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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Coming and going

The biggest lie ever taught in Hebrew school:  that the word "lalechet" (ללכת) means "to go."

Okay, to be completely fair, it’s technically correct.  But it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to actually going someplace. 

It's not Hebrew's fault. In fact, just the opposite:  English has spoiled us into laziness, allowing us to abuse the word "go" until it has almost no real meaning of its own at all. We are lazy, and Hebrew aims to correct that tendency. 

In English, we GO up, down, away, to Paris, around (sometimes, going out or - for older folks - going around, even means the same as dating). In the bathroom lineup, we wait impatiently, because we've... got to go, badly. 

Today in Ulpan (or Hebrew-language boot camp), my teacher asked who’d heard of the city Yavne, and mentioned its well-known yeshiva, Kerem b’Yavne. Of course, I stuck up my hand and said, “בן-דודי…" (ben-dodi / “my cousin…”). And then I trailed off, stuck.

In English, I would have said, “my cousin WENT there” (he really did!). But in Hebrew, you don’t just “go” to school – you LEARN there (ללמוד). You don’t just “go” to another city, you TRAVEL there (לנסוע) or FLY there (לטוס) or ARRIVE there (להגיע). 

Now, you may say, “Tzivia, you just proved that English has all those words, too!  English is equally complex!!!” 

{First of all, thank you for calling me Tzivia!  And if you accidentally called me Tzvia, I don’t mind; it turns out, despite my fears that I’d be constantly objecting to the mispronunciation, that I’ve actually gotten TWO names I love for the price of one! (more in another post)}

So, to recap your objection:  “Tzivia, you just proved that English has all those words, too!  English is equally complex!”

Maybe so, but in English, unless you want to sound like you’re giving some kind of graduate lecture, you have to mainly stick with “go.”  Whereas in Hebrew, you sound like a kindergarten baby if you fail to describe the going in more specific terms.

Here, you can’t just ask a bus driver how you “go” to Arlozorov Street… you have to ask “איך מגיעים לארלוזורוב?" (eich magi’im l’arlozorov? / “how do they ARRIVE at Arlozorov?”) (this “do they” construct is similar to the anonymous “how does one” construction in English).

In short, almost nothing just GOES in Hebrew, and finding actual uses for the word “lalechet” is tougher than anyone would expect. Books don’t “go” on the table and clothes do not “go” together. No, you must be specific and שים (seem = put) the books down while finding clothes that מתאימים (mateemeem = suit) with your shoes.  That washing machine that just doesn’t go?  You’d better say it fails to פועל (poel = work).

I could say the same thing about “do,” but I won’t. Suffice to say that if your Hebrew-school teacher taught you that “la’asot” (לעשות) means doing or making, he or she didn’t tell you half the story. You don’t DO homework, you PREPARE or WRITE it. And on Shabbos, you don’t MAKE Kiddush, you… KIDDUSH it (לקדש).

{Yes, it’s a verb; use it, get used to it (two totally separate words in Hebrew, by the way). This is a big part of the fun: like almost all Hebrew words, it morphs freely from noun to verb as easily as English words accumulate unnecessary letters.  And havnt we ol had enuf of that? Just spel it “unesisry” and be dun. }

And now I must go out of this room (לצאת) to go make supper (לבשל) before the kids have to go to sleep (לְהִרָדֵם) (Just kidding! Well, it is correct, but there’s actually a legitimate way to use ללכת here – לָלֶכֶת לִישׁוֹן).  So there you go.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to be laughing so hard when I go to class the teacher may have to tell me to go out!

    ReplyDelete

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