Translatable but Debatable: ביצוע, לבצע (bitsua, l'vatsea)

As the champion high-jumper clears the bar, the sportscaster cries out:  איזה ביצוע! — which is to say, what a thing-doing.  The English language has some theoretically fine translations for ביצוע, but connotations are a problem.  You could say what an accomplishment, but that would express the connotation that he did something difficult, not that he did it well or elegantly.  

This series of columns will be presenting one hard-to-translate Hebrew word at a time for discussion, and we’ll start with ביצוע (or לבצע).

You’re encouraged to add your comments at the end of the column, but please stick to the word currently under discussion.  One word will likely remind you of another, but if you’d like to discuss another word, please write to me at Elephant — — and I’ll present it with due credit in a future column.  That way, we can not only conduct a nicely focused discussion but also leave behind a useful archive for future reference, one word at a time.

If you have a plan and what you’re going to do with it is ביצוע, then in precise English you can say you will execute the plan.  But executing and execution make some people think of capital punishment.  The word executive does not, but curiously in the business world it has come to refer to the person who makes the plans for everyday work rather than the person who carries them out.

Carrying out is also an accurate translation of ביצוע, but its usefulness is limited.  You can speak of carrying out a plan, but you can’t speak of assigning carrying-out responsibility.  Phrases like putting into effect and bringing into effect have the same problem.

Performance works sometimes.  To assess the ביצוע of a plan is to assess the performance — but of the people responsible, not of the plan.  The people did not perform the plan, they performed according to it.  And you have to watch out for the theatrical connotation of performance.

Other definitions in the dictionaries are achievement, completion, and realization, but like accomplishment they focus on the arrival at the goal rather than on the effort along the way.  Fulfillment can work sometimes and certainly ביצוע ההזמנה routinely becomes fulfilling the order in translation, but fulfillment too lacks the energetic connotation of ביצוע; it even smacks a little of a tranquil satisfaction.

Alcalay and Babylon list perpetration, which is a fine definition but only for crimes.  And discharge is fine but only for responsibilities and obligations.

Implementation is a close equivalent, but we like to think of it as corresponding to יישום rather than to ביצוע.  What’s your opinion?  English speakers as a people are proud of their culture’s emphasis on getting things done.  If it’s a building, they set about construction.  If it’s a meal, they set about preparation.  If it’s a high jump, then the sportscaster yells What a jump!  But what is it that English speakers do in general?

Remember, please restrict your comments to the word under discussion.  If it reminds you of another word worth discussing, please write me at and I’ll credit you when I bring it up in a future column.

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.