Posted by Jonathan Kirsch
An item in the online edition of Haaretz caught my eye for a special reason. The “Word of the Day” column recently reported that the Hebrew word for children (“yeladim”) is rendered playfully as “yeladudes” by some lighthearted Israelis.
My late brother, Paul, favored “Hey, Dude” as his customary greeting. For that reason, he is known to his grandchildren, Hazel and Menashe, as “Grandpa Dude,” and Hazel still asks me to tell her “a Grandpa Dude story.”
That’s all it took to hook me on “Word a Day,” which I now read with pleasure and fascination every day. Today, for example, I learned that “rav” — a Hebrew word that means “rabbi” when it is used alone — can also be used to designate any person in charge of something as in “rav-hovel” for the captain of a ship or “rav-aluf” for the highest ranking officer in the Israel Defense Forces.
The author of “Word a Day” is journalist and translator Shoshana Kordova, who was born in New Jersey, educated at Rutgers and Columbia, and now lives in Israel, where she serves as style editor for the English-language edition of Haaretz. (“That’s comma kind of style,” notes Haaretz, “not fashion kind of style.”)
Kordova’s column is never pedantic or scolding. Indeed, it is always smart and savvy and often funny. She has an ear for Hebrew as it is actually used by native speakers, and her column tells us as much about the culture, politics and lifestyle of Israel as it does about grammar and vocabulary.
Thus, for example, I learned from Kordova that some Israeli newspapers refer to Osama bin Laden as “rav hamehablim,” which could be understood as “the terrorists’ rabbi” but actually means “the arch-terrorist.” And she points out that “rav-mekher” means a best-seller — “the kind of book,” she quips, “that Navy SEAL Mark Own presumably wants ‘No Easy Day,’ his tale about the mission that killed the notorious rav hamehablim, to shape to be.”
The online edition of Haaretz can be found at www.haaretz.com.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal and can be reached at email@example.com. His next book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” which will be published under the Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton in 2013 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
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