Translatable but Debatable — מחדל mekhdal

Translatable but Debatable — מחדל mekhdal

Yeshayahu Ben-Porat’s book about the Yom Kippur War, called HaMekhdal in Hebrew, was published in English translation under the title Kippur. English-language journalists and scholars never did come up with a thorough consensus on what to call the Mekhdal, and sometimes we see it transliterated from Hebrew and glossed in English.

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Translatable but Debatable – איכפתיות ichpatiut

Translatable but Debatable – איכפתיות ichpatiut

“Caring” appears a lot as a translation of ichpatiut.  But “caring” doesn’t always work.  You can say you want an honest, caring leader, but you can’t say you want a leader with honesty and caring.  The word “caringness” suggests itself, and it does get some usage.  But no traditional dictionary seems to include it. 

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Translatable but Debatable — ?לא חבל Lo khaval?

Translatable but Debatable — ?לא חבל Lo khaval?

When we say “Isn’t it a shame?” the remark is commonly just an exclamation, not a question to be thought about. If the neighbor’s dog is struck by lightning, we might say “Isn’t it a shame?” but we wouldn’t say Lo khaval?  The Hebrew implies that the misfortune could have been prevented, or could be prevented in the future.

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Translatable but Debatable – הכיל hechil

Translatable but Debatable – הכיל hechil

There was a movie monster called The Blob, which would nourish itself and grow by absorbing into itself whatever animal life it encountered, and I think of the mechil person as resembling The Blob but in a good way, wisely accepting events and people and growing wiser by that acceptance.

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Translatable but Debatable – להיטיב l'heyteev

Translatable but Debatable – להיטיב l'heyteev

For the catchphrase describing Menachem Begin’s supply-side economic policies, I find various translations on the web: to make good to the people, to benefit the people, to do well by the people, to let the people enjoy, and more.

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Translatable but Debatable – התנוסס hitnossess

Translatable but Debatable – התנוסס hitnossess

If in context the verb l’hitnossess refers to something flapping or fluttering high like a flag, or hovering, so much the better for the translation, because it’s hard to translate the concept of just sitting still up there. 

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Translatable but Debatable – השתלשלות hishtalshelut

Translatable but Debatable – השתלשלות hishtalshelut

From the Morfix and Babylon online dictionaries, we can learn that the hishtalshelut of something is its evolution, progression, development (of a situation, event), chain of events, or sequence.  Some of those terms in English are fine for a more lengthy happening, like the development of an ideology or the progression of a relationship, but I’m not sure there’s room for them in a startling incident that may have taken a couple of seconds maximum. 

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Translatable but Debatable – תמהוני timhoni and its cognates

Translatable but Debatable – תמהוני timhoni and its cognates

Reverso.net translates “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo” as Ani muzar, ani timhoni.  I think it drops the ball when it translates “creep” as simply “strange,” and I think a creep is a more unsympathetic kind of a weirdo than a timhoni normally is.

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Translatable but Debatable – סתם stam

Translatable but Debatable – סתם stam

Although you can read in one place that “Israelis use the word ‘stam’ at every chance they get,” elsewhere you can read that “its not a word you hear often.  I (and others) use it 99% of the time as ‘Just Kidding’, but it is slang.”

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Translatable but Debatable – התרגש hitragesh

Translatable but Debatable – התרגש hitragesh

Think about a grandmother who mitrageshet upon receiving a birthday present from her eight-year-old granddaughter.  She doesn’t feel and behave the same as an eight-year-old who mitrageshet upon receiving a birthday present from her grandmother.

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Translatable but Debatable – קטע keta

Translatable but Debatable – קטע keta

Of my print dictionaries, only Oxford (by Ya’acov Levy) acknowledges the show-biz meaning of keta, calling it a performer’s “number.”  Viewing life as a cabaret, we may ask when someone behaves strangely “What is his keta?” — that is to say, his item on the program.  His routine, his gag, his schtick, his spot, his bit, his piece, his act, his stunt, his stuff, his trick.

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Translatable but Debatable – מוקפד ומושקע mookpad and mooshka

Translatable but Debatable – מוקפד ומושקע mookpad and mooshka

In English a word like “meticulous” does double duty, describing both the person who is strict about details and the work that gets done that way.  But it isn’t passive, so when applied to the work, it doesn’t point back to the creator of the meticulousness as strongly as mookpad does.  Mookpad is more like “meticulized.”

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Translatable but Debatable – לערער l'ar'er

Translatable but Debatable – לערער l'ar'er

L'ar'er, meaning an undermining of balance, has never been my favorite verb, because it goes twice over two consonants that we Americans can’t pronounce well.  Even in English, I was never sure whether to pronounce the verb “err” like the first syllable of “error” or like the first syllable of “ermine.”  But what l'ar'er does have in its favor that verbs like undermine or destabilize don’t is its ding-dong, seesaw , shikshukish repetition.  It brings to mind — to my mind, at least — an effort to weaken something by joggling it back and forth.

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Translatable but Debatable – חוויתי khavayati

Translatable but Debatable – חוויתי khavayati

A khavaya is an experience, so khavayati translates logically to “experiential” — an uncomfortable construction, certainly too unattractive for use in advertising.  It wears its suffix like a borrowed pair of shoes.

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Translatable but Debatable – יבושֹם y'vusam

Translatable but Debatable – יבושֹם y'vusam

Nobel Prize laureate Yisrael (Bob) Aumann opined that socialists are mistaken in not wanting anyone to be too well off.  “What I need is to be comfortable.  And if somebody else is a thousand times more comfortable, she-y’vusam lo,” said Professor Aumann.  Literally, “let him have it with perfume.”

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Translatable but Debatable – גיחך (gikhech)

Translatable but Debatable – גיחך (gikhech)

In English, snide superciliousness tends to be conveyed with S words-- sneer, scoff, snigger, scorn.  To the ear, gikhekh makes a very different impression.  It sounds like a gurgling cackle.

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Translatable but Debatable - התנהלות (hitnahalut)

Translatable but Debatable - התנהלות (hitnahalut)

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.”

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Translatable but Debatable – זו נבלה וזו טרפה (twin evils)

Translatable but Debatable – זו נבלה וזו טרפה (twin evils)

When Americans were planning independence from Britain, more than one local patriot floated the idea of speaking Hebrew instead of English.  If Americans all spoke Hebrew today, they would be better able to discuss elections in which zu nevela v’zu treifa — meaning “it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other” or “Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee” but in a particularly bad way.

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