by Mark L. Levinson
The old blue-and-yellow Ben Yehuda pocket dictionary, the one that we English-speaking immigrants all used from the 1960s into the 1970s, lists התנהל (hitnahel) as “to go on slowly, to be conducted.” It seems to apply to processes. The Oxford dictionary takes the trouble to single out the phrase התנהל על מי מנוחות (hitnahel al mei menukhot) as meaning “pass off quietly.” Literally, “on still waters.”
Apparently the word mutated around 2010, though, and Michal Koor asks in an e-mail how we translate hitnahalut these days. Thanks for the request, Michal.
Google brings up a scrap (no more, unfortunately) from a book called Telepopulism: Media and Populism in Israel where author Yoram Peri says that “the media invented a new Hebrew term (hitnahalut)” meaning “a behavior pattern arising out of personality. The terms closest to it in English — conduct, self-management — do not emphasize the psychological element sufficiently.”
In a blog, commentator Einat Kedem noted some sightings (or hearings):
“We will examine our hitnahalut with respect to this case,” promises the state prosecutor regarding the matter of Moshe Katsav.
“All my hitnahalut is that of a principled person,” asserts a Big Brother contestant.
Kedem advises sarcastically that we all must now abandon the familiar verb התנהג (hitnaheg), meaning “behave,” and substitute hitnahel in order to be fashionable.
For the proper meaning of hitnahel, she invokes the Rav Milim dictionary. It lists (in Hebrew) being maintained, being organized, being performed; and as a second definition it lists moving along — often in the contest of moving along slowly. It quotes Jacob telling Esau in Genesis “Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I etnahela softly,” which King James translates as “I will lead on.” Other translations say “proceed,” “drive on,” “follow.”
Despite the precedent of Jacob, which of course involved advancing over space rather than behaving over time, Kedem goes on to say that she understands from one of her readers that according to Ruth Almagor-Ramon (language consultant for the Broadcasting Authority), hitnaheg is for what individuals do and hitnahel is for what public institutions do. I suppose it’s understandable, because nihul is management and institutions are management-driven. Among the Reverso definitions of hitnahalut are “operations,” “actions,” and “proceedings.”
Be that as it may, as translators we’re called upon to handle the meaning as intended and understood, not to tell the author which verb to use in Hebrew. On the web, different translations of hitnahel, the verb, appear in different contexts. The Almaany online dictionary notes that a war is “waged” and a barely moving person “loiters,” but although interesting, those definitions don’t touch on what you’d call the hitnahalut of a public figure or of a Big Brother contestant. The Reverso website has quite a wealth of translations in its corpus, which apparently relies largely on subtitles and mixes Hebrew-to-English with English-to-Hebrew. When you mitnahel vis-à-vis something or somebody, you could be handling, engaging with, interacting, or interfacing with it. If it’s not you but a process, it could be run, it could work or work out, it could take place, or it could simply “go” — that is, go well or smoothly or embarrassingly or however. One colorful translation uses the word “play”: “That’s not how we play this!” (לא ככה זה הולך להתנהל).
In the spirit of “how we play this,” I suppose that a person’s hitnahalut — in the sense of a style of handling things — could informally be called the person’s “playbook,” which Merriam-Webster says is literally “a notebook containing diagrammed football plays” but figuratively “a stock of usual tactics or methods.” Or sometimes it could simply be the person’s “approach.”
Reverso shows a doctor’s hitnahalut translated as his bedside manner. Only doctors have a bedside manner, but someone else can have a manner too in the right context. People also have their “ways,” Reverso notes; or their hitnahalut can be the “course” they take, or seen in a certain way their hitnahalut can be their “politics.”
From the subtitles of an episode of Boss, Reverso extracts “how to roll.” English Language & Usage Stack Exchange presents the observation:
The phrase “that's how we roll” (along with variants) seems to have become increasingly popular in recent years. It appears to draw attention to one’s behavior or policies, asserting — sometimes ironically — the correctness or importance of them, as in “that's how we do things around here.”
According to some responses on that page, “The OED says it's U.S. slang originally in the language of rap and hip-hop” where as early as 1991 it referred to projecting a style as you drive along the roadway and by 1995 it was being used figuratively (“This is how we roll / And we're rolling like that / So honey’s come in / Kick off your shoes and lay back”).
Other responses attempt to date it earlier and relate it to rolling a joint or to playing pool.
Google has half a million hits for “that’s how I roll,” and one contributor to the crowdwritten Urban Dictionary says “it means ‘that's how I do things, if you don't like it, too bad. I am an independent person and I scoff at your preconceived notions of society.’”
I wouldn’t expect the state prosecutor to be translated as saying “We will examine how we rolled regarding the case of Moshe Katsav” but in other contexts the expression could be useful.
Other ideas on translating התנהלות are welcome in the space below. Other comments, including suggestions for further words or phrases to discuss, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. And an index of words and phrases from previous columns is here.