Translatable but Debatable
Of my print dictionaries, only Oxford (by Ya’acov Levy) acknowledges the show-biz meaning of keta, calling it a performer’s “number.” Viewing life as a cabaret, we may ask when someone behaves strangely “What is his keta?” — that is to say, his item on the program. His routine, his gag, his schtick, his spot, his bit, his piece, his act, his stunt, his stuff, his trick.
In English a word like “meticulous” does double duty, describing both the person who is strict about details and the work that gets done that way. But it isn’t passive, so when applied to the work, it doesn’t point back to the creator of the meticulousness as strongly as mookpad does. Mookpad is more like “meticulized.”
L'ar'er, meaning an undermining of balance, has never been my favorite verb, because it goes twice over two consonants that we Americans can’t pronounce well. Even in English, I was never sure whether to pronounce the verb “err” like the first syllable of “error” or like the first syllable of “ermine.” But what l'ar'er does have in its favor that verbs like undermine or destabilize don’t is its ding-dong, seesaw , shikshukish repetition. It brings to mind — to my mind, at least — an effort to weaken something by joggling it back and forth.
A khavaya is an experience, so khavayati translates logically to “experiential” — an uncomfortable construction, certainly too unattractive for use in advertising. It wears its suffix like a borrowed pair of shoes.
For the American market, it was necessary to remove elements that were peculiar to Israel and change the names of the characters to proper American names. The USA may be a nation of immigrants, but American children want to read about other children who are like themselves, not foreigners in a foreign environment. In that way they differ from American adults who read Israeli novels in translation and tend to appreciate learning new things about the country through them.
The expression asa l’veito (עשה לביתו) — literally, “provided for his household” — has a respectable origin in the book of Genesis, where Jacob says to Laban: “the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?” But as Ruvik Rosenthal notes in his blog, modern Hebrew uses the expression “particularly in connection with public servants who make the move into profitable private business.
Nobel Prize laureate Yisrael (Bob) Aumann opined that socialists are mistaken in not wanting anyone to be too well off. “What I need is to be comfortable. And if somebody else is a thousand times more comfortable, she-y’vusam lo,” said Professor Aumann. Literally, “let him have it with perfume.”
In English, snide superciliousness tends to be conveyed with S words-- sneer, scoff, snigger, scorn. To the ear, gikhekh makes a very different impression. It sounds like a gurgling cackle.
Yoram Peri says that “the media invented a new Hebrew term (hitnahalut)” meaning “a behavior pattern arising out of personality. The terms closest to it in English — conduct, self-management — do not emphasize the psychological element sufficiently.”
The holidays are almost upon us, so it’s time to look back and make an accounting. Having been asked several times, I’ve looked back over the Translatable but Debatable columns and made an index of the words they discuss.
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