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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Jarring Buzzwords

Back when I was a denizen of midtown Manhattan conference rooms, I learned to tune out certain buzzwords because of their tendency to derail my train of thought.

It was both annoying and distracting when speakers would deliberately employ such words knowing full well that few people would admit they didn't fully understand.  Until I learned to ignore words/phrases like 'synergy', 'drill down', 'paradigm', 'leverage' etc., such cryptic words would invariably make me lose the flow of any meeting I attended. 

Clearly I wasn't the only person suffering from this aversion to corporate vocabulary because in the 90's games like Boardroom Bingo sprung up to help distracted/bored meeting-goers stay focused and pass the time.

Now that I spend a sizable portion of my days in Israeli conference rooms, it seems there are some new words and phrases that I need to learn how to overcome/ignore.  They can be divided into one of two categories:

1.  Words/phrases borrowed from a foreign language (including English) that sound odd/inappropriate when tossed into a Hebrew sentence:

Ki Bini Mat - A Russian vulgarity that roughly translates to 'Go f*ck yourself' but is used as a common expression of dismissal (e.g. "If we go to them with a price that high they'll tell us ki bini mat")

F*ck (pl. f*ckim) - The ultimate in English no-no words has become a fairly benign Hebrew expression meaning 'mistake'.  Especially jarring when used by otherwise shy, modest religious girls.

Boolsheet - Exactly as it sounds... but like the previous word, it has a much milder connotation in Hebrew; nonsense.

America - An adjective used to describe anything perceived to be glamorous or cutting edge (e.g. "Wow, ze America!").

Bardock - Another Russian word which (I'm told) means 'brothel', but is used to describe anything messy or disorganized.  A messy/disorganized person is a bardokist.

2.  Words/phrases in Hebrew that sound like English, but aren't  (there are a bunch of these but I can only come up with two right now):

Shatap (sounds jarringly like shut-up!) - The spoken acronym for the words SHeeTuf Pe'ulah (cooperation).

Saveer (sounds like severe) - Reasonable

I'm sure there are many more that I can't think of right this moment... but these are a few examples of what's been distracting me in meetings lately. 

Maybe I need to create 'Immigrant Boardroom Bingo'


Posted by David Bogner on November 9, 2005 | Permalink


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funny.. i always thought that a roll of stamps was a "bool-sheet"

Posted by: shabtai | Nov 9, 2005 1:42:27 PM

I also think I'll come up with more, but the word that bugs me the most has to be..."once".

For some reason there's no appropriate Hebrew conjunction (although I have heard "l'k'sh" used) to say something like "once we get to that stage". So they use the English, and it's rather grating.

Posted by: Dave | Nov 9, 2005 1:57:54 PM

In the Israeli boardroom, there are many other important words native to Hebrew, but are used at most boardroom meetings:

FASHLA = f*ckup.
BALAGAN = similar to Bardak.
BABLAT = Bilbul Beitzim L'lo Tachlit (similar to boolsheet)

And, I heard this one last night for the first time (totally unconnected to the above...but useful for politcally active rightwingers in Israel):

SHEH BEH KEH. (take off on KEH JEH BEH)

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 9, 2005 2:19:29 PM

ROTFL...This should be in a book you get when you make aliyah :)

Posted by: Essie | Nov 9, 2005 2:57:19 PM

used at most boardroom meetings:

FASHLA = f*ckup.
BALAGAN = similar to Bardak.
BABLAT = Bilbul Beitzim L'lo Tachlit (similar to boolsheet)

Isn't anything good ever discussed? (Jameel - don't answer that please)

Posted by: Mike Miller | Nov 9, 2005 3:51:09 PM

Shame on you Dave! Teaching your readers all these bad words. That really was a laugh out loud post..no question about it.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Nov 9, 2005 3:55:42 PM

Isn't there some expression like "matzav shaveer" which means bad situation? My Hebrew is rusty of course....

Posted by: mirty12 | Nov 9, 2005 4:05:32 PM


I have an idea that would revolutionize immigration in Israel. Instead of getting a "Teudat Oleh" with all the "rights" granted to an immigrant (usually better mortage terms, and lower taxes on one-time import items and vehicles), I have come up with the ultimate solution to "A Successful and Easy Klita (absorbtion) in Israel"

Every Oleh would receive upon arrival in Israel, a coupon book of immense value; Pinkas HaProteczya. This coupon book would have roughly 250 coupons, good for use over 10 years.

