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Hebrew Slang and Common Israeli Expressions

You can go to ulpan and learn to read, write and speak Hebrew but becoming familiar with the nuances and slang that are the workings of the language is a very different story. Here are some tips and pointers to assist you in your journey to learn Hebrew, and more importantly to learn how to speak the kind of everyday "street" Hebrew that Israelis speak.

The background on slang

Slang has been a part of the modern state of Israel since 1948 and consists mainly of a mixture of Yiddish, Arabic and English. Naturally, slang is more prevalent among teenagers and young adults but there are some slang words that date back many years, even decades. A good example of "older slang" is the expression "Ma-nish-ma" which has been around for many years. It literally means "What will we hear?" but is commonly used, in a slang way, as a greeting equivalent to the English expression "What's up?", (meaning “How are you?”). As you can see, whether in English or Hebrew, slang often bears little resemblance to the actual meaning intended by the expression.

Common Hebrew Slang Words

The following words/expressions translated into their English equivalent slang all denote positive expressions in Hebrew.

Achla - Derived from the Arabic word "ahala" – Means cool, fantastic

Eser - Literally "ten" - Means awesome, great

Sababa - This is a popular one used by young and old alike - Means cool, great

Pitzootz - Literally "explosion" - Means cool, awesome

Chaval Al HaZman (also Chavlaz if you're really cool!) - Literally "a waste of time" - Means awesome, amazing (N.B. this could also mean the complete opposite – depending on the intonation)

Sof HaDerech - Literally "end of the road" - Means cool, awesome

Al-a-Kefak - Derived from Arabic - Means really, really cool!

The following words/expressions translated into their English equivalent slang all denote negative expressions in Hebrew.

Al HaPanim - Literally "on the face" - means awful, bad - e.g. -"the pizza at that restaurant was "al ha’panim"

Eize Basa - derived loosely from the Arabic "yom asal yom basal" meaning "a honey day, an onion day" in other words - "what a drag"

Fashla - Means a "screw up" or "mess up" - e.g. "The plumber did a real fashla on the shower hose"

Eize Zevel - Literally "what garbage!" - Same use as in English

Common Hebrew terms/expressions

Fri'er - It is not clear where the origins of this word are from but "fri'er" is more of a concept than a word. It means a "sucker or chump" which unfortunately is a far more prevalent concept in Israel than in the west. Due to a number of reasons Sabras often feel the need not to appear in any way to be a "fri'er", as it is a sign of weakness. What many in the west take for granted as apologising when in the wrong has quite different connotations in Israel. A common usage is "lo yatzati frier" - "I didn’t come out of the deal a sucker".

Protexia - Protexia is part of everyday life in Israel, mainly enjoyed by those born in Israel as opposed to Olim. As Israel is like one big family (of Jews) people tend to look after their own and help others out. Most Israelis have an aunt in the Iriyah, an uncle on the police force and a cousin in the bank. Let's say you go for a job interview and end up getting the job because the job interviewer was in the same unit as your dad in the army, that's protexia.

Combina - A combina is also a concept unique to Israel in many ways. Derived from the English word "combination" it is a little hard to explain. Let's say you go to a hotel and end up paying partially for the bill with vouchers that you got from a friend as well as somehow getting the best price because you have a friend who is a travel agent, that's a combina. Basically using the system to your advantage, a pastime that is very popular in Israel.

Pa’am shlishit glida - As Israel is a small country it is normal for acquaintances to bump into each other a lot, sometimes even numerous times in a day. If you happen to bump into somebody twice in one day by chance you would say to them "pa’am shilishit glida" - which means that if you bump into them a third time they have to buy you an ice cream. (It even happened to me once!)

N.B. There is an Israeli urban myth claiming that the origin of this expression is from English: “First time I say, second time I yell, third time I scream”. Although no English speaker has ever heard of it, there are many Israelis who will tell you authoritatively that this is the true origin of the term!)

Sof ha’olam smola - This is a great little expression, literally meaning "at the end of the world, turn left!" Means "in the middle of nowhere"

Ma ani, ez?! - This translates as "what am I a goat?!" - In the U.K. they say, "What am I a scotch mist" (i.e. am I invisible?!). Jews from New York coined the expression "What am I, chopped liver?!"

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Addam Corre, Street Hebrew

Street Hebrew is designed specifically for Anglo Olim who want to learn conversational Hebrew in order to understand and be understood in everyday Israel. Whether it is at work, at the supermarket, in a taxi or helping the kids with their homework! As well as private lessons Street Hebrew is now offering tailor made Street Hebrew lessons online via Skype. Your first online lesson is free of charge, so if you already live it and know that you love it, then it’s definitely time to learn it!


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