by Mark L. Levinson
The technology that will make this series of columns obsolete is raising its head at Reverso.net, where you can type in a word or phrase and see how others have translated it into another language in many different contexts. But so far the Reverso people don’t have a very big corpus to quote from. I asked to see translations in context for the phrase צמוד לתאריך and they couldn’t give me any. They have two for סמוך לתאריך — one using “close to” and one using “around” — but none for צמוד לתאריך.
The phrase that Reverso does translate is the easy one. סמוך (samookh) means “right nearby” and לתאריך (lata’areekh) means “to the date” so we’re talking about one date very close to another. The Morfix.com online dictionary is even more specific; one of its definitions for סמוך is “immediately before.”
צמוד (tsamood) is more ambiguous. It means both “adjacent” and “linked.” So if the date of your wedding rehearsal is tsamood to the date of your wedding, does that mean that the two dates are close together, or merely that one depends on the other? Googling, I find both meanings in use for dates but I wonder whether the similarity of sounds leads people to say tsamood instead of samookh when they really should reserve tsamood for cases of linkage. What’s the phone number of the language police?
To make something adjacent to something else is להצמיד (l’hatsmeed). Unfortunately, English doesn’t supply the verb “to adjace” or “to adjacentize.” All we get from that family is “to adjoin.” If you push the side table over to the sofa till they touch, the side table then adjoins the sofa. But have you adjoined the side table to the sofa? The dictionaries don’t give that meaning explicitly. They’re willing to think of A adjoining B in the sense of abutting it, but they think of adjoining A to B as physically joining, attaching, adding, or appending A to B. We do have the English word “juxtapose,” although Merriam-Webster assigns it the connotation of placing things side by side “in order to create an interesting effect or to show how they are the same or different.”
Not that l’hatsmeed can’t mean physically attaching if it wants to. The Alcalay dictionary devotes a line to הצמד קידון (hatsmed kidon), “Fix bayonets!” Ya’acov Levy’s Oxford dictionary joins the weaponry-wielding definitions of l’hatsmeed by including "put [a gun] to," which means touching or almost touching but not attaching. You can put a gun to somebody’s head, you can put a dagger to their collarbone, but English limits what you can put to what. You don’t put the end table to the sofa, you put it next to the sofa. Morfix.com is satisfied with that, defining l’hatsmeed as “to place next to” (as well as “to attach,” “to link” in the context of economics, and more), but you’ll forgive me for spending time seeking a nice one-word translation for l'hatsmeed in the sense of bringing together without connecting, the way להרחיק (l’harkheek) translates into “to distance” one thing from another and להפריד (l’hafreed) translates into “to separate.” Many people think that a single long word looks more dignified than a team of little ones, and they say that non-native speakers of English find the multi-word verbs confusing.
Merriam-Webster advises, for those willing to push the envelope, that "abut" can mean "to cause to abut" or to cause to support by abutment. To abut “a timber against a post” is the example in Merriam-Webster's big Third New International dictionary. So Merriam-Webster won't mind if you talk about abutting the end table to the sofa. But I don't think it's everyday language.
There’s more to be said about להצמיד and adjoining. (That big Merriam-Webster dictionary intriguingly cites scholar P.L. Holmer: “he adjoins the remark that God was ... reconciling the world to himself.”) If you have something relevant to add, please feel free to adjoin your remark in the space below. Or if there’s another Hebrew word or phrase that you’d like to see brought up for discussion here, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org .