Example rip out coupons and scenarios for use:

1. You've been in Israel 2 months, you have money in your bank account. Someone calls you up and says your check bounced. What the heck do you do?

ANSWER: Proteczia coupon #34 "Bank Manager is your Brother-in-law" coupon! You bring this redeemable coupon into your bank, and the bank needs to relate to you upon presentation of the coupon as if your brother in law REALLY WAS the bank manager. 5 minutes later, everything is cleared up, and they apologize!

2. Your son is having trouble in school. Principal calls up, says teenage olim from the US are a problem...and your son is suspended for a week.

ANSWER: Proteczia Coupon #129, "Your wife's cousin is the mifakachat for misrad Hachinuch" When you go down to the school office to "pick up your son", you kindly give this coupon to the school secretary. She immediately calls the principle and he apologizes, insisting there must be some mistake. Your son is even given private lessons for free from school.

Additional Coupons include:

Your son's friend's father is a senior doctor in Hadassah Hospital.

Your commanding officer from the IDF (even though you haven't done any army service) is also a top notch car mechanic.

Your father is a squadron commander in the IAF.

Your brother is a Chaver Merkaz Likud

etc. etc. etc.

Posted by: Jameel Rashid | Nov 9, 2005 4:11:49 PM

David: "Bardock", as you said it, I'd rather pronounce it as "barduck" (Russian: бардак) has lost the original meaning in Russian as well. My mom would use that word (in Russian) when she wanted to say that my room was a mess. The other Russian expression has not lost its true meaning.

Jameel: "Balagan" is not a bad word, it actually means "carousel" or some other feature of an amusement park. It was just interesting to see that Israelis use it in a different way.

Posted by: Greg T | Nov 9, 2005 4:34:56 PM

If we're already mentioning bardak and balagan, don't forget the third of the trio - "brokh" - means pretty much the same as the other two.

Posted by: Dave | Nov 9, 2005 5:05:45 PM

Shabtai... See, there you go thinkin' again! I thought we talked about that! :-)

Dave... I could see how that might be a tad annoying.

Jameel... The first three you mentioned are good ones... but you'll have to parse that last one because it sailed right over my head.

Essie... If there were a book it would take all the fun out of the absorption process. :-)

Mike... That would be like asking if any Israeli meeting has ever ended with a consensus. Yeah, right! :-)

Jewish Blogmiester... Actually, by Israeli standards (at least from a usage standpoint) these are pretty tame. Cut someone off in traffic in Bat Yam and you'll get a vocabulary lesson you'll never forget!

Mirty... There are more ways in Hebrew to describe bad situations than there are Inuit words for snow!

Jameel... I was laughing out loud when I read this. Great idea! :-)

Greg T. ... Thanks for authenticating my Russian. Many of the engineers where I work are Russian immigrants and their expressions have found their way into company-wide use even more than is common elsewhere in Israel.

Dave... Funny, I had always thought that was a Yiddish word used in Hebrew. But I can see how it would fit in just fine with the others.

Posted by: David | Nov 9, 2005 5:34:29 PM


That sounds like material for a good book.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 9, 2005 5:41:44 PM

Or let's talk about what's on TV... my kids were watching the "kid channel" - silly me, I'm here 3 months, I thought that would be OK. There are two kids talking to each other and one says to the other "Sh*t, blah blah blah" I almost fainted! Thank G-d my kids don't understand Hebrew well enough yet but needless to say they are not watching that show anymore... IF we keep the TV, that is.

Posted by: einsof | Nov 9, 2005 6:45:44 PM

What always gets me is Hebrew words that I understand and still have no idea what is being said.
"How was the dinner?"
"Al ha'panim" (huh? whose face? what's on my face?)

Or my favorite: "Chaval al ha'zman". That changes meaning depending on tone, speed, and position of eyebrows.
Should I read this book?
"chaval al ha'zman" (i.e. it's a great read)
Did you hear the news?
"chaval al ha'zman" (i.e. why bother? it's 'boolshit echad gadol')

Posted by: Chedva | Nov 9, 2005 9:13:07 PM

Jack... One would have to be here a long time to be able to do such a book justice.

