Hebrew words I really miss in English..


Generally speaking, English is much richer than Hebrew*. The number of words in English has been recently pegged at just under 1,000,000 (1 million) words - this includes "double counting" words such as dog - where, at the very least it can be a noun and a verb. Even the most modest estimates peg English at 250,000 words. Hebrew, in contrast, probably has fewer than 80,000 words.


And yet, every now and again, I find myself wanting to use a word that does not exist in English. Four words especially come to mind:


* BeTeavon - the equivalent of Bon-Apetite. Literally translates to "with apetite". I hear people using Bon Aptetite every now and again, but it's not really wide-spread.


* Nu or Noo - a word used to hurry someone. The equivalent of "Tsk"ing.


* Davka- roughly translates to "out of spite", but not quite. Literally translates to something like "actually" (but can have other meanings). Usually used by kids.


* Titchadesh - when someone gets something new (pretty much anything, from matirial things to a new hair-cut), the congratulatory term used is "Titchadesh" which literally translates to "Be New".


Of the four, the word I miss most is "Titchadesh". What do I tell someone who tells me "I got a new iPod"? (Other than "Why the hell did you get an iPod?!") Congratulations doesn't seem to cut it for me.


* This is the moment where my friend Amir usually interjects and complains how in Hebrew both Desk and Table are "Shoolchan", but each finger of the hand has it's own name (as opposed to English where the names of the fingers - other than the thumb and pinky - have something to do with the function of that finger)

Comments (19)

  1. Yaakov says:

    BeTeavon-  In America it’s not polite to talk to someone while eating, that’s why you don’t hear

    ‘Hearty appetite’  too often.   In Israel its disrepectful not to say "Beteavon" ; different culture.

    Nu; noo –  The American equivalent would be c’mon or let’s go.

    Bechavanah – Intentionally or On purpose.     Israeli version – ‘by purpose’

    Titchadesh –  American version; "Cool" or  "Neat"  or Nice threads or Nice Shades.

    Every language has slang which cannot be literally translated.

    Try to translate "Machatonim" in English.  There is no translation.  It’s not In-laws.  It’s what the In-laws are to each other!

    Hope this was helpful !

  2. Shahar Prish says:

    Yaakov:

    I know every language is different – I was just lamanting the lack of these words which are useful.

    You say "BeTeavon" before people start eating usually – not during.

    Bechavana – I actually meant to write "Davka" No idea how it came out as Bechavana.

  3. Assaf (the Knight who says "nu") says:

    To those who might not get "davka" and happen to speak German, "davka" has a German near equivalent in "doch".

    "Nu", btw, not only has a rich semantic depth (as its polysemi reveals) but also impressive pragmatic prowess. It’s various uses are beyond enumeration in my opinion, but the closest I’ve seen is "already" (in that 72 year old jewish couple from Brooklyn sense).

    I can think of a few more Hebrew untranslatables that I find myself needing in my mostly-English professional life:

    1. "ishur kav", as in "forming a line" in the army. It’s kinda like getting "on the same page" with someone, but not quite – it’s missing that military context that’s so infused into the Israeli-Hebrew parlance.

    2. "hafifa" – literally means both "overlap" and "shampooing", but is used in the professional jargon in a different meaning: the process of "catching up" your replacement (usually at work).

    I recently quit my job and you have no idea how many shampooing sessions I had to endure.

  4. ciruli says:

    My wife speaks German and routinely uses doch with me (I seem to contradict her a lot!).

    I speak neither German nor Hebrew; however, I speak Spanish.  They have a verb "aprovechar" which means "to take advantage of an opportunity."  We don’t have a similar verb in English, hence we use "aprovechar" around the house.

    I love that "Machatonim" exists!  I’ve always wanted English to have a word for that.

  5. ronen magid says:

    surprise surprise, "Nu" is not originally a hebrew word: it exists in the exact same context in russian and latvian for instance. "Nuuu!!!!!" i heard my latvian colleague scream at his hourglass…  i think the best english translation of "Nuu" is really "C’mon already!"

