Did you say Un-Alphabet?

A friend and I were talking (in Hebrew) when I heard him say “alphabet” in a sentence. Yeah, the English word “alphabet” … pronounced “alphabet” … just likeUn-Alphabet we say it in English.

I said … “Alphabet?”

And he said … “No, Un-Alphabet”.

So I said … “What the crap is an Un-Alphabet?”

In case you were wondering, the word אלפבית (alphabet) in Hebrew has no meaning, but the word אנאלפבית (pronounced Un-alphabet) means illiterate. I’ve asked some friends how you say “literate,” and they told me there is no word for “literate.” I looked it up in the dictionary, and apparently they’re right…there is no word for “literate.” If you look up the word “literate” in the dictionary, it’s the same word for “learned” (Melumad) which generally refers to biblical learning.

Some other funny nouns …

Narcoman – Is not an Israeli super hero with special Narc powers. It’s a drug addict.

Alcoholist – Is not a scholar who majored in Alcohol (chemist, biologist, physicist, psychologist, etc.). It’s an alcoholic.

Fire-o-man – Is not a fireman. It’s a pyromaniac. I think us anglos screwed this one up. In Hebrew, a fireman is a (mechabeh esh … a fire putter outer). Our firemen should be called Fire-putter-outers, but that just sucks to say.

20 Responses to Did you say Un-Alphabet?

  1. Johnny Kosher says:

    pyromaniac noun פִּירוֹמָן, מי שסובל מדחף חולני להצית אש

    the melingo translation says its pyroman

  2. Liron Newman says:

    Actually, the word אלפבית (Alphabet) *has* a meaning… The same as in English. I could say האלפבית הלטיני, the Latin alphabet.

  3. Ethan says:

    mind you there is a word (term, actually) for a literate person: בר אוריין. it’s of Aramaic origin, and literally means something along the lines of enlightened. (note that the Aramaic word Bar is the same as Ben in hebrew – son, but isn’t always used in that exact meaning. A mortal, for example, is a בן תמותה – one who can die. Likewise, the בר אוריין isn’t a reference to the son of a lamp).

    As for the pyromania – in Hebrew, illiterate people might call one with a fire fetish a fyroman, assuming it originates from the English word Fire (they’re vaguely correct, as the two words share a common origin), but the real term is Pyroman. Hebrew simply removes the “iac” off of crazinesses, and turns the loon into a regular Joe. Same with the Narcoman: according to this, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/narcomaniac, a narcomaniac’s a guy with an abnormal craving for a drug. so the Hebrew conversion may seem weird, but at least it’s consistent.

  4. In French, we say “pyromane” and “narcomane”, pronouced peeroman and narcoman. It’s the English version that’s weird not the Hebrew one.

  5. Oh and for illiterate, we say “analphabete”.

  6. dlowbeer says:

    I just had a quick read through the latest posts, and Liron Newman: You seem to be a constant, occasionally vituperatively so, apologist for Israel. The authors of this blog seem to consistently say “Hehehe, Israel is so silly!” and you seem to consistently say “Well, not really, actually it’s quite sensible”. So my question: Are you some kind of infiltrator? Are you actually an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ new “Blog-Watch” Department, out defending our State from its detractors?

    Cos if you are, that’s kind of cool. I want in.

  7. Liron Newman says:

    Well, honestly, I like this blog and I think it’s funny (There are many posts to which I *didn’t* comment, or commented saying that it is funny), but sometimes it just feels as if the view of Israeli Hebrew presented here is based on lack of sufficient knowledge of the language, misheard words, specific instances of mistakes, etc., and I just don’t like inaccuracies. I think Israelis do many stupid things, most of which you must laugh at (Because it’s either that or start crying), and I love to read/hear about it from a “foreigner” who doesn’t take some if it for granted like I do (Not that these guys are foreigners in my eyes, but they were until not long ago, that’s what makes this blog possible), because it’s funny. But when it’s just a misunderstanding, that just feel… I don’t know, condescending maybe? Too harsh a word. But it’s like when all those computer-illiterate politicians talk about the “internets” and “a series of tubes”, they don’t know anything and they talk as if they know enough not only to understand, but to make decisions. That’s gotta piss you off.. So here it’s not *that* bad, of course, but it’s of a similar nature.

    Also, I constantly feel like there’s this underlying assumption that every Latin-sounding word came from English, and that’s just wrong. And condescending (Again – IMHO). A great example is this posts with the two comments just above yours.

    Damn, this reply turned out to be far too long and serious.

  8. I’m guessing that narcoman was created by working backwards from “narcomania” (and pyroman – pyromania as well.) But we do find -man as a suffix in “chervra-man”…

  9. Eyal says:

    You should probably know that the word analphabet has exactly the same meaning in English


  10. Liron,

    you didn’t understand me. I was actually saying that they were not english words… I also think that there is an assumption that every latin word comes form english, and I was saying exactly the opposite. I guess I didn’t express myself correctly. Oh and I’m French, so I would never think that anyway!

  11. Jotham says:

    Liron, the Hebrew word for alphabet is alephbet. A tiny, yet crucial difference. You will never hear האלפָבית הלטיני, but האלֶפְבית הלטיני.

  12. Liron Newman says:

    Miss Worldwide – I was not referring to you, but to the original post. I mentioned your comments as supporting my claim. 🙂

    Jotham – You’re correct, “aleph-bet” is the proper word, but I have heard enough people using “alphabet” in Hebrew to consider it a de-facto word.

    Also, I must admit that while it’s kind of weird for me to refer to the ABC as “aleph-bet” (Because it’s not aleph and bet! It’s A and B), it doesn’t bother me at all to refer to it as an alphabet, even though it’s not alpha and beta. 🙂

  13. assaf says:

    Literate=*melumad* (מלומד)
    I guess you should get a new dictionary…

  14. I ARE ISRAELY says:

    I’m afraid you have been miss lead, it’s not un-alphabet. it’s anal-phabet describing someone that need to get some alphabetic education fast.
    it might not be the source intention of the word but this is what most of us sun gazing fools mean when we say it. I swear look it up !

  15. I can certainly understand why someone would write the word “un-alphabet” instead of “analphabet,” which makes it sound like a barely legal movie about learning Hebrew.

    And although I enjoy the poetry of “fire-putter-outer,” you could also use the word “extinguisher,” even though that evokes the image of firemen shaped like canisters of chemicals with a pressurized lever on their heads and hoses for arms.

  16. alex says:

    Excellent web site I will be visiting often.

  17. yang says:

    Good site – you\’re a pretty good writer.e

  18. man de hu says:

    “Miss Worldwide Says:
    19 April, 2007 at 1:32 pm
    Oh and for illiterate, we say “analphabete”.”

    Indeed, but just as in Hebrew there is no one-word equivalent for *literate*.

  19. Netanya Hoffman says:

    This post was SO funny but all the comments ruined it.

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