Translatable but Debatable: מהלך (mahalach)

I was walking west up Ahuza Street in Raanana, a dog was roaming free in a weedy lot farther uphill, and a boy of ten or so stood on the sidewalk ahead of me, eying the dog.  As I came alongside him, he fell into step at exactly my pace and with neither a word nor a glance to me he remained at my elbow until the lot with the dog was quite behind us.  I thought of remarking, “Yeah, I never much liked dogs either,” but I thought he would be less comforted than embarrassed that I understood his maneuver.  In Hebrew I suppose I would say his מהלך.

The best I have for this meaning of מהלך in any dictionary is step or move (chess, checkers) at  A step is an action directed at a goal but covering less than the whole distance to it.  A move can be much the same but often with an opponent or obstacle in the way.  A מהלך is always thought out with a goal in mind, I believe, but it doesn’t necessarily have the incompleteness that a step has.

If the candy bar I paid for has fallen only halfway down the chute of the vending machine, and I bang the machine, that’s a מהלך.  Another word in English would be stratagem.

When I eat the candy bar, that’s not a מהלך.  Not every action is.

The news says:  מהלך נגד הארכת ההקפאה חברי כנסת בליכוד מגבשים.  You could call that a gambit. But if the מהלך is not to be presented as cunning or questionable, then translations like stratagem, gambit, ploy, and even maneuver may be better avoided.  The plain terms move or step could work, but I think elegant newspeople might pluralize them, MKs plan moves against freeze extension, because moves, at least of the chess and checker type, do come in a sequence.  Or a similar English-language headline could say MKs plan new move or MKs plan first move to acknowledge the idea of sequentiality without pluralizing.

Recently I translated a page that mentioned an employee whose conditions of payment were changed; let’s say for the sake of the example that he went from part-time to full-time.  It’s a מהלך that had certain implications.  The sneaky words like gambit don’t fit it, but you could get away with step; it’s a career step, as it were.  Or it’s a transition from one condition to another, meaning a move no longer in the sense of chess or checkers but merely the stepping of a shoe across a line, as between past and future.

Comments regarding מהלך are welcome below.  If there’s a different word you’d like to see discussed, let me know at and you’ll be credited when and if it’s featured.

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.