Translatable but Debatable — מצא לנכון matsa l'nakhon

I saw a rather bold translation on the Internet the other day.  Someone translated מצא לנכון (matsa l’nakhon) as “decided.”  Generally the dictionary definitions of that phrase are less blunt.  Babylon says “thought it right.”  Alkalay says “see fit, choose.”  Oxford also defines the phrase as “see fit,” the same as it defines ראה לנכון (ra’ah l’nakhon) which does literally use the Hebrew verb “see” where מצא לנכון uses “find.” 

Alcalay mentions the longer phrase כפי שימצא לנכון and defines it as “as he may think fit.”  Since Alcalay seems to mention no shorter version, I had hoped this would turn out to be the phrase’s primal form, from which the others are descended.  A quick search failed to confirm any such thing; Google merely shows that כפי שימצא לנכון is a phrase much favored in contracts and formal procedures.  So if anyone knows where the phrases מצא לנכון and ראה לנכון do come from, I’d be delighted to see the answer as a comment at the bottom of the page here.  The ל makes me think that the phrases didn’t just occur naturally in the recent past.

Like last month’s word, מונח, the phrase מצא לנכון can be something a translator is tempted to resolve by omission.  “Rather than fax the translation מצאתי לנכון to email it.”  It basically means that rather than fax the translation, I emailed it.  Obviously if I emailed it, I thought it was right or proper or suitable or appropriate or fitting to do so.  If I’d thought it was wrong but I’d been compelled to use email because the fax machine was broken, I’d say so.  But the addition of מצאתי לנכון emphasizes that I gave it an instant of deliberation. 

If the phrase is being used to soften the statement, it could be “I thought I’d mail it” (meaning I did mail it) or even “I took the liberty of mailing it.”

“Upon your retirement, מצאנו לנכון to present you with this personalized ceramic mug.”  There isn’t much difference from “Upon your retirement, we’re presenting you…” except the implication that the award is not automatic, but rather the result of consideration, and is therefore the more to be appreciated.  I'm not sure I'd say "we have seen fit," though.  That sounds a little equivocal, as if although it may be argued otherwise, after consideration we've decided we personally think you deserve the mug more than you don't deserve it.  Maybe an entirely different item of verbal padding would be more appropriate, such as "we are honored to present you..."

The connotation of having made a choice can be used with an intentionally negative implication  “As a place to park his truck while he ate lunch, the defendant מצא לנכון to use the entrance to the fire station.”  In other words, it was a conscious choice rather than a spell of negligence.  Still, I’d tend to avoid the English word “decided.” After all, Hebrew has a direct equivalent to “decided” (החליט), so since the author used an alternative then the translator should preferably find an alternative in the same spirit.  The defendant “took it upon himself” to use the entrance to the fire station, maybe.    

If the Oxford dictionary defines מצא לנכון and ראה לנכון exactly the same way, who am I to draw a distinction?  I do think, however, that if there is a distinction, ראה לנכון (with the verb for “see”) might imply that the course of action came to mind and looked good, without much consideration necessarily given to alternatives, whereas מצא לנכון (with the verb for “find”) would imply that the decision may not have come quite so quickly and easily.  It takes longer to “find” something, or to find the appropriateness of something, than simply to “see” it.

If you תמצאו למכון to comment on these phrases, please use the space below.  If you have another word or phrase you’d like to see brought up for discussion here, please suggest it in an email to .

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.