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Sunday, May 13, 2007

The chupchik for the kumkum

The title of today's post literally means 'the thingy for the tea kettle', a common phrase repairmen hear since rare is the Israeli who actually knows what the heating element inside their hot water urn is called.

Not too long ago I discovered this dirty little secret about Israelis that has boosted my confidence immeasurably in all my Hebrew dealings...  that most of them have enormous holes in their active vocabularies, especially when it comes to their knowledge of the correct names for various objects one encounters in everyday life.

For example, every man, woman and child here knows that a bicycle is called an 'ofanayim' and that a motorcycle is called an 'ofanoah'.  But when it comes time to get more granular... say, to point out some moving part of either of these common conveyances... well, let's just say you're gonna to hear a lot of 'ha-chupchik m'tachat ha zeh' (the thingamabob under the thingy), even from sabras (native born Israelis).

This is where it becomes possible for immigrants and tourists to level the playing field just a tad.  You see, while your Hebrew may have holes in it large enough to walk through... you can assert a bit of power over the conversation by positively identifying an object in a deliberate and timely manner.  This can often be accomplished by simply placing your finger on the object of the discussion.

But what to do when that object is out of reach?  Let's say the thing you are looking at is high on a shelf or you have a question about a part deep under your car's hood?  Or, as often happens to me, what to do if you have a question about some aspect of a chart or diagram on the screen during someone's power-point presentation?

Here's a handy tip for anyone visiting (or moving to) Israel who may not be armed with fluent Hebrew skills but wants to empower themselves with the ability to correctly identify anything they can see:

Buy a laser pointer and carry it everywhere with you.

I can honestly say that the single most valuable tool I have for making myself understood here in Israel is my humble laser pointer.  With the exception of Shabbat, I never go anywhere without this handy tool in my pocket.  You see, there is a basic rule of the jungle that is as valid here as anywhere else on the planet:

"If you can't name it or describe it... you'd damned well better be able to point to it."

I can't tell you how many times I have been in a store... at the mechanic... in a meeting, etc., where I have had to ask about something... that 'thing' right over there!... but was not close enough to actually touch it or pick it up. 

During my first year or two here I would point impotently with my finger in the general direction of what I was inquiring about... "y'know, that green/brown/red/blue thingamabob right over there".  Or if I had a captive audience I might grab a napkin or scrap of paper and draw a crude rendering of what I was interested in discussing.

But last year I realized that if I simply carried a laser pointer around with me I could easily point to anything I could see and I would immediately be understood. 

Not only that, but once an item had been targeted by the little glowing dot, the salesman/mechanic/coworker would helpfully exclaim, "Oh, you mean the [fill in the correct Hebrew word for whatever I had indicated]", if he/she knew it.  This has allowed me to continue the conversation, confident that we are discussing the same thing... but now armed with its proper name.

Laser pointers come in such tiny, inexpensive packages these days (many small enough to fit on key-chains) that there is no excuse for not carrying one.  One word of caution, though:  Many airlines don't like them in the cabin, so put them in your checked bag.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver!

On an unrelated note, I see that the final round of the JIBs (Jewish Israeli Blog Awards) is well underway and treppenwitz has managed to advance in several categories.  If you like what you find here (and feel like stroking my ego a tad), why not click over and show your support?

Best Large Blog

Best Slice of Life in Israel Blog

Best Personal Blog

Best Overall Blog Post ( 'A Difficult Lesson')

This year it is a one-person-one-vote system in each category so each vote is weighted much more heavily than usual.

Thanks in advance for your support!


Posted by David Bogner on May 13, 2007 | Permalink


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Actually the chupchik as i was told is that piece you put over the hole where the water comes out of -

Posted by: debby | May 13, 2007 11:13:25 AM

chupchik for the kumkum

Say that outloud in Alabama and you can be arrested for indecent speech.

Posted by: Jack | May 13, 2007 11:29:54 AM

If you're interested, here's a page with a possible etymology of "chupchik" -


Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | May 13, 2007 11:59:35 AM

You know, Jameel just got a laser pointer like yours for an afikomen present. Great minds think alike... :)

Posted by: tnspr569 | May 13, 2007 12:55:13 PM

Wasn't that a piece by HaGashash? Methinketh yes.... ;P

Posted by: a. | May 13, 2007 3:33:55 PM

The origin for the title is a skit of the Gashash haHiver that satirizes the gap between the average Israeli's hebrew and the academically correct hebrew. If your hebrew is good enough you should try to watch it.

My turn to be a giver - the chupchik of the kumkum is called - zarbuvit.

Posted by: Raz | May 13, 2007 3:37:25 PM

הצ'ופצ'יק של הקומקום


Posted by: a. | May 13, 2007 3:59:11 PM

so i'm thinking the laser pointer needs to come in our luggage and not wait for it to arrive on the lift : )

Posted by: rachel | May 13, 2007 6:49:33 PM

Someone once told me that back axle is "bakaxel" while front axle is "bakaxel kadmoni."

