Translatable but Debatable: מערך (maarach)

I guess it shows I’m no youngster, but I would have expected the dictionaries to predominantly define מערך as alignment.  At the entry does start with alignment and it goes on to include what we used to call the Alignment with a capital A: “(Israeli politics) Ma’arach (political bloc formed by the Labor party and Mapam, from 1969 to 1984).” 

Looking through other dictionaries, I learned that the New Deal is known in Hebrew as המערך החדש, and I wonder if that term inspired the Israeli Laborites of the 1960s.  But the most common dictionary definition of מערך is arrangement, appearing in six of the seven dictionaries where I found the word (whereas alignment is in four).  Haim Shachter’s paperback dictionary, published by Yavneh, doesn’t list מערך at all.

The first definition in Alcalay is conspectus, which sent me on a search itself.  I find that it corresponds to a “sketch, outline, draft,” which is one of the Morfix definitions.

What I didn’t find anywhere was a suitable word for a strategically deployed group of people.  A conscientious company had appointed a safety warden for each department, it considered them collectively a מערך in Hebrew, and it needed a translation.  A word that suitably brings together the idea of people and the idea of structure is organization.  However, the company itself is what you would think of as the organization, and the wardens aren’t even a sub-organization in the normal sense because their presence cuts across the organization rather than being one of its building blocks.

The dictionaries offer disposition and formation, but those words lean too much toward the positioning and not enough toward the people and their mission.  None of the dictionaries mentions deployment, but I think it’s almost a fine choice.  The only problem is that, depending on context, it might sound like the action of deploying rather than the people who’ve been deployed.

To call them a team (also not in the dictionary) would do the job of telling that they are organized for a purpose, but it would imply that they work in close cooperation with one another, and that isn’t necessarily the case. 

If they were not human beings deployed strategically around the company, but inanimate objects — traffic lights deployed around the city, for example — I think we might fall back on the word system, although in Hebrew a מערך isn’t exactly a מערכת.

The idea of calling the company’s safety wardens a force or a workforce appealed to me, but I settled for deployment because the word appeared only a little and there was no unmanageable difficulty in making sure it didn’t sound like the action of deploying.

Any comments?  Please use the space below, for comments regarding מערך in particular. 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.

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.