Translatable but Debatable: גורם (gorem)

I was in the office of a hi-tech CEO some time ago when a phone call came in from a vendor of translation software.  The CEO listened only a few seconds before interrupting the vendor:  “How does it translate הגורם המבצע?” he asked.  I was impressed that he had such a challenge at the ready.

This series of columns will be presenting one hard-to-translate Hebrew word at a time for discussion.  The last column presented ביצוע and this time it’s גורם.

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.  Thanks to Jason Elbaum for suggesting this month’s word.

I have four paperback dictionaries that say a גורם is a cause or factor.  My hardcover Alcalay adds a third definition, the mathematical term multiplier.  To those, Babylon adds element, agent, motive, instrument, wherefore, and cause.  Morfix also has element, and it adds responsible body (sometimes just body is enough, I think), authority; and (press) source.

Although reporters often say they learned something from a certain גורם, I wouldn’t say that source was a definition.  What’s your opinion?

The Jerusalem Post recently printed a sentence in which they mentioned a certain country as a factor in multilateral negotiations, and I think they were translating גורם as factor when it should have been party or participant.  If you’re a factor in discussions, you’re borne in mind during the discussions but you’re not necessarily participating.

When there’s a decision to be made and several gormim are consulted, a complication for the translator is that a גורם can be an individual or a whole department or company.  Personally I sometimes get away with office as a translation because the גורמים can presumably all be found in offices of their own.  But only sometimes.  A גורם that you consult could also be a sample of schoolchildren, shoppers, or beachgoers.  Sometimes גורמים can be stakeholders, but again only sometimes.

How about that translation software I mentioned at the start of the column? you’re wondering.  Well, it had miscellaneous translations for each of the individual words but nothing for the combination.  If you try the combination  הגורם המבצע in Google’s translation engine, you get factor operation.

Please add your comments below, regarding גורמים in particular.


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.