Translatable But Debatable - Livui ליווי

Translatable but Debatable

The little apartment building I live in was renovated by a stout crew of workers who, judging from the ethnic mix they represented, might have been on a break from chasing Moby Dick.  They were led by a Hebrew-speaker from the school of hard knocks who saw to it that everything was done to standard, and there was also a certified engineer whose job was to come around and see to it that the seeing to it that everything was done to standard was done to standard.  The engineer was riding herd on the project, as we would say in American slang.  He was shepherding the project.  In Hebrew what he was doing was ליווי of the project — escorting the project, as it were.

But when push comes to shove, if your officially assigned visiting construction engineer finds that there’s too much oatmeal in the concrete, he can force the contractor to correct the work.  He has authority, so in this case I would confidently call him, in English, a supervisor.  A supervising engineer.

What’s harder to translate — and I’ll be delighted if somebody tells me no, it’s easy, there’s an exact English word for it — is the kind of ליווי in the business world that involves only jawboning.  I know lots of software technical writers, for example, who מלווים the effort of writing the messages that the software displays on the screen.  They provide advice and they suggest corrections.  They may not have authority to demand any changes to bad messages, but they have the chance to kibbitz.  I’ve never seen the word kibbitzer on any organizational chart, though.

What, then, is the general term for that would fit a guy whose function involves no hands-on participation, no hiring, firing, budget-making, imposition of schedules, or issuance of commands, and no PowerPoint presentations, but who nonetheless is supposed to be listened to seriously because he knows the stuff? 

The Nina Davis glossary (distributed at a recent Israel Translators Association convention) suggests that ליווי of a project may be “ongoing assistance, support, guidance, monitoring.”  They’re all good descriptive words for what goes on.  I could even see calling somebody a monitor if the ליווי he does is of the supervisory engineer’s type — not getting in on the creative side, just judging the results.  If the מלווה is also helping ideas to percolate, I still don’t know what the noun for the מלווה  would be.  An in-house consultant, a sounding board, a nestor?

Comments on ליווי and the מלווים, in this sense of the word, are welcome below.  You don’t have to be an elephant to comment.  If there’s another word you’d like to see discussed, please don’t start a tangent below.  Just write to me at — I’m always looking for additional debatable words — and if your suggestion is used, you’ll receive due credit.


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.