Translatable But Debatable - Ga'agu'im

Translatable but Debatable – געגועים

Recently Rolling Stone magazine published poll results for the worst songs of the 1960s, and “Honey,” written by Bobby Russell and made famous by Bobby Goldsboro, beat out almost all the competition.  Although the tune may not be admirable, I imagine that what ranks “Honey” as its decade’s next-to-worst is how the lyrics treat the subject matter; as you may recall, it is a song of געגועים about a deceased wife.

The dictionary translates געגועים as longing, yearning, or nostalgia. But if I understand the connotations correctly, the things that we long or yearn for are normally things that we have at least some theoretical chance of obtaining.  The thousands of girls who longed to marry Bobby Goldsboro may have nursed a crush that bordered on the neurotic, but at least he was alive.  If they’d longed to marry Oliver Goldsmith, they would be psychotic.  And what’s portrayed in “Honey” isn’t nostalgia because nostalgia may be wistfully reflective but is not painfully sad the way געגועים can be.  Are we ever said to be nostalgic over people anyway?  Times and places for sure, but individual people?  I don’t know.  Maybe public figures.

With no suitable noun at hand for the widower’s emotion, an English speaker might opt to use the verb instead.  “Honey” is a song about a man who misses his late wife.  Out in cyberspace there is a woman named cherrycat17 who does coin the required noun:  “I am just full of missation and loveation,” she writes.  But unfortunately, Merriam-Webster hasn’t notified the rest of the world that cherrycat17 solved our problem.  So if the verb isn’t easy to fit into the sentence, then The song is just full of sadness and… and what?  The term mourning would do fine for “Honey,” because the woman is dead, but it’s not a universal solution.  Sometimes the cause of the געגועים is different.  Maybe she hasn’t died but an ocean liner’s taken her far away.

Theoretically the word regret could be appropriate.  Its first definition as a verb in Merriam-Webster is “a: to mourn the loss or death of” and “b. to miss very much.”  But in the language of today’s self-centered English speaker, considering the past with regret generally implies some personal remorse.

What other translations you have for געגועים?  Please use the space below to continue the discussion — on topic — or if you’d like to suggest another term of interest please contact 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.