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Fascinating Hebrew Words That Don’t Have A Direct Translation In English

The Hebrew language has many magnificent words that simply don’t hold the same greatness when translated to English. It’s also, arguably, one of the fastest evolving languages, with new slang emerging faster than a Snapchat post disappears. If I lost some of you with that analogy, basically every 10 seconds there’s a new Hebrew word. And no, not really, but we can have some fun, can’t we?

Anyway, there are countless articles about the ‘must-know Hebrew slang‘ or the ‘essential Hebrew words for tourists’... this isn’t one of those articles. If you already know sababa, balagan, achi, neshama, etc., etc., then THIS is the article for you. Here are my favorite expressions.

mami!

CHAVAL AL HAZMAN (חבל אל הזמן)

This phrase translates to “shame on the time.” It is used when referring to an amazing experience. It is like saying you could only wish for more time.

that was so bad it was great

ANI META ALECHA (אני מתה עליך)

“I’m dead about you,” similar to saying “I’m crazy about you”.

im over the moon for you

TITCHADESH (תתחדשי)

This word translates to “be new.” It is used when someone purchases new clothing or has a new item. It is like saying “Enjoy your new thing.”

enjoy your new glasses

FIRGUN (פירגון)

It is to have a generous, unselfish spirit and a joy in the accomplishment of someone else. It is having an empathic joy for something good that has happened. It means to make someone feel good without having an alternative motive.

be yourself--be a giver

CHUTZPAH (חצפה)

A characteristic trait to describe someone with audacity, be it for good or bad. Now more commonly used to describe someone when they have crossed the line of acceptable behavior.

jewish mother

KOEV LI HALEV (כואב לי הלב)

The translation is “my heart hurts” and it is used as a form of showing empathy for something or someone. It is used to say you identify with the suffering of someone else so much that it causes your own heart to ache.

my heart is aching for you

STAM (סתם)

The word can be used in several ways. It can be used like “just because,” “no reason,” or “just kidding.” It is for when something isn’t important.

just for fun--just stam

DAVKA (דווקא)

It’s like saying despite expectations or when something is ironic or contrary to belief. The opposite of what is expected.

on purpose

NESHAMA (נשמה)

A word used similarly to “sweetie” but it literally meaning “soul.” People say “neshama sheli” which means “my soul.” It is used often to both men and women. It is like saying you are so important to me that you are part of my soul.

my love

L’ECOLE SRATIM (לאכול סרטים)

It means “to eat movies.” It’s like saying someone loves drama. Used for someone over dramatic or someone who likes making a scene out of something small.

can you say drama queen

CHAI B’SERET (חי בסרט)

Similar to the last one….”Living in a movie.” When someone is being over the top and unrealistic about a situation.

get real!

LACHFOR (לחפור)

Means “to dig” but it is used to describe someone who talks too much and loves to gossip.

hebrew version of mean girls

LA’ASOT CHAIM (לעשות חיים)

This is something you say to someone that is about to embark on a journey or travel or do basically anything exciting. It means “to do or make life.” That is it. Plain and simple, just do life.

just do it!~

AL HA’PANIM (על הפנים)

Translates to “on the face.” Used to describe when something was really awful. “The food tonight was on my face,” meaning very bad.

it was so bad--i was on my face

SOF HA’OLAM SMOLA (סוף העולם שמאלה)

Slang used to describe a place that is in the middle of nowhere. Translation, “at the end of the world, turn left.”

did you even know that was a real place?KAPARA ALECHA (כפרה עליך)

The exact translation is “Atonement over you” but used as “darling” or “sweetie.” The word Kapara is actually the word used for an old ritual orthodox Jews did on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement).

My dearest...

YALLA (יאללה)

Although this is an Arabic word, it has become a common word in Hebrew slang. It means “let’s go” and it can be used in so many ways. It can be used for “let’s go,” “hurry up,” etc. The best thing is when you’re nearing the end of a phone call and the moment someone says “yalla,” both parties know it’s time to go and there is not awkward, “Well, I guess I’ll let you go….” This word is like the equivalent of verbal punctuation!

dont you yallah me

 Remember that you do not have to become ‘more Israeli than the Israelis’ to do well in Israel but you may have to use responses that differ from your normal default. Though it can feel strange at first (e.g. being more direct), if effective it will become quite automatic. It is definitely worth trying different responses – one thing you can be sure of if someone is not happy with your behavior, in Israel – they will be sure to let you know.

Beth Zuckerman
Beth Zuckerman
Beth is a former Upper Westsider, who made aliyah 8 years ago. She is a coffee addict and a lover of classical rock. Beth is the content and marketing manager at talknsave, in that order.

1 Comment

  1. Robin says:

    Love this!! However, kapparah is not an old ancient ritual but a current one that practising Jews do every Erev Yom Kippur either with a chicken or money.

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