My favourite so far is לֹא אָבָה יַבְּמִי – lo avah yabmi (Deut. 25:9)—meaning ‘He will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother’—which is the official complaint of a childless widow whose brother-in-law refuses to do his fraternal duty of giving her a child after the husband has died.
The expression is unfamiliar because the word yabmi is a conjugation of a curious verb— לִבְּמוֹת libmot — which is awkward to pronounce, not used in other contexts, and even the word for husband’s brother (יבם yavam), is unfamiliar today (in modern Hebrew, it is גיס gis, and can refer to the wife’s brother, as well).
I also love the description of the consequences of such a refusal:
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…
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):
Kind of like this—only with a lot more trees
Do not underestimate the abilities of a young shepherd in Judea in biblical times. He constantly had to protect his flock of sheep and goats from attacks by brown bears, leopards, and Asian lions, which still roamed the woodlands of the Judean foothills. Failing to do so would have got him in deep trouble with his father, so he had to become very adept at fending off such threats by whatever means possible—including devastating use of his slingshot.
Indeed not. As God Himself explains (Job 38):
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)
Yes. Call me pedantic, but…
- With the possible exception of greengrocers (who can’t help it, poor lambs), I avoid businesses that use apostrophes in plural forms (e.g. leaflet’s), or it’s when they mean its; or discrete when they mean discreet; or loose when they mean lose—particularly if it’s in posh marketing materials, and/or they charge a great deal. If their English is faulty, they may also be careless in their area of expertise, where I can’t spot the mistakes.
No—just as the works of Shakespeare or the King James Bible don’t represent the invention of English writing. A document of such seminal importance is never the first example of a new script, but on the contrary, evidence of a well-established one.