a different side of Israel

Linguistic Idiosyncrasies

By Debbie Gold Hadar

I love the way that language is allowed to flow freely from the mouths of those who live here, with little to no regard for its origins. It astounds me how much vernacular is carelessly thrown about and simply accepted. No question.

Am I being too obtuse? Allow me to clarify.

I do not refer to the beautiful modern language of Hebrew, that takes its origins from the classical version of the same language. (As with any derivative language, the similarities are huge, and the differences even huger. It’s like saying that “English English” and American English are the same. Ha!)

No, I refer to the Hebraicized English that has become part of the daily fabric of life in the Holy Land.

Here is a prime example. The verb “to discuss”. Correct Hebrew equivalent: “La-doon”. Vernacular (for the sake of this discussion) ” Le dass-kess”.

Say it out loud. You get it? Ridiculous!

Illustration: Phrases such as “Bo neshev al caffeh ve nedascess” (Let’s sit and discuss this issue over coffee) are rife; to this I can lay personal testament.

But this is the mere tip of the iceberg. And I don’t mean lettuce. There are some utter travesties of Heblish combinations that just make me laugh.

Years and years and oh good Lord, years ago, I lived on a kibbutz for a while, deep in the hottest recesses of the Beit She’an basin. It was a wonderful place where I learned a proper work ethic and much of my Hebrew. It was set up over 60 years ago by German and French pioneers, They had (still have) a particular aversion to speaking in any language other than proper and perfect approved-by-Eliezer-Ben-Yehudah officially sanctioned Hebrew.

I don’t think they have the foggiest notion how much English they incorporate into everyday life.

For example, I once rode on the back of a tractor on my way out to the Kerem (Vineyard). The tractor was making an awful, hissing and spluttering noise, which I, in my abject lack of knowledge of all things mechanical, presumed was normal. However, the kibbutznik companion shook his head, and muttered a stream of something part-sorrowful and part-frustrated.
“Problem?” I enquired helpfully.
The young kibbutznik adjusted his face to speak the pidgin English of which he was so proud.
“It is the bakkakkssell. It is… how you say? Rrrrrrrubbeeesh.”
“Bakkakkssell”? Did he mean “back axel”?, I ventured. He concurred. How absurd. Only to become far more so when he proceeded to the front of the vehicle and cursed something called the ” bakkakkssell ha kidmit”.
Lit. trans.: the back axel at the front.
I’ve never forgotten that one. Laugh? I nearly imploded.

Then, of course, during the time I spent on the same kibbutz several years later, at the beginning of my more permanent stay in Israel, directly following my aliyah, and prior to the next semester of Ulpan Etzion. After my first week’s work in the kitchens, my boss, a wonderful woman of French origin who went by the name of Ruti, invited me to her home on Shabbat afternoon for a cup of tea and an After Eight mint.

How did I know this particular specific detail? Simply because the question was put to me like this:

“Debbie, b’Shabbat acharei hatzaharayim, boy elenu habai’ta. Neshev, nesachek, venishteh cup of tea im After-Eight. (Emphasis added for effect.)

Lit. trans.: Debbie, this Shabbat afternoon, come over to our house. We’ll sit, we’ll talk, and we drink a cup of tea with an After Eight.

Incongruous doesn’t even begin…

My absolute favourite, however, was when discussing a decision that had to be made. Also on Kibbutz, also at work, but with a different person of authority, whose judgment I had inadvertently questioned. In a moment of passive-aggressive irrationality, he huffed and turned his back on me, saying:

“Lo echpat li. Zeh uptoyou.” (Lit. trans: I don’t care. It’s up to you.”)

I was too floored by this blatant Heblish to say anything. A rare sight indeed; yours truly, speechless. But there you have it. What it takes to shut me up — the atrocities committed in the name of communication.

Do I like this Heblish? Kinda. It amuses me, and has not proved entirely useless in the past. As for whether you like it… well, zeh uptoyou!


  1. All at OneJerusalem,

    Opening up msn to check my e-mail, I’ve just learned of the attack in Tel-Aviv. All of your names came to mind, EB (what does that stand for?), Jill, Lisa, Debbie, David. Because of this site, I feel like I have friends there, and this news has “hit so close to home” as never before.

    I just want you all to know, I’m praying for you and truly hope you all have a very blessed Pesach/Easter. Blessings don’t always “look” like we think they should.

    Numbers 6:24 – HaShem Bless,

    With His Love to all,


  2. We are all fine – thank you 🙂

  3. Thank you so much, Virginia… your warmth and thoughtfulness mean a great deal…



  4. Thank G-d you are all okay. Every time an attack like this happens, I worry about all the people I know in Israel.

  5. You’re so welcome Debbie, kisses back at ya…I guess that makes us kissin cousins :)So glad (thankful) you’re all okay. I have to tell ya, as much as communication facinates and often times amuses me, this piece is way over my head! Not only the Hebrew, the English too! And Heblish… I’m all for unity, but I’m not even sure what to make of that, sounds like the onset of a short circuit.

  6. Could someone please advise of the Hebrew word for “asshole”?

    Thanking you in advance.

  7. Miki — i believe “manyak” is the accepted equivalent. Or you could go for the German “Aaschloch”. Me, i don’t bother to break my teeth, and just use whichever language springs to my lips at the time.

  8. Dear Debbie – I try not to be one of those people who think everything is about me. So the first time I looked at this post w/comment 6 & 7, I thought; that’s not about me. Miki is just frustrated with someone in her life and wants to be able to express it in a way that they’ll understand. After all, my comment was not intended to be offensive in any way. Then last night I re-read the post and realized, really there was only one word I’d have to look up; vernacular. Then this morning when I was posting my prayer for the day, which began.. Ani Ahava Atah, Ani Ahava to wake.. on and on in English; Like a bolt of lightening it strikes me…Oh my gosh, it’s Heblish, am I “short circuiting? All I could think about was you and this post. So I read it again. You know me, I love stuff like this because I really want to learn the Hebrew language. Just one of the reasons, I really love this site. My response was so much more about where I was at (over tired) and totally unprepared for any more challenges (okay, okay and maybe just a tinge of envy), then it was about what you had written. So, if I did offend you, please forgive me. I really do appreciate the work that you do. And your willingness to share and to teach!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


© 2023

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