  6. Alistair says:

    Don’t forget about Stam, which means something like not.  You can use it to denote that you were kidding or that what you were saying is not important.  It also resembles "never mind."

  7. Chuck says:

    My advice is use the words.  Tell people it’s yidish,  Mensch has almost made it into common usage …

    I use Gesundheit all the time at Microsoft ( and get crazy stares from lots of people).  But thats how a language grows,  is people push words they like into it.

  8. Joe says:

    I agree with Chuck.

    My ex-wife is Israeli and I use Hebrew words all the time and I’m no stranger to Nu.

    People often get a confused look when I use it and or other Hebrew words and phrases because I’m not Jewish.

  9. Peter Shalen says:

    The most common equivalent of BeTeavon has become "Enjoy your meal," which waiters say when they are serving you. Sometimes they just say "Enjoy," which sounds more Jewish to me because, perhaps coincidentally, it reminds me of Harry Golden’s "Enjoy! Enjoy!"

  10. Misha says:

    Cool post, but Nu actually comes from Russian. The best translation to English would be "aaaand?"

  11. KosherCrooner says:

    Just come across this site – great!

    "Nu" .. for our family means so many things .. depending – of course – on intonation, and circumstance.  For me it replaces having to say something like ..

    and your point is?

    so?

    and what now?

    really?

    and because you did this you expect what?

    ok.. but..

    and you think that’s interesting because?

    u-huh?

    My Grandma Rose of blessed memory used "kein-ein -hora" [literally "Against the evil eye"] when talking about bad weather, any misfortune she hoped wouldn’t happen.

    It was really fascinating when studying for my degree as a mature student to come across the whole thing of the "Evil Eye" in the mediterranean in use a couple of thousand yrs ago such as "good eyes" painted on greek fishing boats for protection and to "see" the way ahead in a storm..

    Immediately took me back to G-Ma Rose!

  12. Sholom says:

    "davka" means "specifically", doesn't it?

    "Machatonim" — what you are to your children's inlaws — and vice versa.

  13. hadar says:

    what about STAM? theres no equivalent….

  14. David says:

    "Nu" might not be Hebrew, but it is so well integrated into the language and culture that it may as well be.

    The best part of "Nu" is the multiple meeaning you can get out of it, simply by changing the tone and length of it.  anything from "Meh" to "hurry up"…in this way I guess it's most similar to the use of "Dude" in US English  (See this: itre.cis.upenn.edu/…/001705.html)

    And of course, the lack of an English term for "BeTeavon" was always annoying to me when I worked catering.  "Bon Appetit" is French…

  15. PepGiraffe says:

    I miss "ma pitom?" The closest in English is "What the hell?" I think, but that makes it angry and a little vulger and it isn't always meant that way.

  16. B'TZION says:

    HEBREW IS THE HOLY LANGUAGE AND ABOVE ALL AS WAS AND IS THE LANGUAGE OF ELOHIM VE YAHSHUA. WHAT DO YOU ALL USE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE FOR ANYHOW ? TO CURSE SWEAR  WRITING DESPERATE LOVE LETTERS TO SOMEONE WHO PROBABLY DOESN'T CARE ANYTHING ABOUT YOU

    A BUNCH OF BABBLE AND SO FORTH?

    YES WE MUST TALK  WHTAEVER LANGUAGE WE ARE ABLE TO BUT GESTURING MORE WORDS IN THE ENGLISH  SO WHAT HALF OF SLANG AND IGNORANCE~

    SHALOM~

  17. Yosef says:

    Hebrew is great. But, nothing wrong with English.

  18. Esther says:

    What about B'asa, sabba, dicaon (it's not really depression)

    Just bad moon ( especially in the army)

    Sof H'derech?

    Muraal? (Overly eager, biased)

    Al H'apanim?

    I am sure I can think of a few more.

    BTW / I found thd same in English, untranslatable words to

    Hebrew.

  19. Hiram says:

    What about "mazgan"? For all the short English words, "air conditioner" seems like an abomination! Mazgan is so much shorter 🙂

    Totally agree with Esther about "Al Ha'Panim"

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