by Tova Horwitz
While Hebrew is indeed the language of the Bible, modern Hebrew is a fast paced, ever-changing language full of vibrant expressions, idioms and fun slang. Some of modern Hebrew’s linguistic jewels – those phrases that make just the perfect point – simply don’t translate well into English. Here’s a list of ten great Hebrew expressions that are better in their original form!
Chaval al hazman (חבל על הזמן)
This phrase is used quite frequently and literally translates to “shame on the time.” Really, it is an exclamation of how awesome something is, perfectly suited for when you’re talking about something incredible that happened. For example, let’s say someone asks you, “How was the party?” If the party was amazing then an appropriate response would be “It was chaval al hazman!” Some people even shorten the three word expression into a single word by saying chavlaz!
When you receive a new shirt as a gift, buy a pair of eyeglasses from the store, or place an order for a new refrigerator someone (in Israel) will most likely say to you – titchadesh! This single but powerful word translates to “be new,” but really it’s a way of exclaiming your wish that the person will enjoy and benefit from the new item. Next time you make a purchase and the salesperson says titchadesh….simply respond todah (thanks), and smile.
Plug the word סתם into the online dictionary, Morfix, and you get: (colloquial) purposelessly; (colloquial) simply, just. But stam is more than that; it’s an all-around great word that is such a pleasure to use because it is so versatile and can be said as a response to all types of situations. It’s difficult to directly translate, though, because it has so many potential meanings. Stam can convey “just” or “because” as in “no reason,” or “just kidding,” or “just because.” Usage example: “Why is he sitting there?” Answer: “He is stam sitting there!” (He’s just sitting there for no reason!”)
Chai b’seret (חי בסרט) and Chutzpah (חצפה)
Translated word for word to English, chai b’seret means ”living in a movie.” It’s actually an idiom used to describe a person who has unrealistic expectations or who is completely out of touch with reality. Chutzpah is a well-known and oft-used Hebrew expression that describes someone who has audacity, often that manifests itself in a negative way. Usage example: Mom says to child, “Have you finished your homework?” Child makes a shocked expression and responds with chutzpah, “At chaya baseret?!” “Are you crazy/kidding me?!”
Naeem meod (נעים מאוד)
In Israel it’s quite common to say naeem meod when being introduced to someone new or meeting someone for the first time. Literally, naeem meod means “feels very pleasant” but it is used as if you’re saying in English, “it’s nice to meet you!” Usage example: You meet a new neighbor for the first time. You say, “Naim meod!” (“It’s great to meet you.”)
Ta’asu chayeem (תעשו חיים)
You may hear this being said to someone who is leaving on a trip, parting from someone from a while, or even heading out the door for a night out. It means “to do or make life.” What it really means is: go and have a great time, enjoy, make memories! Usage example: Your nephews are traveling to India for a month and you wish them, “Ta’asu chayim!” (“Have a great time!”)
Al ha’paneem (על הפנים)
A classic Hebrew expression that simply does not translate well to English. Al hapaneem translates to “on the face.” Really, it has nothing to do with a face at all; it’s used to describe a big failure or something really bad. Usage example: You ask your friend how the movie was that she recently watched. She makes a face of displeasure and replies, “The movie was al hapaneem!” (“The movie was just terrible!”)
Sof ha’olam smalah (סוף העולם שמאלה)
You are most likely to hear this expression when you are asking for directions to some obscure place. Word for word it means “the end of the world, to the left.” In English, the closest translation of its meaning would be “in the middle of nowhere.” Usage example: A person asks, “Where’s the wedding reception being held?” Other person answer (with a sigh), “It’s sof ha’olam smolah.” (“It’s way off in the middle of nowhere.”)
Sof ha’derech (סוף הדרך)
Literally, this phrase translates to “end of the road” which is similar to the previous idiom “sof ha’olam smolah.” However, this expression has an entirely different usage. You use it when describing something so amazing that there are no other words to express your feelings. For example, someone asks you, “How was your vacation?” You just had the best week of your life, so you respond, “You have no idea! It was sof haderech!” (“You have no idea how absolutely amazing it was!!”)
Finally, we come to the word davka, that Hebrew word that defies literal translation because there is no equivalent English word that captures all its various nuances. Morfix defines davka as: (colloquial) specifically, precisely; (colloquial) in fact, actually. While that’s true, davka also has an added element of attitude that simply gets lost in translation. Adding davka to a sentence makes it more pointed; doing something “davka” means doing something on purpose, or spitefully; davka can be used to point out a paradox; and it can mean not necessarily, or on the contrary, too. Usage examples: “She started the presentation davka just before I got there!” (“She started the presentation intentionally just before I arrived (to get to me…)!” Or, “You didn’t like the pasta? I davka liked it.” (“You didn’t like the Pasta? I actually (perhaps surprisingly) really liked it.”)
If the exact usage of the word davka and the other phrases still seems elusive to you, don’t despair! As with most things, getting a hang of these idioms is just a matter of practice and time.