Q&A: What words or phrases tell me you’re from Israel?

Oh boy. Where to start?

The following examples are all drawn from my Hebrew-language guide to my Israeli clients on correct English usage, אל ףדיח (Al-Fadiḥ—stylised Arabic-Hebrew, meaning ‘Don’t Screw-Up’).

Like most non-native English speakers, Israelis will tend to make certain errors based on the use in their native language—such as:

  • Placing the dollar sign after the number, rather than before (e.g. 5$)
  • Saying cynical when they mean ‘ironic’, or ‘sardonic’
  • Saying mythical instead of ‘mythological’, or even ‘mystical’
  • Saying optimistic when they mean a positive, or rose-coloured, outlook
  • Saying idyllic when they mean ‘ideal’
  • Saying research when they mean a single study
  • Saying mail when they mean ‘email’
  • Using sympathetic in the French sense of sympathique (‘nice’)
  • Pronouncing Stephen as Steffen
  • Always referring to non-medical doctorate holders as ‘Dr.’ when a post-nominal title is more appropriate (‘Joe Bloggs PhD’)
  • Saying concrete when they mean ‘tangible’, or ׳actual׳ (e.g. ‘This doesn’t happen with concrete people’):

In addition, there are more subtle indications that are typical of many non-native Latin script users, such as thinking that abbreviations or initialisms involve periods after each letter, except the last one—e.g. L.t.d (instead of Ltd.), M.A, D.N.A:

Then there are distinct carryovers from Hebrew that are evident in the speech and writing of Israeli academics and journalists, such as:

  • Referring to countries as states
  • Using the word include in the sense of ‘comprise’, or ‘consist of’ (e.g. ‘The exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, and installations’)
  • A tendency to say that any two aspects of something is ‘on the one hand […] , and on the other hand […]’ instead of just ‘it is both this and that’
  • Talking about reality instead of ‘circumstances’ (e.g., ‘In the present reality…’)
  • Saying emphasize when they mean ‘note’ or ‘state’ (e.g. ‘The official emphasized that the policy was…’)
  • Talking about at the level of instead of ‘in terms of’

But the following characteristics are dead giveaways and (AFAIK) unique to Israelis:

  • Referring to barking dogs as going hav-hav
  • Referring to ‘fleece’ clothing as fleas, or even please clothing (due to misguided transliteration in Hebrew)
  • Pronouncing close-up as cloze-up (ditto)
  • Referring to ciabatta as jabbetta
  • Referring to cherry tomatoes as sherry tomatoes
  • Saying motive instead of motif
  • Referring to online comments (or even live Q&A) as talkbacks:

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