Translatable but Debatable: 'אנף, מחלקה וכד (departments, divisions, etc.)

Everyone knows that ענף is a branch.  And a company is like the tree of the field.  A company can have a logistics branch, a manufacturing branch, and so on.  On the other hand, when we think of our economy’s two dominant businesses — banking and pizzerias — it’s not the ענפים that we call branches, it’s the סניפים.

Like any translator who works for agencies, I’ve handled material from banks and other big businesses.  I’ve decided, for example, that ענפים are divisions only to find myself facing a problem later:  if ענף is a division, what’s אגף?  What’s מדור?  One day as I grappled with an assignment, I started a chart of the words that insisted on being distinguished, and I got this far:

אגף – Sector

מדור – Section

מחלקה – Department

ענף – Division

תחום – ?

I didn’t like using both sector and section, but Hebrew uses both ענף and אגף — try that on a bad phone connection — so I figured I wasn’t doing much worse than the original. 

For תחום I had no pleasing translation, and the dictionaries are not helpful.  (They suggest area, domain, sphere, dominion.)  I did have unit left unused, and like most of these words unit can refer to something as large or small as you like; but unit should really stay reserved for יחידה.  Similarly, there’s office, but it should stay reserved for משרד or לשכה

In this particular case, I was able to finesse תחום entirely by leaving it out.  If someone was the ראש תחום המחקר or if something was the responsibility of תחום השותפויות, I said merely head of Research and responsibility of Partnerships.   If there had been a reference to a ישיבה של ראשי תחומים, then I would have been in trouble.

Comments are welcome.  The Hebrew and English words can be matched in many different ways, and I’d be especially happy if anyone can point to a definitive list that translates each uniquely.


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.