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Monday, January 27, 2014

A wonderful world without opposites

If you learned Hebrew as a kid, what kind of world did the language teach you about?

If a world can be described by its adjectives, let’s talk adjectives. 

Back in Hebrew school, they put a lot of effort into teaching us to describe things in neutral ways:  colours, and some opposites like גדול / big and  קטן / small.  And then, there were more judgmental descriptors like  טוב / good,  יפה / pretty / nice, חכם / smart / wise and, of course,  שמח / happy.

But I cannot for the life of me remember learning the opposites of all those wonderful-world adjectives… and I strongly suspect it’s because they didn’t teach them.

Ugly / מכוער?  Boring / משעמם?  Stupid / טיפש?  Terrible / גרוע?

Negative words are basically all new to me; most of the ones I know have only come since the last week or so of ulpan – basically, in the last month, after what has been, essentially, 35 years of learning Hebrew (albeit not non-stop). 

Even in ulpan, for the most part, they kept these “negative” words from us. 

To complain about something, for example, we learned the simple phrase  זה לא בסדר / it’s not okay.  Fair enough.  But it might be nice to be able to escalate things a bit, in case (God forbid) of something really bad, like a cancer diagnosis, or an eviction – This sucks.  It’s rotten.  I hate my life.

Need to tell the doctor you’re sick?  In ulpan, the phrase we learned for that is אני מרגישה לא טוב / I feel not good.  I don’t know about in Israel, but in Canada, you get better medical attention if you show up and say, I feel so wretched, I think I’m gonna die.  That’s the phrase I’d teach, probably.

Is this conscious?  Did somebody sat down at some point and said, “let’s make the Hebrew world a happy world, full of rainbows and smiles.”  Maybe it happens in all foreign-language instruction – teach the positives first.

But at some point, you’re going to have a day when you wake up and you’re not feeling בסדר / okay, or even ככה-ככה / so-so

Maybe you want to tell somebody, not that you נהנתי מאוד / enjoyed your vacation, but that you were מאוכזב / disappointed.

I think what’s needed here is a “dark side” ulpan, where they’d teach you how to kvetch, how to talk about the negatives, how to be angry, disgusted, sad in Hebrew.  How to describe things that are ugly and hypocritical and disappointing and evil.  Maybe throw in some cuss words, just for fun.

Even if I never try them on other Israelis, I definitely need more powerful words to spice up my own internal monologue. 

Otherwise, like yesterday, I find myself sitting, chilly, in a hurry, on a bus-stop bench, waiting 45 minutes for a bus that doesn’t come (when 2 each of the other 2 buses that stop there have already come and gone) and muttering over and over to myself like The Little Engine that Couldn’t, זה לא בסדר ,זה לא בסדר, זה לא בסדר… it’s not okay, it’s not okay, it’s NOT okay.

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