On the contrary: it was a lot more Europeanised—for the simple reason that, even after the hundreds of words that Eliezer Ben-Yehudah had introduced into the lexicon to make Hebrew useable as a modern everyday language , it still lacked many terms needed for contemporary life.Continue reading
Category Archives: Translating
Q&A: What does the tattoo on Amos Burton’s left forearm in the series “The Expanse” (see Season 3 episode 8) mean? It looks like Hebrew.
This is a dog’s breakfast of an inscription, which requires a bit of sleuthing.
Q&A: What is the origin of the quadriliteral/doubled roots in Hebrew? Do they come from another language system?
In biblical Hebrew, such doubling—of short, two-letter roots, or of the second letter—was used to suggest repetition, a cyclical or self-referential action, or some other process of that sort.
- b-l-b-l is a doubling of b-l, (a derivative of Babel, after the Tower of Babel in Gen. 11:9) to mean ‘to confuse, confound, jumble up’.
- t-l-t-l is a doubling of the last two letters of the root n-t-l, to signify ‘to shake [something] back and forth’
- g-l-g-l, from the root g-l-l (‘mound’, esp. of rocks), to mean rolling (orig., of a large boulder, e.g. to cover a well).
The import of four-letter roots from European languages didn’t really occur in earnest until the Hellenist period (~300BCE onwards).
Q&A: Why is USA called ארץ הברית (= Land of the Covenant) in Hebrew?
It isn’t. It’s called ארצות הברית (lit. “Countries of the Covenant/Alliance”)—which is indeed a poor translation of “United States”, as many people have remarked over the years.
A far more accurate translation would have been המדינות המאוחדות (Hamdinot Hameuḥadot)—but that’s more of a mouthful, and too close to האומות המאוחדות (HaUmot Hameuḥadot—the United Nations), so the poor translation has stuck.
So if you had any furtive hopes that the Hebrew name of the U.S. harboured an unknown divine approbation, I’m sorry to dash them—but there it is.
Q&A: How similar are modern spoken Hebrew and modern spoken Arabic? Are they mutually intelligible at all?
It’s a curious thing: with some words, you think that the two languages are like French and Spanish: the pronunciation is different, but the words are clearly cognates. For example, the sentence:“Tonight, at 10:15, I and you* will eat something at home with our son.”Continue reading
Q&A: What is a classic expression in Hebrew that (unfortunately, in your view) is not used anymore?
I was thinking of this some months ago, when a translation client of mine complained to me that she was not allowed by her publisher to use an excerpt from her own book for an article she is writing.Continue reading
Q&A: Did the Modern Hebrew revivers want the Sephardic accent to become the new Hebrew accent, or a blend of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi accents?
The “Language Committee” of the early Zionist period (precursor to the Academy of Hebrew Language) debated this topic at length, along with teachers of the Hebrew schools. The majority opinion was that the Sephardi pronunciation was preferable, for several reasons:Continue reading
Q&A: How do the paleo Hebrew characters “𓏴𓂝𓌓𓃾𓁶𓉐” depict the phrase “In the beginning”?
First of all, hats off to TCP/IP, HTML and whatever else is responsible for being able to present such characters (and in the correct right-to-left order) in an online question.Continue reading
Q&A: What are some examples of Hebrew slang and idioms?
Slang and idioms are two very different things.
Hebrew slang is predominantly Palestinian Arabic, or derivations thereof—e.g. mastul מסטול (stoned, zonked), ahabal אהבל (imbecile), dir balak דיר בּאלאכּ (God help you [if you do this]), saḥbak סחבק (close friend), fadiḥah פדיחה (embarrassing mistake, booboo), etc.
Hebrew idioms are predominantly literary and usually of biblical or Talmudic origin—e.g.:Continue reading
Q&A: When Israelis Hebraized their last names in the 1930-60s, was there any paperwork needed or people just started using the new surname?
People usually started by simply adopting the new surname informally, often followed by their original surname in parentheses, until their new surname becomes better known among the public—e.g. David Ben-Gurion (né Grin). Then after a year or two, they made it official by registering it at the Ministry of the Interior (or its equivalent during the British Mandate period). This was useful, as in some cases the user might decide to change the name to something else, or to tweak it (as happened in my own family).Continue reading