Translatable but Debatable — שקול shakool

If the later part of the Zionist Union’s recent election campaign was steered by guest flacks from America as the stories say, I wonder whose idea the poster was that called Isaac Herzog שקול ואחראי  — shakool and akhra’i.  The word akhra’i is “responsible;” that’s a one-to-one translation in either direction.  But what would an American say that means shakool?

The dictionary definitions of shakool tend to apply more comfortably to a decision than to a decision-maker.  It is, after all, the passive form of the verb “to weigh” so by extension it naturally means “well-considered” or “calculated.”  I imagine that adjectives like shakool — and נועז (no’az), the grammatically passive adjective that means “daring” — must have migrated from first describing people’s thoughts and actions to later also describing the people themselves.  The Even-Shoshan dictionary, which likes to quote examples from scriptural and literary sources, doesn’t even list shakool as applying to people.

Babylon’s definition of shakool lists a few more synonyms that apply to decisions:  “advised,” “measured,” “reasoned,” “politic,” “sound.”  And some that apply to people:  “sober,” “prudent,” “circumspect,” “mature.”  Morfix has “reasonable” and “level-headed.”  Oxford adds “balanced,” although the direct translation of “balanced” into Hebrew is  מאוזן (m’uzan).

What would you call your candidate on an English language poster?  Not “sober” or “balanced” or “reasonable,” in my opinion.  They seem like faint praise.  “At least he’s not unreasonable, imbalanced, or drunk.”

The adjective “mature,” although as a translation of shakool it’s only approximate, would normally be okay for a 54-year-old candidate like Herzog but not when up against a 65-year-old incumbent with whiter hair and far more experience.

I think that deep down, people want a candidate to be prudent and circumspect, but those aren’t good words for a poster.  Insufficient prudence and circumspection are things you get blamed for if they become apparent, but the ideal candidate hides prudence and circumspection behind a show of eager readiness.

Of all the terms, I like “level-headed” best, but it isn’t really the same thing as shakool.  To be level-headed is to look at things objectively and without interference from emotion, whereas — to me at least — to be shakool implies, in addition, the habit of assessing how the various factors balance out.

Not only the election posters called Herzog shakool and akhra’i.  Ehud Barak went on record calling him shakool, m’nuseh (experienced), and akhra’i.  Although I never saw the poster translated, Barak’s endorsement has appeared in English.  The Jerusalem Post renders it “ balanced, experienced and responsible.”  Ynet says “level-headed, experienced and responsible.” says “steady, experienced and responsible.”  Haaretz, which of course really likes Herzog, says “sage, experienced and responsible.”  Arutz Sheva, I’m afraid, says “measured, experienced and responsible.”  I don’t think that “measured” in English has made the transition from describing people’s actions to also describing the people themselves.

To describe a person who makes well calculated decisions, unfortunately we can’t use the word “calculating” because for some reason although a calculated decision is fine, a calculating person is devious.  You’re welcome to use the space below for other suggestions of how to use English to describe someone shakool — a thinker who takes the time to balance factors objectively.  If you have another word you’d like to see opened for discussion here, please write to 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.