Here are some words I have learned that either surprised me or stumped me! It’s for sure not an exhaustive list of the quirks of the Hebrew language. Instead, it shows a little bit about my experience as “someone who speaks Hebrew” rather than a “Hebrew speaker.”

Words that do not mean what one would expect:

צהריים (tzohorayim) – the dictionary says “noon” and that’s how I learned it, but it appears to really mean the period of time between noon and about 2pm when quiet hours start. Also people tend to say “tzaharayim” and I can’t bring myself to do that which makes me a pedant in two languages now

קר (kar) – I thought this word meant cold. Actually it means “not warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt”

קקי (kaki) – poop, not a pants color

אקונומיקה (economica) – bleach, nothing to do with economics or economical

חומוס (hummus) – not just the dip but the beans themselves

פקולטה (faculta) – an academic department rather than the professors. A graduate student in Israel would say, “I’m in the such-and-such faculty”

Essential words I never learned in school:

מתקן (mitkan) – playground structure, apparatus, facility, device (like the barber’s clippers)

מכשיר (machshir) – tool, kitchen appliance, water dispenser, widget, doohicky, thingamabob

אישור (ishur) – letter of approval or confirmation, i.e. the first word you will hear out of any official’s mouth when you make a request

פיצוחים (pitzuchim)- colloquial term (wasn’t even in my print dictionary) referring to nuts and seeds that you have to crack open and eat

חמוד (chamud) – cute, sweet. I hear this five times a day referring to people of all ages and I swear our teachers never used it, at least not frequently! Maybe we were really that obnoxious

גימלאים (gimla’im) – old people. Literally “People who have reached the third (gimel) age”

If you were to guess at a translation from English, you would probably get it wrong:

מודיעין (modi’in) – information [booth or kiosk]. You’d think it would be informatzia

קייטנה (kaitana) – summer camp. Not מחנה (machane), maybe because that’s the word for concentration camp

מי אחרון בתור? (mi acharon bator?) – “Who’s last in line?” If you think the important phrase to translate is, “Who’s next?” then your turn will never come


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