Translatable but Debatable
When Americans were planning independence from Britain, more than one local patriot floated the idea of speaking Hebrew instead of English. If Americans all spoke Hebrew today, they would be better able to discuss elections in which zu nevela v’zu treifa — meaning “it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other” or “Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee” but in a particularly bad way.
Just today on the evening news, Amnon Abramovich announced that regarding the latest rumors of scandal in Bibi Netanyahu’s inner circle, recent testimony had contained no ytedot, nothing to hang on to. If we use the translation of yated at Seadict.com, the testimony had no “peg, wedge, tent-peg, picket, pin, spike, stake, strut, stud, brad, chock, cotter” — all words unsuitable to carry the metaphorical meaning in English, unfortunately. Maybe the translation in this case would be “no smoking gun.”
Alcalay and other Hebrew-to-English dictionaries are perfectly willing to allow that זכות (zchut) can mean either “right” or “privilege.” Or “prerogative.” It’s up to the context and the translator
Tsamood means both “adjacent” and “linked.” So if the date of your wedding rehearsal is tsamood to the date of your wedding, does that mean that the two dates are close together, or merely that one depends on the other?
Although its meaning and its deterioration mirror the Hebrew word m’chonen, the word “seminal” has another problem, because although the Latin word semen carries the meaning of “seed” in the botanical sense, not everyone sees “seminal” that way. Ms. Brigitte, a blogger, writes: “it implies that the origin of a work is male, regardless of who wrote it.”
As I sought out translations, I was continually reminded that only the position of a little dot distinguishes המציאוֹת from המציאוּת, the bargains from the realities. Generally in Hebrew, as in life, we don’t even have the little dot to help us.
Whereas Sartre was trying to distinguish an individualistic littérature engagée from already unfashionable socialist realism, in Hebrew the parallel term sifrut m’guyesset retains the association of groupthink, of being enlisted or drafted or inducted for purposes of agitprop or other propaganda rather than thoughtfully asserting beliefs one has formulated as an individual.
For the most part, English-language dictionaries consider that delusional means “having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions,” as Dictionary.com puts it. But below the fold, a set of “Examples from the Web” includes more than one sentence mentioning “delusional ideas” — ideas that are delusions, not ideas that have delusions. So if a psychiatrist has delusional patients, it’s a good guess that the patients are imagining things; but on the other hand, just maybe the psychiatrist is imagining patients.
Like the word “illustration” in English, hamkhashah can refer to the sort of real-life manifestation that nobody can deny, such as waving a flashlight in a darkened room to demonstrate persistence of vision, or it can refer to a way of making something clearer to the senses without proving it at all — such as a diagram, a skit, or a picture in a story book.
The word that Ben-Gurion chose, with the Hebrew idea of a king (melekh) embedded in it, seems to imply that the person is giving the state’s interests priority not because he is an obedient peasant but because he is a participant in the power of sovereignty.
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