, someone told me about a broken 'backaxe' on a car. Turned out to be the rear axle. The 'back axle'. Okay. So what was the front axle called? The 'backax kidmi' - the 'front rear axle'. ;-) I have heard it can also be the other way 'round - frontax ahori. Either way, I doubt it is something you'll hear again nowadays.

  7. Mordechai Y. Scher - Ah, yes, the infamous בקאקס! :-) (Real Hebrew term: סרן אחורי or ציר אחורי.) I was hoping someone would mention this... :-)

  8. Ooh ooh, we thought of a perfect one on Shabat! Large! It's one of the more ridiculous ones, I'm not sure how we didn't think of it before. When someone is large in Hebrew (or larjeet in the feminine), they're acting generously, they're not overweight :)
    Shavua tov!

  9. 'Large' is actually used in an appropriate way. Largesse is generosity; and there is the English expression 'big of you' meaning that someone was charitable in their behavior.

  10. Mordechai Y. Scher - Good point! But I still don't think that referring to someone as "large" is considered to be a compliment in English... :-)


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