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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Verbal shortcuts and random telepathy

It has taken me a few years... but I've finally coming to terms with the fact that I will probably never fully grasp the entire lexicon of abbreviations, contractions and acronyms with which Israelis habitually pepper their speech.

First of all, many of these inscrutable 'words' trace their origin to the Israeli Army... and like all militaries, the IDF looooves its acronyms. 

Add to this the inherent Israeli predisposition for cutting corners, improvisation and finding short-cuts... and you end up with a bumper crop of words in Hebrew that sound like gibberish to anyone who hasn't grown up here.

However, the most puzzling bit of verbal shorthand has nothing to do with the IDF, and isn't, in fact, actually a word, per se.

It works like this:  If an Israeli is speaking to someone and wants to explain that something is not as the listener presumes... they have two choices.  They can take the long route (not bloody likely) and say:

"It's not [insert long explanation of what isn't meant/intended], It's actually [insert equally long explanation of what it is meant/intended].

Or, the speaker can take a verbal shortcut and simply say:

"Listen, it's NOOOOOOooooooooooooot..." and end the sentence right there.

In Hebrew it comes out sounding like:  "Tishmah, Zeh LOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo…" stretching the word for 'not' out to about six syllables of widely varying pitch. 

And the incredible part is that a native Israeli listener instantly understands (through a combination of shared experience and telepathy) everything that would have been included in the speaker's lengthly (and apparently unnecessary) explanation.

This particular verbal shortcut/mind-meld never ceases to amaze me!


Posted by David Bogner on October 19, 2006 | Permalink


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Being that I am out of yeshiva and away from Israel for over a decade, this “Tismah, zeh loooooo” brings back some very heated debates and put a huge smile on my face…

Posted by: Also A Chussid | Oct 19, 2006 2:29:13 PM

That's a new one on me - maybe the length of the "Loooo" gives the listener time to figure out where he must have misunderstood. Wacky.

Posted by: Shifra | Oct 19, 2006 3:17:39 PM

Just nod and smile. Better yet, carry a clipboard and nod and smile.

You'll look like you understand everything even if you understand nothing and lord knows that is how things get done these days.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 19, 2006 5:01:48 PM

As you said, this is totally different than all of the RaMaTKaL-type abbreviations. I know exactly what you're referring to - my father says "Tishme'i, ze loooooooooo" to me all the time! Usually the looooooo is said with a good deal of either eyebrow raising, head nodding, and/or hand movements. I think this underscores the feeling shared by many Israelis that despite a lot of discord, there is a unifying sense of knowing what one another is referring to in the things that are unsaid, much the way family members give each other a certain look and no words are needed to express the thought. The observations you make on the little and big things are so poignant sometimes I have to smile!

Posted by: RaggedyMom | Oct 19, 2006 6:05:20 PM

still smiling at that one...like be'emet...really...be'emET? oh really?...be'emET!yah right...be'emet with the eyebrows raised and the head nodding...i swear...ahhh hebrew...shabbat shalom trepp

Posted by: marallyn | Oct 19, 2006 8:21:04 PM

...אז, תשמע


Posted by: a. | Oct 19, 2006 10:19:09 PM

The weird thing is that when Israelis move here, they try to do the same thing in English. I was having a debate with an Israeli a while back, and he wouldn't support any of his arguments. He just stated them as if his opinions came directly from G-d. And then when I would disagree, his only response was, "no, that's not right." As if that was some sort of persuasive reason why what I said was wrong.

Posted by: Fern | Oct 19, 2006 11:49:32 PM

LOL, a secret language in its own right!

Posted by: Irina | Oct 20, 2006 6:11:51 AM

Why does star trek suddenly come to mind?

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Oct 20, 2006 1:05:48 PM

Also A Chussid... Happy to help. :-)

Shifra... Good theory. I still think there must be some telepathy involved, though. :-)

Jack... Hold on (writes that suggestion down on my clipboard)... OK, got it... thanks. :-)

RaggedyMom... They may seem little, but every one of these 'small' cultural differences remind me that I am an immigrant. But I'm OK with that.

marallyn... Yeah, something like that. :-)

a... I can so hear you saying that! :-)

Fern... No, that's just them being arrogant. :-)

Irina... There are so many other small nuanced sounds and expressions I could never describe here on treppenwitz. Little clicks and tisks and sucking noises that have a world of meaning ... to someone who has lived here all their lives.

Jewish Blogmeister... Um, maybe because you spent your prime dating years watching Star Trek. ;-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 24, 2006 10:46:53 AM

This is me throwing out my Rosetta Stone software.


Posted by: Kate | Oct 27, 2006 6:28:01 AM

The Israeli phrase which most surprised me is when an American would say, "I'm shocked" and the Israeli would reply "taitsay min haShock!" Gotta love it...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Nov 5, 2006 8:07:51 AM

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