This is a frequent theme of mine in my Hebrew blog, in which I warn my clients (and other native Hebrew speakers) about the pitfalls of English expression.
One of the oldest—and certainly one of my favourite—examples, which go back decades, if not a century, is the word beq-eqs, which is a corruption of ‘back axle’—i.e. ‘rear axle’. You might think that doesn’t qualify as a loan word with a different meaning—until you discover that the word for ‘front axle’ is—wait for it—front-beq-eqs…
That’s how it’s normally taught at ulpanim (HSL—Hebrew-as a Second Language—schools)—but to my mind, that’s a bit like teaching car mechanics to someone who wants to learn to drive. There’s little point in learning the tools when you don’t know what function each of them serves.
In general, when teaching a new subject to someone, one should always teach the problem—then the solution. Not the other way round.
Which is why in my Hebrew teaching classes, we dive straight into whatever material the student really want to engage in in the end:
This is a very good question, as it relates to one of several unresolved problems in using traditional (‘Square’) Hebrew text in computer environments:
Mixing RTL (right-to-left) text such as Hebrew or Arabic with LTR text such as English usually wreaks havoc on the display order of the text. One reason is the conflict between two competing standards of encoding in Hebrew—Logical, and Visual:
The bi-directional way (logical method) and the visual method. In the logical method characters are stored in the electronic document in the order that a normal person would type, and in the visual method the characters are ordered assuming that the display device will order them left-to-right. In HTML, only the logical method is a real standard.
In this chapter of the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon, as it is sometimes known in English), the woman is describing her lover to her female confidantes. Some of it is rather graphic—but thankfully, the verse you’re asking about is fairly tame:
חִכּוֹ, מַמְתַקִּים, וְכֻלּוֹ, מַחֲמַדִּים; זֶה דוֹדִי וְזֶה רֵעִי, בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם
Coincidentally, that is the subject of a book that I’m writing at the moment.
My favourites are verbal expressions by people that sound startlingly modern, almost colloquial. The following are just a few examples, in my own translation (to convey their vernacular flavour to the ears of native Hebrew speakers):
You can find quite a choice by searching online. The trick is to know who is good, and are their charges reasonable.
To find out who is good, prepare a sample text of a page or two and send it out to a shortlist of likely candidates to edit.
Most good and busy copyeditors may refuse to do this on spec, so be prepared to offer to pay—it may cost you a bit, but if you need a copyeditor on a regular basis, or for an important book, it’s worth the investment.
However, I routinely do such on-spec editing when preparing cost estimates for new clients, because unlike many editors, I charge on a sliding scale, based on the amount of changes done to the text (since it stands to reason and is only fair that someone whose text is well-written should pay less than someone whose text needs a lot of work). It also makes my charging calculation transparent, so the client knows that I’m not plucking the word rate out of the air:
I was recently asked: What is something about your language that you’ve never noticed until a foreign learner pointed it out?
I recalled that only the night before, my good friend Bob Macdonald, who has undertaken a mammoth task of making a musically-oriented English translation of the Hebrew Bible, asked me why in the Hebrew, Zephaniah (2:2) says:
בטרם לדת חוק, כמוץ עבר יום; בטרם לא-יבוא עליכם, חרון אף-יהוה
(Beterem ledet ḥoq, kamotz avar yom; beterem lo-yavo aleikhem ḥaron af-Adonai)