Translatable but Debatable
The dictionaries have more to say about translating hekel as applied to a problem — alleviate, mitigate, palliate, etc. — than as applied to the person who has the problem. If you find a software program complicated to use, and the company supplies shortcuts to reduce that difficulty, then actually none of the dictionary definitions of hekel can describe what the shortcuts do for you.
Yeshayahu Ben-Porat’s book about the Yom Kippur War, called HaMekhdal in Hebrew, was published in English translation under the title Kippur. English-language journalists and scholars never did come up with a thorough consensus on what to call the Mekhdal, and sometimes we see it transliterated from Hebrew and glossed in English.
Morfix defines hitlabet as “to have doubts, to be uncertain, to weigh possibilities; to think over, to deliberate, to ponder, to mull, to debate.” Still I think of the meaning as commonly more specific than that. When I leave the house, it’s not so much that I mitlabet about whether I fed the goldfish. I mitlabet about whether or not to go back.
The verb — apparently starting out with the meaning of a subtle welling up from within — has taken on the popular meaning of protruding into visibility, whether slightly and gradually or boldly and suddenly.
“Caring” appears a lot as a translation of ichpatiut. But “caring” doesn’t always work. You can say you want an honest, caring leader, but you can’t say you want a leader with honesty and caring. The word “caringness” suggests itself, and it does get some usage. But no traditional dictionary seems to include it.
When we say “Isn’t it a shame?” the remark is commonly just an exclamation, not a question to be thought about. If the neighbor’s dog is struck by lightning, we might say “Isn’t it a shame?” but we wouldn’t say Lo khaval? The Hebrew implies that the misfortune could have been prevented, or could be prevented in the future.
Here’s a word that is not only difficult to translate but unpleasant to discuss and impossible to transliterate well.
There was a movie monster called The Blob, which would nourish itself and grow by absorbing into itself whatever animal life it encountered, and I think of the mechil person as resembling The Blob but in a good way, wisely accepting events and people and growing wiser by that acceptance.
Among Babylon’s definitions of hegiakh is “appear suddenly,” which reminds me that more than once in my technical writing career I saw the word “appear” criticized when applied to items that pop up on the computer screen. People would complain that “appear” is a word for magicians, not for sober programmers and users. I never saw the point of the complaint.
The other day, I was translating some Hebrew that referred to something as “worth about as much as a garlic peel.” It’s a common expression in Hebrew, but I’ve never heard it in English. Still, I thought, it’s self-explanatory and expressions do pass from one language into another all the time.