Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Ivrit": a Hebrew word meaning "drives one to drink"

Yom rishon, 28 Kislev, fourth day of Chanukah.

I have a little exercise I take myself through, to sort of check up on my current level of Hebrew language comprehension. I read signs to see if I understand more than I used to. Most of the time, it is a gratifying experience, as there has been some progress, thank G-d. But once in a while, תיסכול (teeskool, Hebrew for "frustration"), doesn't even begin to cover it. Let me walk you through the process.

The sign said " מחסני חשמל הרשת הזולה והמשתלמת בישראל," which transliterates into something like this: Machsanei Chashmal, hareshet hazolah v'hamishtalemet biYisrael. Okay. Here's what I go through with a sign like this.

First, I give myself an "atta girl" that I can translate most of what I'm looking at. After six years in Israel, this is not a fact worth bragging from the rooftops over; but I can see progress, however incremental. Machsanei Chashmal means "Electronics Warehouse"; and it's where we have bought all of our major electrical appliances. (Brief commercial announcement: I highly recommend the store in Talpiot to all new Jerusalem-area olim. They have always given us good prices and good service. Yes, you can ship American items -- but they may not fit into your Israeli apartment. And yes, you can buy European or Israeli products before you come and have them shipped to Israel -- perhaps at lower prices -- but getting them serviced in Israel may be a question. And there is something to say for helping the Israeli economy.)

To my ridiculously over-the-top joy, nearly all of the remaining words now belong to me. Hareshet here means "the station" (sometimes as in "the [radio] station," but here as in "the best location for a particular purchase"); hazolah means "the inexpensive," or "the place for the best prices"; biYisrael means "in Israel." I'm nearly golden. But now it gets ugly. We're left with one two- or three-word big word: v'hamishtalemet.

Sidebar. If our word were English or German or Spanish, all I would have to do is to look up the word in the dictionary. This, sadly, is not how Hebrew works. First, a little dissection is necessary.

I know enough now to know that I can surgically remove the "v'," because it simply means "and." I can do the same -- usually, but one must not get arrogant, as it doesn't always work this way -- with the "ha," which means "the." Now I'm left with mishtalemet. Another sidebar. I am making an educated guess that it is pronounced this way, as opposed to mashtalemet or mastilimet, based on what I've learned in various ulpanim (Hebrew language classes). But again, we don't get cocky about this stuff. Once in a while, what I think I know, I don't know. But I do know that I can drop off the "et" at the end of the word, because it just tells me that this word is in the feminine form, to correspond with the feminine word reshet.

So now it's time to pull out Mister Dictionary. But can't I simply look up mishtalem under "מ," the "m" letter? That would be nice. But it's not always how Hebrew works.

I guess (again, based on what I may have encountered in my thousand or so teeth-busting Hebrew classes) that I will have to look the word up under a couple of possible past-tense forms, as that is how Hebrew dictionaries are organized. Since words morph depending on tense (just as they do in English, but not as recognizably from an English-speaker's perspective), number, gender, and exceptions, you have to figure out what that first letter will be. I'm thinking it will start with either a "נ" or a "ה" -- either an "n" or an "h." (You do not want to know how I know this.) I check the usually-excellent Multi Dictionary: Bilingual Learners Dictionary by Edna Lauden and Liora Weinbach. for both hishtalem and nishtalem (just as I'd previously tried for mishtalem). I don't find it. This is often the case, no matter which of my half-dozen dictionaries I grab first; and as usual, I persevere.

Even though I am thinking this word is an adjective, it is often the case that adjectives come from verbs. Fortunately, I find it in my next resource of choice, the Hebrew Verb Tables by Asher Tarmon and Ezri Uval. Woo-HOO!!! I find it as hishtalem. My troubles are over, right? Not quite. The definition is "(be) paid, do advance study." I try again with Lauden and Weinbach. This time, I'm successful. (It would be nice if I could avoid user error; but sadly, that is part of the game.) It has two definitions: 1. took extension training. Yeah, that's not going to help me much... 2. was worthwhile. Hmmmm...

So now I have to sort of guess what the adjectival use here might be. Electronics Warehouse: the inexpensive and worthwhile station [for appliance purchases] in Israel? The Electronics Warehouse: the inexpensive and advanced-study? -research? station, etc.?

At this point, I usually opt for a glass of יין אדום and something on YouTube. In English.

חג האורים שמח, חג חנכה שמח (Happy Festival of Lights, Happy Chanukah)

By the way -- most of what I "get" in Hebrew (the good stuff, not the mistakes) comes from Ulpan La-Inyan. If you are seriously interested in falling in love with the Hebrew language, check out my friend Ami Steinberger's resource-rich site and fun and excellent classes. He has a brand-new ebook called Hebrew Described. Please feel free to drop my name when you request it. It won't get you a discount (since it's free), but it will make Ami smile.
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