25 November 2010

10 Israeli words you think are English but are not

Israelis are naturally anglocentric. Especially me, being born in Britain. But be careful there are lots of words in Israel that you might think are English are really from other languages.

Balagan and bardak are not English but you probably knew that. According to he.wikipedia balagan is from the same Persian source as the English balcony (balkon), and from there in Slavic languages to a state of chaos or disarray. The synonymous word, bardak, means whorehouse in Russian бардак. Pity because I love a good bardak.

"Crackerim" is another awful "Hebrew word". It is probably not from English. (Anyway you should say מציות matsioth). True that crackers are crackers in English but my online dictionary tells me that crackers are crackers in German too! This together with a bunch of other food words are from  German: סלט salat and not the English "salad", (in good Hebrew "שאר ירקות" from the מה נשתנה), or אומלט omelette (OK that is French originally, they cook better) or אננס ananas (pineapple).

Some building terms are from German and have no Hebrew equivalent: cuntim (skirting board, literally lips, well you certainly knew that), spachtel (palette knife) are German. But בֶּטוֹן beton is a French word, the German is konkrete.

Lastly my favourite - סוודר sveder. This word is similar to the English "sweater" looks like it - סווטר - and sounds like it, but, IMHO, is from the Hebrew סודר, a Mishnaic word. I have a feeling, that I need to check, that when Eliezer Ben Yehuda (or whoever) introduced this word he had both the English sweater and the Hebrew סודר in mind and combined them. Here is the catch: according to the Oxford English Dictionary the origin of "sweat" is "Old English ... from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sudor"! So, it could be that the Latin is from the Hebrew, or the Hebrew is from the Latin, either way the Hebrew סודר was closely connected to sweat 2,000 years ago just as סוודר is close to sweater today!

If you have not heard of Ben Yehuda or the Mishnah or do not own a sweater, then this blog is not for you.

saul davis


Unknown said...

Dear Saul,
Yishar koiach!
Keep on the job.
Eytan Bloch

Unknown said...

Dear Saul,

Shehechiyanu on your first blog post. I'm here through your announcement on Anglo Beer-Sheva.

You are welcome to join me on Facebook at The New Jew: Microblog to announce your page and posts- comments welcome too, of course. (Http://tinyurl.com/TheNewJew)

Shabbat Shalom,

~ Maya Norton

Unknown said...

My native language is Russian and I was surprised to learn that bardak means whorehouse. I only knew about the turkish meaning of the word, while whorehouse might have come from the French "brothel", in Russian sounds like [bordel'].


Sahar H said...


Fascinating post, and a great read.
I didn't know you were such an avid linguist!

Keep up the interesting work,