by Mark L. Levinson
When former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s prison sentence was reduced and he presented the development as a kind of vindication, MK Shelly Yachimovich called his moment with the press a “delusional and arrogant show.” That’s a quotation from the December 31 Jerusalem Post. I can’t find the original Hebrew on the web but I’m willing to bet a small check in an unmarked envelope that “delusional” is translated from the Hebrew word הזוי (hazui).
Coincidentally, an adjoining column on the same page of the same Jerusalem Post has commentator Isi Leibler referring to “the delusional far-left civil libertarians associated with Haaretz.” and again hazui springs to mind. Google shows well over 12,000 hits for השמאל ההזוי (hasmol hehazui), “the delusional left” in Hebrew.
I don’t see hazui in any of my print dictionaries, but Morfix.com translates it as “hallucinatory, imaginary; trippy; (colloquial) strange, odd, weird, zany.”
According to Vocabulary.com, “A delusional person believes things that couldn't possibly be true. If you're convinced that the microwave is attempting to control your thoughts, you are, sadly, delusional,” and that applies well to the delusional left. Also to the delusional right, although the latter has fewer than half as many Google hits in either language.
But when Shelly Yachimovich says that Olmert put on “a delusional and arrogant show,” does she mean that the show expressed a belief in things that couldn’t possibly be true? Or does she mean that the show was הזוי in the sense that it was “strange, odd, weird, zany,” the sort of thing that resembles, rather than believes in, a delusion?
For the most part, English-language dictionaries consider that delusional means “having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions,” as Dictionary.com puts it. The most prominent example there is “Senators who think they will get agreement on a comprehensive tax bill are delusional.” But below the fold, a set of “Examples from the Web” includes more than one sentence mentioning “delusional ideas” — ideas that are delusions, not ideas that have delusions. Similarly, Thefreelibrary.com quotes examples from Burton’s Legal Thesaurus mentioning “delusional beliefs.”
So if a psychiatrist has delusional patients, it’s a good guess that the patients are imagining things; but on the other hand, just maybe the psychiatrist is imagining patients.
The big Merriam Webster's Third New International Dictionary lists four adjectives. It allows that delusional can mean “relating to, based on, or marked by delusions,” covering quite a wide range. It includes delusionary as meaning “resulting in or marked by delusions” with the examples of “delusionary hopes” and “delusionary insanity.” It lists delusive as a synonym for delusional, especially in causing delusions or in being a delusion. And it lists delusory as “deceptive” or “delusive.” (So if you insist, delusory means delusive, which in turn means delusional.)
Although I don’t see hazui in any of the hardcopy Hebrew-to-English dictionaries I have at hand, the verb הזה (hazah) is there as “dream,” “daydream,” and “rave,” and the noun הזייה is defined in various volumes as “delusion,” “hallucination,” “daydream,” “idle dream,” “fantasy,” and “delirium.”
Merriam-Webster affords the adjective “delirious” all the useful ambiguity that it affords “delusional.” It gives the meanings “of, relating to, or characteristic of delirium (delirious mutterings) or “affected with or marked by delirium (delirious with fever) (delirious fans).” It can be a useful synonym.
Sometimes we want to say unmistakably that something is hazui in the sense of belonging to the realm of delirium without belonging to the mind of any specific person or people. For example, the real-life sight of a donkey pulling a wagon made from half an old Subaru automobile is called a מחזה הזוי, a scene that is hazui, but we wouldn’t call it delusional or delirious and we don’t mean it’s imaginary. Sometimes the word “fantastic” is used, when the context makes it clear that praise is not intended. The variation “fantastical” is a way around the ambiguity. We also have adjectives that don’t include the implication that the mind is playing tricks: “bizarre,” “outré,” “ludicrous,” “implausible,” “absurd,” “outlandish,” and more. If it were up to me to translate the characterization of Olmert’s remarks, I think I’d opt for “bizarre.”
Every month, I invite readers not only to write to firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions for more words to discuss, but also to participate actively by providing comments, regarding the current month's word, in the space below. The website tallies the readers, so I know that you're out there and that I'm not delusional. Or that you're not delusional, depending on which definition is applied. If you have thoughts relevant to the translation of hazui, please do share them.