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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Going out for a tiyul… or am I?

image Every once in a while, here in the depths of ulpan (Hebrew boot camp for newcomers), I find a word so utterly baffling that I simply MUST let the world know of its bizarrity.  One of these words is… TIYUL (tee-ool / טִיוּל). 

I thought I had a handle on this word, really, I did!  It means outing, everyone knows that.  It’s not like we haven’t been on tiyulim!  Like our family trips and outings to places like Yerushalayim, Acco and Nahariya. 

So I was tootling along nicely until I came to this line in one of Ted’s readings from ulpan:  “I went for a tiyul in the backyard.”

Huh?  That’s not really an outing, exactly, is it?  And then I remembered that the boardwalk by the beach is called a “tayelet” (טַיֶּלֶת).  Indeed, there’s a whole verb to go with the word tiyul:  le-tayel (לטייל), which you can use to describe all the wonderful places you can take a tiyul to.

It turns out, when I wrote about what a lazy language English is when it comes to going places, that Hebrew has its lazy moments, too… and tiyul is definitely one of them. 

If you say you are going for a tiyul, you had better clarify quick (especially if your paycheque is involved!)… because you could be on your way to Europe, or the backyard, or Acco, or Eilat, or the mall.  Your front porch.  Really, anywhere.

Our shiny new dictionary, an Oxford no less, translates this word as walk, journey, excursion, trip, and outingGoogle Translate adds promenade, tour, hike, tramp, sightseeing, drive, and ramble.  Granted, it lists a few other words for some of these, but doesn’t dismiss the fact that any one of them can legitimately constitute a tiyul.  And Morfix, my favourite online Hebrew dictionary, has the chutzpah to add the word stroll to the list.

You definitely can’t stroll to Europe.

When I mentioned this to my teacher, the ambiguity of the word, she kind of shrugged, and then, actually laughed.  It’s true, and I think Israelis realize it.  They have loved this word to death and is so beloved that it has come to mean absolutely nothing.  You could be going to see the sea, the nearby dog park, or Machu Picchu, and you’d use the same word.

Think I’ll shut this down now.  Getting late; time for a tiyul to the bedroom!

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