The Hebrew-Israeli Language

February 27, 2009

There is a fascinating documentary series airing now in Israel that explores the evolution of modern day Hebrew. Below is an outtake from Haaretz:

Hebrew: ‘London, Corner of Ben Yehuda’
For the proponents of good Hebrew, and also for those who are interested in an intelligent, horizon-expanding television program, Channel 10 is now broadcasting a weekly series (on Wednesdays) entitled “London, Corner of Ben Yehuda.” In the series, veteran journalist Yaron London examines the ways in which our use of the Hebrew language has changed, from its revival by Eliezer Ben Yehuda to the present day. Along the way, London addresses subjects such as the generation gap, slang and “sub-languages” – including those of the Internet and of the settlers in the territories. A fascinating conversation between London and the writer Meir Shalev is a balm for every language-loving dinosaur, as London calls himself. In the second episode, which deals with the language of love – or, as poet Michal Zamir puts it more accurately, the language of erotica – London turns out to be an excellent writer of love poems (he wrote two especially for the program). And he proves, with his body and voice, that curiosity, intelligence and articulateness are enough to turn him, too, despite his age and pot belly, into an erotic object. (Neri Livneh)

Beware of plastic begs

October 2, 2008

There are some common mistakes Israelis make when writing English. Here is a great status update on Facebook but what makes it perfect is the response. The status says “begs” instead of “bags” and the responder repeated the mistake!

Other golden ones are “sabmit” for “submit,” “massages” for “messages” and “cat and paste” for “cut and paste.”

Share yours in the comments!

Bang – multi-purpose liquid

June 26, 2008

From our friend Esther: “Products like this one are the reason Americans will always laugh at Israelis.”

Did you say Un-Alphabet?

April 18, 2007

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.


March 18, 2007

Coming from Texas, I’m used to hearing “dubya” for the letter W.

In the Hi-tech world in the English, we shortened “www” to “dub dub dub” — it’s just easier to say.

Israelis in the Hi-tech world shorten it to “wah wah wah.”

wah wah wah? wah wah wee wah!

The United State of America

March 12, 2007

A classic mistake that Israeli make when speaking English is – for whatever reason – leaving off the “S” at the end of word that should end with one.

Get used to hearing Israeli talking about flying on airplane (American Airline?) to place like Fairbank, Alaska and Saint Peterburg, Russia, after graduating from Tuft university.

Share your S-less word in the comment section…

Big Business

March 6, 2007

Many global companies have offices in Israel. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Israelis know how to pronounce their names. This tidbit comes from Zabajnik Rafi:

Israelis pronounce the name of the accounting firm Ernst & Young as “Ernest Young.” Even people who work there pronounce it like that! Try it for yourself, call them up and smile as the receptionist answers the phone by saying “Shalom, Ernest Young.”

On de face

March 2, 2007

Ever wonder how in the world the expression “על הפנים” (al-ha-panim) came to be the #1 expression to use when something sucks? In English, it means, “on the face” (wiz izraeli accent – ‘on de fayce’).

Please help me solve this riddle.

Well now…that’s not very nice!

March 2, 2007

When an Israeli is frustrated and has “had enough,” you’ll hear him or her exclaim “די!” which means “Enough!” and when pronounced, sounds like “DIE!”

If you listen closely, you will hear this expression quite a lot in one day…at the supermarket when someone’s toddler won’t stop begging for Bisli or at the bus stop when kids are being nudniks…or perhaps at a stop light when a young lady is fussing at her boyfriend who doesn’t know when to leave her alone.

For someone who isn’t familiar with Hebrew, it appears as if everyone walks around Israel telling people to die. Talk about shocking!

What will be really shocking is when the olim go back to their hometowns for a visit and as soon as they get frustrated with their nagging parents or annoying siblings, they’ll exclaim, “די!” out of habit…it probably won’t go over very well!

I scream, you scream…

March 1, 2007


The Hebrew expression for “third time’s a charm” is pa’am shlishi glida which translates to “third time is ice cream.”

It comes from the time of the British Mandate when the English would say, “If I see you a third time, I’ll scream.” Israelis heard “ice cream” and stuck with it.

Thanks for reminding us of this one, Brad. It’s one of my favorites!

Ve Gaits da Fashtunkeneh Puncher Makher

February 27, 2007

It’s really funny when English gets thrown into the Hebrew vocabulary. It’s really really ridiculously funny when Yiddish becomes part of the conversational Hebrew Vocabulary.

The word most commonly used for “flat tire” is Puncher (Puncture) –


It would just make too much sense to call a tire shop by the Hebrew term … חנות צמיגים (Khanut Tzmigim). What do you think a tire repair shop should be called in Hebrew … a תיקוני צמיגים (Tikuneh Tzmigim)? Or maybe a half Hebrew/half Yiddish phrase … תיקוני פאנצ’רים (Tikuneh Puncherim)?

I’m not sure what Ben Yehuda was thinking, but in Hebrew they translate the Repair Shop to Yiddish too.

פאנצ’ר מאכר – Puncher Makher

That’s the funniest thing since I searched “De Gantzeh Megilleh” at Google Yiddish.

