Translatable but Debatable: גיבוש, לגבש (gibush, l'gabesh)

Translatable but Debatable
גיבוש, לגבש

The community of translators has more than its share of eccentrics, Rina Ne’eman remarked from the podium at the recent Israel Translators Association convention, and no one contradicted her.  But however weird and creepy we may find one another, we had assembled in our hundreds for the purposes of learning, networking, and what in Hebrew we call גיבוש.  I’d say solidarity in English, though unfortunately while it’s a good word for the goal, it doesn’t cover the process.  Google reveals some uses of the word solidarization in the physical and social sciences, but no dictionary lists it explicitly.  Merriam-Webster’s unabridged does have the verb solidarize, and the definition looks as if Noah Webster were a student of Israeli politics:  “to come together : attain a state of solidarity (the parties of the right failed to ~ in time).”

The smaller, older Hebrew-to-English dictionaries stay close to the literal meanings of גיבוש and לגבש:  all the dictionaries include crystallize.  For Dvir and Steimatzky it is the only definition, Signet and Yavneh add consolidate, and Megiddo prefers integrate as the second meaning instead.

But in the field, meanings of course range more widely.  Stanley Hillel, who wrote in and suggested a column on לגבש, recounts:  “Depending on the context, I have used many alternatives to convey the meaning, such as to weld, form (a group), coalesce, jell, crystallise, consolidate, draw up (a claim or a contract), take or adopt a position (le’gabesh emda) and so on. I am sure you will think of others.”

My three-volume Alcalay considers that לגבש עמדה is the only usage worthy of a line in itself:  האויב גיבש עמדותיו, the enemy consolidated his positions.  Alcalay’s full list of definitions is crystallization, consolidation, accomplishment, materialization, stabilization.

But at the convention, when someone at the microphone remarked on the overuse of crystallize as a translation, a British-accented shout came from somewhere in the audience, “Formulate!”  I’ve found formulate only in Morfix, but it’s the translation I favor too when גיבוש means putting together an official stance or plan.

Being an online dictionary, Morfix can afford a long definition.  For לגבש it says “to consolidate, to formulate, to unify; to crystallize, to materialize, to finalize” and for גיבוש it goes on even longer:  “consolidation, unification, integration, forging ‘team spirit’; crystallization, formalization, consolidation (ideas, concepts); (chemistry) crystallization; (military) trial period prior to selection for elite army units.”

That military trial period has also inspired ימי גיבוש in the civilian sector.  Whereas גיבוש in the army is partly the team solidarity project that the term suggests and partly a euphemism for weeding out the less qualified, in the civilian sector the  יום גיבוש is often translated “fun day,” the team-building aspect may be emphasized or may be nearly absent, and although a person who hogs the karaoke mike may be resented for weeks, no one is necessarily weeded out.

Please add any comments below regarding גיבוש and לגבש.  If you’re reminded of another word worth discussing, please don’t start a digression.  Instead, write me at and I’ll bring your word up, with due credit, in another column.  For more about the Israel Translators Association convention, see my recap at, or Yael Sela-Shapiro’s at, or Ruth Ludlam’s blog entry for February 11 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.