Einsof... We also are very careful about what we let the kids watch... and one of us is usually either in the room or passing by regularly. It's not that we don't trust them... it's that we don't trust the TV. :-)

Chedva... Let's not forget 'Ma Pitom' (what suddenly???) :-)

Posted by: David | Nov 10, 2005 12:09:29 AM

delurking to share a funny berlitz commercial for english lessons that poked fun at israeli slang... it went something like this:

person #1: have you been to the latest restaurant yet?

person #2: oh yes, it was really something something!

person #1: i agree. it was totally to the end of the road!

Posted by: nikki | Nov 10, 2005 8:34:21 AM

Sounds like a super idea!

Posted by: Essie | Nov 10, 2005 5:09:21 PM


I am confused about you, did you say once you were a Rabbi? Or was it, that you are a faithful Temple groupie. Anyway, with the terrorists slashing thru the world with their threats and hate for Israel,why is it you waste time talking about dirty words. Mind you, if you are secular, then , say what you will. Everyone will understand where you are coming from. But on the other hand, if you are religious, I just don't get your brand of humor.
Please don't respond with angry words. Just let me know where you are coming from. I do read your blogs, but, I really want to know who you are, so, that I can better understand your blogs. You have put your self out there, now I ask the question, Is you Is, Or is you ain't.

Posted by: Ma? | Nov 10, 2005 7:11:05 PM

One American Olah once told me that sometimes she regretted the effort she had put into understanding colloquial Hebrew. "Sitting on the bus during an election campaign," she said, "makes you transgress every halachah in loshon harah."

Posted by: The Observer | Nov 10, 2005 8:04:50 PM

Nikki... While it wasn't my intention, I'm glad this post got you to delurked. It's always nice to 'hear' a new voice here. I'm a big fan of the Berlitz commercials... whoever is doing their ads is a genius!

Ma... I'll have to go back and check the archives, but I think I'd remember if I'd ever claimed to be a Rabbi. I must say, your comment has me a bit off-balance. You seem to be implying that if I am non-observant then I can say anything I want here. But if I am religious I need to stick to a type of humor you will find appropriate? I really don't know quite what to say to that. I write for me... not for anyone else. If you like what you read here then it really doesn't matter who I am and what my background might be. But if you are really trying to understand me, go back and do some reading in the archives. If you simply want me to fit some preconceived idea of what a religious Jew should act like, you are probably setting yourself up for a big disappointment.

Observer... It can get a bit personal, can't it? I'm still working on learning enough colloquial Hebrew to start transgressing. :-)

Posted by: David | Nov 10, 2005 9:33:12 PM

Great post (and blog). Long time lurker, first time commenter.

Fundamental problem is that Hebrew is lashon ha-kodesh (the Holy Tongue) making it difficult to come up with new phrases, and especially, good curses, which is why most are imported from other languages (Russian, Yiddish, Arabic, English, etc.). Best you can do in the language of the bible is to call someone the son of a harlot, or something like that, and that just doesn't quite sound as juicy.

Also causes problems with technology - like "Televeezyah" (television), "Supermarket" (supermarket) and my personal favorite Madonna (for telephone headset).

Posted by: wanderer | Nov 10, 2005 11:13:15 PM

That's great, a must read for any potential oleh.

Posted by: Tovya | Nov 11, 2005 4:14:24 AM

Now David you know that you should always listen to your ma. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Nov 11, 2005 5:10:38 AM

some students in my school play teacher bingo. all teachers have their catch phrases.

Posted by: rabbi neil fleischmann | Nov 11, 2005 5:20:02 AM

Jameel - I like your book of coupons - very funny...great idea.

Posted by: mata hari | Nov 11, 2005 5:52:41 AM

Rabbi Bogner...hmmm...has a nice ring to it

Posted by: mata hari | Nov 11, 2005 5:54:31 AM

I find this kind of thing fascinating, and would be very curious to know how certian words which are so offensive in english could transform into benign words found on the lips of religious seminary girls...anyone know how this happened?

