Nostalgia Sunday – From Golda to Madonna… in Academic terms

November 25, 2012 - 11:58 PM by

The Academy of the Hebrew Language is the institution that creates new Hebrew words and terms for things that have already been named and termed in another language. Often, the Academia, as its familiarly known, is mocked for being old-fashioned and not keeping pace with rapid developments in technology. Today, however, the Academia (whose decisions are binding for all governmental agencies) scored major points with the new/old term rosha, the feminine form of rosh, meaning “head” as in “head of state”. In other words, 40-odd years after Golda Meir was Prime Minister, we finally have a proper Hebrew-language term for the job she held.

True to its reputation for lagging behind the times, however, the Academia also issued terms for some items that may soon be obsolete — taklitor hozi for DVD, for instance — and terms that, try as they might, are going to persist in their international form. DVD for instance.

Similarly, the Academia made headlines a few months ago with navtan for “GPS” and created a furor over tzfirur instead of what has long been known as the “chakalaka” — that whirling siren light atop every police car — also popularly known as Kojak. Not because of Telly Savalas’ bald head in the popular TV series but because every time Kojak entered into a car chase, he attached one onto the roof of his car.

In fact, Israel has any number of items named in honor of figures from popular culture. You call it an attache case? I call it a tik James Bond. Those black, square toed, low-heeled, lace-up oxfords that were standard issue for all IDF female soldiers? Naalei Golda (Golda shoes). That combination microphone/in-ear headphone headset? That’s a Madonna.

There is also a controversial theory (controversial because I don’t believe it) that the kova tembel, the hat that became the ubiquitous symbol of the sabra pioneer, was named not for dunces (tembel means “dunce”) but is a bastardization of the name “Temple” as in Thirties child star Shirley Temple.

Well. Here is why this is not true. 1. Shirley Temple was not famous for wearing a soft cap. She was famous for being cute, having blonde ringlets, wearing short little dresses and out-tap dancing her elders. 2. Hebrew speakers don’t mispronounce “p” as “b”. They mispronounce “p” as “f”. In which case, were the theory true, the hat would be called a “kova temfel”. But it’s not. 3. The hat is shaped like a dunce cap. Really, is any more proof needed?

The sirtei bourekas of the Seventies (“bourekas films”) gave us the stereotype of a meddlesome if well-meaning woman of Sephardic origin that has come to be called an “Aliza”, named for the character created by actress Aliza Mizrachi. It’s doubtful that the Academia is going to go near that one.

More mysterious are the origins of michnasei Zalman (“Zalman trousers”), those too-short in the leg, hiked-up pants that we used to call “floods”. Who was Zalman? Why did he have those pants? Why did he persist in wearing them? The answer is lost in time and only the song remains.

All in all, Israelis do appreciate the work that the Academy of the Hebrew Language does, setting standards for grammar, orthography, transliteration and punctuation. Its flagship endeavor, however, is preserving the Hebrew language and developing it through the Historical Dictionary Project (HDP). Despite its fuddy-duddy reputation, the HDP was one of the first in the world to use modern technology for a computerized concordance.

And get this: the Academia has kept up with technology enough to issue a yesumon — that’s app to you and me — available for Apple or Android, that offers a Hebrew language replacement to any international term. Try it out — it’s very effectivi!

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