Q&A: Which English words or phrases have been adopted in Hebrew but do not mean the same thing?

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A beq-eqs.

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

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Q&A: Is it best to start with the “alef-bet” when learning Hebrew?

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.

SimHebrewCourse-Logo.pngIn 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:

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Q&A: How are line breaks handled in bidirectional messages containing both English and Hebrew?

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.[1]

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Q&A: What is the interpretation of the Song of Solomon verse 5:16? And what does mahmadim mean in Hebrew?

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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

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Q&A: What are some great nuggets from the Bible that you would miss if you don’t understand Hebrew, ancient idioms, and ancient poetry?

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):

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Q&A: Do the frequent references to iron in the Pentateuch mean that it could not possibly have been written contemporaneously?

Not necessarily.

In our time, for example, we’ve been bandying about the term quantum for decades (e.g. ‘quantum leap’)—although the vast majority of us have only the vaguest idea what that means, and actual quantum devices are only now beginning to appear.

Also, remember that the Israelites had just come out of Egypt, which is one of the few places in the world where they would have encountered iron implements—in construction, in the materiel of the military, etc. Like modern Israel with Soviet materiel in the twentieth century, the ancient Israelites may also have captured iron instruments in battle—they just didn’t know how to produce it, or work it, themselves, until much later.

Last but not least, if indeed, as Jewish tradition has it, Moses himself wrote the Pentateuch, he certainly, as a former Egyptian prince, would have had first-hand knowledge of iron.

But if it’s evidence that the Pentateuch wasn’t written contemporaneously that you want, there’s a much more telling indication…

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Q&A: Where can you find and engage a professional copy or content editor?

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:

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Q&A: How could the young biblical David kill a huge giant such as Goliath with only a slingshot?

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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.

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Q&A: Which book of the Bible is the most repetitive?

Probably Leviticus: endless repetitions of the intricacies of ‘offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord’ of bullocks, sheep, goats, pigeons, etc.—with particular emphasis ‘on the fat thereof’, the kidneys, the rump, and various other choice parts of the carcass—and sprinkling of the blood on the altar.

Some of the meat was fully burnt— ‘for the Lord’—but, lest there be any confusion on the matter, ‘the remnant of the meat offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’ (2:3).

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