Grab-bag from Brad

February 27, 2007

Brad writes in with some great insights into life in Israel (thank him by adding him as a friend on Facebook, he needs more Zabajnikim):

-Directly translating from Hebrew to English (or vice versa) often gets Israelis into trouble. For instance, when having a conversation with an Israeli in English, if he or she want to show agreement they might say “me either” instead of “me too”

-The Israeli word for any breakfast cereal is cornflakes

The Israeli word for potato chips is usually doritos

The Israeli word for snacks is munchies (like the stoner condition of being hungry)

-Although Israelis have a word for refrigerator – מקרר (mikarer) – many (especially older Israelis) will say frigedor

-If you order “nachos” in Israel, you will get tortilla chips with salsa…or possibly ketchup…but never with cheese

-Salsa is often called rotev salsa… which means “sauce sauce” in a Hebrew-Spanish combo

-The Israeli term for “last minute” is daka 90, which comes from soccer games being 90 minutes long

-“Bagel” means bagel and “bageleh” means pretzel

    Pronunciation, take 3

    February 25, 2007

    To hitch a ride – “take a tremp”

    Subaru (as in the car) – soo-BA-roo

    Video – veed-yo

    Balloon – bah-lon

    Listen – lees-Ten

    Shit – sheet

    Sheet – sheet

    …as we saw last week, with “bitch” and “beach,” Israelis can’t pronounce the difference between “shit” and “sheet” either (thanks to lonleymanofcake for the reminder)

    …also, as we saw in part 1, Israelis love pronouncing the silent letters in words (first it was the middle “L” in lincoln and now it is the “T” in listen)

    That’s because it is תרכיז צפרדעים, Austin

    February 24, 2007

    We all remember the scene in Austin Powers when Austin drinks Fat Bastard’s stool sample and he says … “This coffee tastes like sh*t.”

    Israelis had koolaid-like drink mixes called זיפ – zip, only their zip tasted like crap. The kids would say “this tastes like תרכיז צפרדעים” which translates to … concentrated frogs.

    Your momma’s in a cast

    February 23, 2007

    Remember “your momma” jokes? These are some that Israelis grew up on …

    אמא שלך בגבס – your momma’s in a cast

    אמא שלך בגהה – your momma’s in Geha (hospital for the insane)

    This one’s my favorite …

    אמא שלך בקונטרה בס – your momma’s in a double bass (the musical instrument)

    What car do you drive?

    February 23, 2007

    Official Mitsubishi spellingI won’t get into the various stigmas or classifications done here in Israel according to the car you drive. That is a completely separate Zabaj post. However, on top of having to deal with that, since I drive a Mitsubishi (מיצובישי) I also have to hear it mispronounced and mis-spelled a lot, including at the official Mitsubishi garage I take my car to be fixed at.

    The most popular is Mitsibushi/מיציבושי (mee-tsee-boo-shee)

    Followed by Mitsubushi/מיצובושי (mee-tsoo-boo-shee)

    You’ll find it misspelled like this on any and all of the car selling sites including Yad2 and MyCar.

    This is so widespread that even in the official Israel Trade & Commerce publications they seem to be making these mistakes, writing Mitsibushi” on their English-language list of Australian car manufacturers.

    Is it cuz they associate it with Japan and the word sushi?

    Hi-tech hebrification

    February 22, 2007

    Israelis that work in the hi-tech sector have become extremely lazy. On top of the general laziness of ordering in lunch, sitting in a chair for 10 hours straight, and IMing your cubicle mate instead of talking, Israeli hi-tech workers have really become lazy with their Hebrew by taking English words and hebrefying them by adding a “le” (lamed) in front.

    Here are some classic examples:

    Hi-tech Hebrew English Real Hebrew (from Babylon)

    לקנפג (le-kan-feg) to configure לעצב

    לסמלץ (le-sam-lets) to simulate לחקות

    לרנדר (le-ren-der) to render להפוך; להביא למצב

    לקדד (le-kah-ded) to code לרשום בצופן

    The list is endless… For more giggles here is a detailed IT English-Hebrew Glossary. Check it.


    February 22, 2007

    Wanna hear something funny? Ask an Israeli to say Massachusetts …


    Take 1:

    Take 2:

    Take 3:

    Take 4 (not gettin’ anywhere with this damn thing):

    Hey Rastaman, what’s that in your hair?

    February 21, 2007


    As an avid lover of reggae music, this one makes me crack up.I don’t know how or why but somehow Israelis assume that since a person with dreadlocks is often called a Rasta or Rastaman, then automatically the dreadlocks in their hair are “rastot” (rah-stoht). But last time I checked the hebrew definition for dreadlocks I got:

    בשיער, צורת תסרוקת של תלתלים ארוכים
    וסבוכים דמויי חבל נפוצה בין השחורים בג’מייקה

    And to make it more confusing, Rastot is also the plural of Rasta or Rastaman, so when there are many Rastas around there are lots of Rastot.

    If you’re really interested in getting your own ‘rastot’, you can go to which advertises itself as THE place for “professional dreadlock preparation.” In Hebrew:

    הכנת רסטות מקצועיות

    I have pee

    February 21, 2007

    RestRoomsAmericans know there are different times for saying “I gotta pee,” “I’m going to use the restroom,” “I need to wee wee,” or “May I be excused?”

    I know that I can tell my friends, “I gotta pee, I’ll be right back,” but I wouldn’t tell a first date “I’m gonna drain my lizard.”

    Israelis have funny ways for saying “I gotta pee.” The first time I heard this, I was on a date. We were having a great time hanging out, and this gorgeous Israeli girl tells me …

    יש לי פיפי –

    Huh?!? You got what? I didn’t know how to respond to that. Apperently that’s how you say “I gotta pee” in Hebrew… “I have pee.” Today I know nothing else is approprate to say in Hebrew. If you say אני הולך לשרותים … “I’m going to the restroom,” you sound like a 4 year old to Israelis. The only appropriate way to say it in Hebrew is “Yesh Li Peepee.”

    So all you Americakim out there, next time you need to pee, bite down hard on your tongue to keep from cracking up … and tell your Israeli friend … יש לי פיפי