Discussing the Hebrew word "firgun" ("l'fargen") (פירגון )

Translatable but Debatable

I will leave the judgment call to those who know German better than I, but evidently the unofficial Hebrew word פירגון could go back to the German vergönnen, meaning to give acquiescence.  Or it could go back to the German vergnügen, meaning to give pleasure (“Thus lefargen is to take pleasure in someone else’s achievement”).

What is פירגון?  A master’s thesis from the Technion says that “Firgun is the ability to view the success or virtue of the other with feelings of good will and sympathy, without jealousy or envy” according to “Shvika, 1997.”  I suspect that “Shvika” may be Prof. Yaacov Choueka of the Rav-Milim project.

But I believe that the word is used on the street not only to describe an attitude but also to describe behavior.  Morfix calls פירגון colloquial and says it means “to treat favorably, to treat with equanimity, to bear no grudge or jealousy against.”  Babylon says “lack of envy, without jealousy,” but its Hebrew definition is broader:

חוסר קנאה, חוסר קנאות, ללא קנאה, תמיכה, עידוד, עזרה

Once that brief list moves from negative definitions to positive, simple English equivalents are easy to find:  support, encouragement, assistance.  A contributor to “Better than English” writes that פירגון is “An act of saying nice things or doing nice things to another person without any other purpose, but to make the other feel good about what he is or what he does” but another contributor responds that “It can also be to share the credit with someone or not try to stab them in the back.  Not to be jealous of someone’s accomplishments.  It really is an untranslatable word.  It is very often used with the negative. Not to fargen someone in the sense of trying to one-up them.”

The easy definitions refer to second-person פירגון, congratulating others and expressing encouragement to them.  There is also third-person פירגון, which consists of spreading favorable news and opinions about somebody else.  That might be what Babylon means by עזרה, but עזרה is a very broad term.  In English you could call it lionizing someone, or publicizing or promoting although those sound a little cynical about the activity.  Hardest, I think, is the first-person form of פירגון, echoing back to the German for acquiescence and referring strictly to inner emotion — feeling okay within yourself about someone else’s success.  There are negative words:  unresentful is a legitimate word, as is either nonenvious or unenvious depending where you look.  But I’m stuck for the word in English that puts in positive terms the feeling of gladness for someone else’s personal success.

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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.