by Mark L. Levinson
Back when most of us westerners didn’t know an ayatollah from a gladiola, a young Iranian woman came to visit my workplace in Haifa. Some of our business software interested the Shah’s government. The Iranian woman spoke with us in English, and she was enthusiastic about the English language.
“You have a word for everything!” she said. “You can say for example ‘I feel frustrated’ and everybody knows exactly what you mean. In Farsi, if we’re frustrated we have to say something like ‘I feel bad’ and then try to make up an explanation of what kind of bad.”
I was surprised because I thought everybody considers their own native language the most efficiently expressive.
The Iranian visitor came to mind when Karen Gold wrote in and suggested giving some space to the Hebrew word l’hitragesh להתרגש , a vague catchall verb that the multi-volume Alcalay dictionary defines simply as “to be excited.”
Karen was prompted by a message from Shlomit Cnaan asking the Jerusalem Translators Group to help her build a collection of what’s out there for l’hitragesh besides “excited,” “emotional,” “thrilled,” “breathless,” “moved,” and “touched.”
Like an Iranian who feels bad, an Israeli who mitragesh is not in a state that’s clearly explained by the word. At a wedding — as Shlomit wrote in her message — “everyone is mitragshim on subtly different levels — think about the bride’s mother’s hitragshut as opposed to that of the bridesmaid, just for instance.” Or think about a grandmother who mitrageshet upon receiving a birthday present from her eight-year-old granddaughter. She doesn’t feel and behave the same as an eight-year-old who mitrageshet upon receiving a birthday present from her grandmother.
I looked through the rest of my print dictionaries for hitragesh — and nirgash נרגש, while I was at it. The dictionaries showed no significant difference in meaning between those two forms, the reflexive and the passive, except that they tended to define the passive form adjectivally. If anyone distinguishes between the connotations of hitragesh and nirgash, I’d be delighted to see an explanation in the comment space below.
Under nirgash, the big Alcalay dictionary provided a few additional words that work in some contexts: “agitated,” “nervous,” and “affectionate.”
On line, the Morfix and Babylon dictionaries listed familiar definitions but Morfix also had “flustered” to add and Babylon had “aroused,” “astir,” “turbulent,” “fervent,” “feverish,” “feverous,” “overwrought,” “agog,” and “delirious.”
In the 2005 cartoon movie Robots, a handsome male robot gives the threatened robot community a new lease on life and an admiring young female robot says “I’m getting all static-y just thinking about it,” which is mitrageshet in the Hebrew subtitles. I guess the movie wasn’t popular enough to inspire kids around the English-speaking world to say “I’m getting all static-y” when something filled them with admiration or enthusiasm. It would have been a nice item of slang, although the proper spelling would be “staticky.” (We do have rules for these constructions.)
How is it that I, an old geezer, quote the Robots movie? Thanks to Reverso.net, which I’ve mentioned in previous columns. It has a large translation corpus which is heavy on subtitles. It lists a similar but non-robotic line from a 2006 TV movie called Jesse Stone: Night Passage. “Did you see Cissy get all wiggly listening to Joe?”
Each instance in Reverso belongs to a very specific context, the translators don’t mind rendering the language freely, and often it’s dialogue so we do get a lot of slang. And the examples are likely to be translations into Hebrew, as in the cases above, rather than from Hebrew.
In addition to the many definitions above, l’hitragesh in Reverso can refer to being “amped up,” “pumped,” “stoked,” “jazzed,” “aroused,” “overstimulated,” “enthusiastic,” “passionate,” “turned on,” “carried away,” or “going crazy.”
You can be “busting,” “swooning,” “overwhelmed,” “gushing like a teenager,” “giddy,” “getting weak in the knees,” “getting chills,” “getting tingles,” “overexcited,” “worked up,” “in a flurry,” or “elated.”
You can be “jittery,” “uptight,” “anxious,” “getting butterflies,” “panicking,” “scared,” “wound up,” “alarmed”, or “on pins and needles.”
You can be “getting misty,” “getting mushy,” or “tearing up.”
You can be “mad,” “hurt,” “bothered,” “upset,” “het up,” or “making a fuss.”
You can be “tripping,” “high,” “jumping out of your skin,” or “flipping out.”
I would have been tickled to see some English words used that sound like l’hitragesh, such as “rage” and “gush”; and indeed the Hebrew verb root is sometimes associated specifically with people rushing forth in zealous crowds. But only in older Hebrew.
Please use the space below for comments about this month’s word. I’m sure that even Reverso hasn’t found all the possible definitions. And if you’d like to suggest a different word or phrase for discussion, please write to me at email@example.com An index of words and phrases discussed so far is here.