Translatable but Debatable — הגזמת

Translatable but Debatable — הגזמת

Being a typical husband, I overbuy.  If my wife asks me to pick up a kilo of tomatoes, I’ll come home with closer to three kilos and she’ll say הגזמת.

The basic Hebrew-to-English dictionary definition for להגזים is to exaggerate.  But in everyday English, exaggeration is a more limited concept than הגזמה.  If I bring home two extra kilos of tomatoes and my wife tells her friends I brought back five extra kilos, she’s exaggerating.  But by simply buying too many tomatoes, I wasn’t exaggerating.  The Babylon dictionary says that to exaggerate is to “overstate, make something seem greater or more important than it really is; make larger than normal.”  The Alcalay dictionary, in defining הגזמה, mentions “hyperbole.”

Morfix defines להגזים as “to exaggerate” and additionally as “(colloquial) to overdo it, to go beyond the bounds of reason.”

In the news, you often see “exaggerate” used inappropriately to translate להגזים.  For example, an Israeli colonel was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying, “We did not exaggerate in our use of firepower.”  Presumably he didn’t mean exaggeration in the sense of trying to inflate the story, he meant simply “We did not use too much firepower.”

The verb “exaggerate” gets a little slippery when it takes an object — when you exaggerate something, or something is exaggerated.  Suppose that in order to get a laugh my wife acts out the story of the tomatoes.  She says “He came in like this” and she walks lopsidedly like someone with one hand dragged floorward by a heavy sack.  On the one hand, you could say she exaggerated my entrance for comic effect.  On the other hand, you could say that she exaggerated her performance for comic effect.  The verb takes both objects, applying itself to each in a slightly different sense.  One is Babylon’s “overstate” definition, the other is Babylon’s “make larger than normal” definition.

Getting back to the army, suppose that some kids are throwing rocks at soldiers, the soldiers disperse the kids, and there are complaints that the soldiers were too violent.  Oddly, the complaints will say that the soldiers’ response was exaggerated, meaning it was larger than reasonable, while the army will say that the soldiers’ response was exaggerated, meaning it was reported hyperbolically.

What’s the right word in English instead of “exaggerate” when we want to say הגזמת and mean that what you did was excessive?  Some would say “you went to extremes.”  Or the prefix “over” can attach to almost whatever you do too much of — overeat, overworry, overtweet, or just generally go overboard.  “Overreach” covers a multitude of הגזמות.

But can you overexaggerate?  After all, any exaggeration is already excessive.  A few opinions on overexaggeration appear at .

As always, Translatable But Debatable welcomes comments (below) on the word at hand, and suggestions (to ) of new words to discuss.


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.