by Mark L. Levinson
Decades ago when I knew even less Hebrew than now, the CEO of a big company where I worked wanted a speech in English edited, and his secretary passed it to me. I did my best, including some rewriting to sleeken and emphasize the structure, and when I inquired later about what his reaction was, she said he’d asked “Whose is this hagahah?”
It wasn’t a word I knew, and I wasn’t sure whether she’d said hagahah or hagakhah. I found in the dictionary that hagahah was something like reading over whereas a hagakhah was something like an attack.
I asked for clarification and she said he’d also remarked “What a salesman!” So I guess he probably didn’t see it as an attack. But over the many years since then, I’ve noticed that sometimes the difference between an edit and an attack can be as easily blurred in people’s minds as the difference between a ה and a ח to the immigrant’s ear.
The Even-Shoshan dictionary explains that the root word גח gakh means to exit or burst out, as in Job 38:8 where the sea, according to King James, “brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb,” while the verb form hegiakh הגיח can overlay the root meaning with the additional aspect of suddenly pouncing aggressively as in Judges 20:33 where the New Revised Standard Version says “those Israelites who were an ambush rushed out of their place.” (King James says, less breathlessly, that they “came forth.”)
Dictionaries come and go. For a long time I liked to consult Seadict on line, but the site seems to have disappeared. On the other hand, there is a new Hebrew–English dictionary from Eitan Wellisch here. For hegiakh its meanings include “come out,” “emerge,” “loom,” “sally forth,” “surface” and “well up.” Actually one of Wellisch’s features is that it lists lots of possible prepositions with the verb, so for example it says “well (up/upon/from/in/out of)” and “surface (that/from/to/at).” I think I see some overchoice there, as well as in the page’s list of associated words. For example, since the verb can mean “well up,” alongside it the page lists the noun “wellness,” which isn’t exactly relevant. But a new dictionary is always welcome, bugs can be fixed, and in the meantime an overgenerous list is better than a stingy one.
The big Alcalay Hebrew–English dictionary lists only “to burst (sally) forth, assault.” Sivan and Levenston’s big Galil dictionary lists “break out, burst forth, erupt.”
Even Shoshan notes that hegiakh also has the meaning of pouring out a liquid all at once. But it seems to me that these days, the usage of hegiakh is often less related to the coming out than to the coming in. An example, might be, for example, a stray dog suddenly entering a hardware store. Nobody really cares that he hegiakh out from the sidewalk, what’s meaningful is that he hegiakh in. He intruded. He ventured in. Not necessarily with a commotion.
To my ear, for what it’s worth, hegiakh is reminiscent of הבליחhivliakh, which refers to a flashing light, so I tend to think of the action as abrupt and over quickly.
Among Babylon’s definitions of hegiakh is “appear suddenly,” which reminds me that more than once in my technical writing career I saw the word “appear” criticized when applied to items that pop up on the computer screen. People would complain that “appear” is a word for magicians, not for sober programmers and users. I never saw the point of the complaint. When a traffic violator appears in court, it’s not magical. Unless he comes walking six inches above the floor, and that’s still not as magical as the wavy green line that appears on my computer screen whenever Microsoft Word wants me to know it’s been reading as I type and has a bone to pick with me.
Reverso.net provides, among its hegiakh examples (which are mostly based on English-to-Hebrew instances), “pop up,” “pop in,” “pop out,” “step out,” “appear from nowhere,” “jump in from out of nowhere,” “come lunging,” “come out of the woodwork,” “swoop down,” “show up,” “rise up,” “come by,” “poke through,” “peer out,” and “crawl out” — as in “There were six major extinction events before we even crawled out of the slime” (quoted from the TV series Fringe). Experimentally crossing from your home environment into an adjoining one for the first time: I think that’s one very suitable use of hegiakh, although maybe there’s nothing very abrupt in real time about crawling out of the slime.
One thing I don’t understand is why it’s hegiakh instead of higiakh. If anybody can explain that, please leave a note in the comment space at the end of the column. Use the same space if you’d like to add a remark of your own about this month’s word. If you’d like to suggest a different word or phrase for discussion, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org An index of words and phrases discussed so far is here.