Posted by: mcaryeh | Nov 11, 2005 8:53:22 AM

So he thought I was talking boolsheet. I was telling him that Photo Friday was so America, and I took him to Treppenwitz but we got there too early like a couple of f*ckim.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Nov 11, 2005 9:00:50 AM

You missed the all-time favorite boardroom shocker that Israelis will try to use at every meeting...

Chalom Ratuv

Posted by: JustBrowsing | Nov 11, 2005 9:29:51 AM

Wanderer... Welcome (officially) to treppenwitz! I agree with you about the Hebrew not being well suited to base vulgarity. But Israelis seem to have compensated for this quite nicely. :-)

Tovya... Do you count yourself among that group? Just curious.

Jack... I don't know what it is about treppenwitz and puritans from California! Last year I had that run in from a woman from LA who chastised me for writing swear words on my blog... now this!

Rabbi Niel Fleischmann... I'm sure nearly any captive audience could come up with a bingo game for their captor. :-)

Mata Hari... Chas V'Shalom! :-) Actually there is a Rabbi Bogner in the Washington DC area. I think one in the world is enough.

Mcaryeh... I'm sure there have to be some foreign words in English that might offend the sensibilities of the people speaking the languages from which the words were bothered. The problem is that we English speakers are so smug/arrogant that we never consider 'borrowed' words and phrases having any meaning other than their English ones.

Doctor Bean... Your usage of f*cking was not exactly correct, but I got the hint. :-)

Just Browsing... I'll leave it to someone else to provide the translation. Thanks.

Posted by: David | Nov 11, 2005 11:45:35 AM

Dave - not true. English speaking people have borrowed a lot of yiddish phrases, and some not so nice ones at that. won't repeat them here though. But I am surprised at the nice eidel girls using the F word. Why is that an accepted practice?

Posted by: mata hari | Nov 11, 2005 2:03:49 PM

Sorry I didn't see this til now. In law school we used to play Socratic Bingo - which is at least an America-wide law school game. Because os many law professors still use the Socratic method (essentially humiliating the students into understanding the material) a game had to be devised to keep us all from crying. We'd all make up boards, using the profs favorite phrases, or alternatively, the names of the students most likely to get picked on, and the gam ewas on. The catch was, if you did get bingo, you had to call it out in class - usually in the form of a question to the professor. Some of them were smart enough to catch on though, so we moved to "Latin Legal Phrase Hangman".

Posted by: Noa | Nov 12, 2005 8:05:05 PM

Mata Hari... They do so because to them it's simply an accepted slang term for 'mistake'. You and I find it shocking because the 'F' word has so much added baggage for us.

Noa... Good times! I'll bet you miss all that. :-)

Posted by: David | Nov 12, 2005 8:41:41 PM


a good idea, those coupons, except that the two situations you describe (check bounces; son being suspended for bad behavior) never happen in Israel. You don't have money in your account? You go into minus (pronounced mee-noos). Kid acting up? It's the teacher's problem.

Having said that, what I love most about Israeli high-tech/finance lingo (to which I am exposed all day) is when they take an English word and turn it into a Hebrew verb.


LeKampel - to compile
LeSampel - to sample

Posted by: Shai | Nov 15, 2005 6:21:03 PM

One thing Hebrew does miss is a direct equivalent for "wanker" (US)or "tosser" (UK). "Me'onen", at least nowadays, seems to have only the literal rather than the metaphorical meaning (rough translation for Israelis: somebody who is a "shvitzer" and a "debil" at the same time).

Posted by: Former Belgian | Nov 18, 2005 7:17:49 AM

Shavuz - it does not get any better then this. It's an acronym for... (i kid you not) "Nishbar Li Ha'Zayin. Lit. "My penis is broken."

It mean tired, fagged out, beat, done for. The best part is that women use it too.

Posted by: YS | Nov 28, 2005 2:39:08 PM

If you want to find some interesting facts about pain and psychology- you are welcome to my blog.
Pain and Psychology

Posted by: Pain | Sep 2, 2006 1:00:51 AM

One thing Hebrew does miss is a direct equivalent for "wanker" (US)or "tosser" (UK). "Me'onen", at least nowadays, seems to have only the literal rather than the metaphorical meaning (rough translation for Israelis: somebody who is a "shvitzer" and a "debil" at the same time).

Posted by: Silkscreen | Sep 7, 2006 1:37:08 AM

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