Notes by Autumn Light

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

What is the Hebrew word for “excellent”, “amazing”, or “awesome?”

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Standard Hebrew for ‘excellent’ is metzuyan or me’uleh, but if you’re looking for colloquial equivalents of awesome (or the British brilliant), that’s more complicated. As in English (and, I imagine, any other language), the word you use tends to use date you, and in some cases, pigeonhole you socioeconomically, as well:

  • In the 1940s and ‘50s, people would say yabahyay, which is Palestinian Arabic.
  • In the late 1970s, the word magniv (lit., ‘stealing’) came into use and, like the English cool, is still used.
  • In the ’80s and ‘90s, the fashion among the youth was to use Arabic words: sabbabah, aḥlah, or (vulgar) aḥusharmutah
  • The ‘90s saw the welcome resurgence of proper Hebrew words: magniv, and mehamem (‘stunning’)—or just gadol
  • The 2000s saw the introduction of phrases: sof haderekh (‘end of the road’), and the ubiquitous ḥaval al hazman (‘[I would tell you, but it would be] a waste of time’). Youngsters liked giz’i (‘pure-bred’)
  • Today’s youth favour words such as nadir (rare) and shlemut (‘perfection’).

If you’re the wrong age or socioeconomic class, the wrong word would make you look ridiculous, so to be on the safe side, stick to the words in bold above.

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Author: יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

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