Translatable But Debatable - כוחניות (kohaniut, kochaniut, kokhaniut)

Last Tuesday my horoscope said:  התגוננו מפני אנשים שחושבים שעל ידי כוחניות יצליחו להכניע אתכם.

That is to say, defend yourselves against the bullies.

The world is full of כוחניות and we recognize it when we see it, from the toddler who forcefully monopolizes the most desirable toy car to the militia that calls itself a political party and wins an election by intimidation.  The word is quite an accretion, being formed from the noun כוח plus an extra noun suffix, plus an adjectival suffix, plus another noun suffix.

My paper dictionaries are too old, I regret, to think it has anything to do with bullies.  The three-volume Alkalay refers the reader from כֹחניות to כֹחיות, which it says is the same as כֹחנות, both carrying two meanings.  One meaning is vigor — כֹחניות as a benign term, reflecting the way Popeye handles his strength rather than the way Bluto does.  The other meaning is potentiality.  In fact, Alkalay defines כֹחני as potential, the adjective.

Legal translators may be the ones most familiar with the contrast בכח ובפועל, meaning both potential and actual. I suppose that כוח means both power and potential because potential consists of the power to turn into something, or to come into existence.  An example from the web: ויתור על כל התביעות והמחלוקות הקיימות, הצפויות, והידועות בכוח ובפועל.

You can find בכח ובפועל translated, perhaps too loosely, as in theory and in practice; also, certainly too loosely, as de facto and de jure.

The online dictionaries, Morfix and Babylon, do provide what is now the everyday meaning of כוחניות.  Morfix says belligerence, aggression. Babylon says aggressiveness, dominance. Since aggression is an act and aggressiveness is a quality, I like Babylon’s suffix better.  And I wouldn’t say dominance, I’d say domineeringness. But the way I understand it — and you may or may not agree — כחניות isn’t just about domineering or attacking as a pattern of behavior, it’s up there on the philosophical level as a system of belief.  It’s a guiding principle that embraces power as the means and more power as the goal.  The closest notion I can find in English, is kratocracy, “Rule by the strong; a system of governance where those strong enough to seize power through physical force, social maneuvering or political cunning.”  An extremely obscure term for an extremely common phenomenon.  You’ll notice the repetitiveness inside the word, by the way.  Just as “democracy” means people power in Greek, “kratocracy” means power power.

Next month, d.v., I will consider a term from the opposite sphere, אזלת יד.  If you’d like to comment in advance on translating that term, or suggest another term for a future column, 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.