Posted by: Yitzchak Goodman | May 14, 2007 5:00:10 AM

Holy cow, I just taught my 3rd grade Hebrew class this morning about "hachupchik shel hakumkum"! I'm pretty sure they thought I made the whole thing up... Thanks for making me laugh out loud!

Posted by: Elyssa | May 14, 2007 7:21:59 AM

I teach people how to ride motorcycles, and we still refer to that do-hickey thingy under the gas tank that lets gas flow from the tank to the carbs. (I'm evil because I occasionally turn them off so students run out of gas in the middle of an excersize. They are supposed to turn it on every time they start the bike, but sometimes get lazy and don't turn them off).

Posted by: JDMDad | May 14, 2007 5:03:16 PM

Meise shehoyo: When I was still living in a residential hotel on Broadway, the manager was a gentleman who had barely been in the country for six months, having moved to SF from Teo Chow.

His English was extremely rudimentary.

Once a tenant tried to explain that his sink was busted. And drafted me into that endeavor. Hoping, no doubt, that my conversational Cantonese would provide comprehension.

I should mention that I learned Cantonese from movies and very lowbrow literature. Vocabulary-wise, it is somewhat flawed. I cannot remember ever coming across the term for sink in a Hong Kong gangster movie or a graphic novel.

So I grabbed the manager, pulled him into the hall-way washroom, and said "ney tai-ah (you look), koh ge yieh (that thingy); keui-ge ganfong (his room) yow yat yeung ge yieh (has an identical thingy); koh yat yeung ge hai lan-tsoh ge le (that particular identical thingy..... is busted).

He understood. And I found out the exact busted part was the sui loong. Which is underneath the sui hou.

And this is the first time in sixteen years that I have found that information usefull.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | May 15, 2007 12:06:40 AM

These are the posts that got me addicted to your RSS feed in the first place. The political posts are interesting, but not when they're the majority. And Photo Friday used to be the first thing I checked after davening, before breakfast. Bring it back?

Posted by: Ed | May 15, 2007 7:42:30 AM

Sorry! Posted this comment with the wrong blog post. Feel free to delete the other one.
I'd say the laser pointer idea could come in handy for any traveler or resident in a place where they're not 100% fluent in the language. Especially if you carry a notebook around to write down new words and discoveries (as dorky as it sounds, I do this when traveling.) Having spent time living in both China and India, and having spent a lot of that time pointing, gesturing, and otherwise trying to talk around a word I didn't know, I can say that I only wish I'd come up with this idea myself! I'm definitely taking one along for my Asian travels this summer.

Posted by: Smitha | May 15, 2007 8:37:25 AM

debby... See that? I learn something new every day! :-)

Jack... Yeah that makes sense. You can marry your sister there but you can't 'cuss'. [shakes head].

Dave (Balashon)... Why am I not surprised that you had this at your fingertips? Actually, it sounds like a reach to me... but what do I know?

tnspr569... True, but fools never differ. :-)

a. ... As usual, your cultural instincts were dead on perfect.

Raz... You and a. should teach an Israeli culture course! :-) Thanks.

rachel... Yes, definitely bring it with you. :-)

Yitzchak Goodman... Actually, I heard it as 'rearaxle' and 'rearaxle kidmi'. :-)

Elyssa... Neat! Just don't tell any of them about this site or I'll be forced to clean up the place! :-)

JDMDad... My respect for you has just gone up. Did I mention I have been lobbying for years to get a bike, but Zahava has nixed it (so far).

Back of the Hill... Wow, aside from the fact that you casually mentioned the fact that you know some conversational Cantonese, you say that you picked it up from watching movies and reading Chinese smut! How cool are you?! :-)

Ed... I'm human. When I wake up I write down whatever is on my mind. Whatever doesn't suck is served up here on treppenwitz... the rest gets flushed. I'll see what I can do about getting back into photo Friday.

Smitha... No problem, I deleted your other comment. Glad to be of help... enjoy your trip! :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 15, 2007 1:17:42 PM

A small bit of trivia regarding 'rearaxle' and 'rearaxle kidmi'... older cars (think pre-1990!) were ALL rear wheel drive, while front wheel drive is a newer technology... when the new technology came along, rather than analyze the term, it just got the addition of 'front!'

Don't thank me.... I'm a giver too! =:-P

Posted by: zahava | May 15, 2007 8:04:07 PM

Tshoobtshick (not H sound) (b pronounced like p) has to do with hair and is a diminutive form of tshoob (b is somwhere between p and b). Tshoob is a fringe of hair over the forehead (bangs)or a forelock (can be thought of as curly bangs). The word is Russian.
So logically it would be a thingy that is on top of the spout of the kumkum.

Posted by: Irene | May 16, 2007 6:28:29 AM

Actually the thingy of the pot; ha'choopchick shel ha'koomkoom (yes, I spell phoneticly) is called a zarbooveet.

Posted by: Tamar | Jun 20, 2007 3:10:40 PM

If you can't name it or describe it... you'd damned well better be able to point to it.

Posted by: Laser Pointers | Jan 27, 2011 4:22:15 AM

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