Translatable But Debatable - בליין, בילוי, לבלות (balyan, bilui, lvalot)


Translatable but Debatable בליין

While the world argues about the valuable space we’re taking up here in the Middle East, simultaneously inside Israel we argue about the valuable time we’re occupying.  What is the proper nature of the Sabbath?  What is the proper timespan to devote to military service?  Answers would be much easier if time were recyclable, but as the Hebrew language mercilessly points out, to pass the time away is לבלות — to wear it out.

The expression מבַלֵי עולם survives from the ancient Jewish sources into the dictionaries, if not into everyday speech, to mean people who waste time — idlers, wastrels, loafers, or evil-doers, according to the three-volume Alcalay Hebrew-English dictionary — and the notion of מבלי עולם is evidently considered equivalent to מכלי עולם, those who bring destruction upon the world.

These days a little בילוי — a pastime, recreation, entertainment — is widely considered innocent or even necessary in everyday life.  Danby & Segal’s Dvir dictionary is alone, on my shelf at least, in considering that when applied to time, לבלות can mean to waste.  Most dictionaries are only neutral or positive;, for example, writes:  “to have a good time, to enjoy life; to spend time.”

As a visiting chef told the Jerusalem Post recently, “you know what it’s like walking down the street in Tel Aviv at 2 a.m.? There’s so much going on, it never stops.”  I suppose it depends somewhat on which street.  But I believe the chef when he implies he was surrounded by בליינים.

It’s hard to know what to call those people in English., labelling the word colloquial, says a בליין is a “partygoer, bon vivant, someone who likes to go out a lot.”  Babylon says it’s a “party animal, hedonist.”  Though not exactly synonymous, the term “night people” could be useful because it’s less judgmental.  In my parents’ generation, they might have called a בליין a good-time Charlie.  But those expressions refer overwhelmingly to people who have embraced בליינות as a lifestyle.  I think that if you walk into a pub or a place of amusement, anyone enjoying בילוי there can be considered a בליין at the time, even if he’s there only for his birthday and spends most evenings watching the National Geographic channel and eating jam straight from the jar.  You could call them roisterers or carousers if they are having a wild time, or if the time is a bit less wild you could call them merrymakers or pleasure-seekers, but if they are enjoying their leisure together by just talking quietly and playing backgammon I don’t know what kind of בליינים you could call them in English.  If they’re paying for their coffee or arak, at least they’re customers or patrons.  If the backgammon game is in the park, they’re not even that.

More remarks regarding English terms for בליינים, בילוי, and the rest of the family are welcome below.  You don’t need to register or reveal personal information.  If there’s another topic you’d like to veer off to, please don’t veer below; just 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.