Translatable but Debatable — מונח munach

Last month’s column mentioned that in Hebrew, not saying anything is grammatically like doing something (לשתוק is an active verb).  This month we have a verb for just sitting there which, grammatically, is like having something done to you.

Suppose a man looks all around for his hat and finally finds it on the coffee table.  In Hebrew we might say he finds it מונח (munach) on the coffee table.  Munach is a passive verb.  Dictionary definitions include “put,” “placed,” “set,” “laid.”  The Hebrew expresses the idea that somebody is responsible for the hat’s presence on the table.  Somebody did something to it.

Or on a windy day, the man may lose his hat and find it munach on the sidewalk.  No person put it there, but still it was put there — by the forces of nature.

In English we might say that the hat was “lying” or “resting” there, and those definitions of munach are in the dictionaries too.  Or it could be “sitting,” or facetiously even “lolling” or “basking.”  In English the hat is comfortable as the subject of an active verb.  It’s quite aware of where it is, and it probably knows the man will be coming after it.

It seems that in order to be munach somewhere, you have to have come from somewhere else.  It would be strange to say that the Shalom Meir Tower is munach in Tel Aviv, although you might say so for effect if you wanted to emphasize that it looks foreign to its neighborhood.

Similarly, a writer can say “I was munach” in order to emphasize that the current situation was imposed rather than sought out.  In one dramatic example, a writer refers to “the place where I was munach” after being wounded in a terror attack.

It seems that often the word munach can be skipped in translation.  If the hat is on the table, it’s on the table.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be sitting there, or perched there, or parked there, although everything depends on context.  And I’ve found, to my surprise, that leaving the word out can startle the person who requested the translation.  Not that “I found my hat on the table” isn’t just as acceptable in Hebrew.

Under munach in the dictionary, the expression kvodo bimkomo munach appears — “His honorable reputation occupies its proper place.”  Everywhere I looked, the phrase was translated as “With due respect” or “With all due respect” and the implication was that it accompanies an assault of criticism.  The example at Nivim Ivriim, for one, continues:  “… but I can prove he’s wrong.”

Maybe someone can prove I’m wrong, but I’m not sure that kvodo bimkomo munach always accompanies criticism.  I think I could say, for example, that Nahum Gutman is famous for painting street scenes and Kadishman is famous for painting sheep and as for Reuven Rubin, kvodo bimkomo munach no less — he too has his honorable reputation.  Can’t I?

If you’d like to take sides on that, or comment on this month’s word in any other way, by all means use the space below.  If there’s any other issue you’d like to see discussed in this column, please do refrain from digressing below and instead write to me at .

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.