Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


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Where do the swear words in Modern Hebrew come from? Do any of them originate in older stages of Hebrew?

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As a student many years ago, I shared a workspace for a while with a Syrian student by name of Mahmood.

He was wary of me at first when he learned that I’m Israeli, but mellowed when he saw that I bore him no ill will. He only really relaxed, however, when I revealed to him that most of our swear words in Hebrew are Arabic.

‘Really?’ he asked, , intensely curious. ‘Give me some examples.’

So I told him of some of the obvious ones, such as k** u****k and in**-abuk (this is a family website, so I won’t spell them out), and more flowery ones, such as yaḥreb beitak (‘May your house be destroyed’). I also told him that there are Arabic expressions that we use not for swearing, but just as slang—such as tizzi**bi.

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What does the Leviathan symbolize in the Hebrew Bible?

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The Leviathan (לויתן) is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible on only a handful of occasions—in the Books of Isaiah, Psalms, and Job—as a generic sea monster, as a way of demonstrating God’s power in being able to create such a creature and to ‘play’ with it as though it were a pet:

לויתן זה, יצרת לשחק בו (Psalms 104:26)

(‘there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein’)

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What are things that should be avoided in academic writing?

[A2A] Are you seated? Then we’ll begin.

Here are some the major hazards that I tell my clients to look out for and avoid:

  • Overly verbose and latinate language
  • Non-idiomatic language
  • Ambiguous wording
  • Spiral writing
  • Mowing the lawn twice
  • Lost subject or object

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