A Beginner’s Guide to Hebrew Slang

By Davy Ran, a student of MPH in Global Health Leadership & Administration, 2016-2017 Cohort.

A STARTING GUIDE TO HEBREW SLANG, AKA: MY FAVORITES

hebrewletters

I’ve learned Hebrew in school for many years, which I thought meant I was ready to move to a Hebrew-speaking country and make exclusively Hebrew-speaking friends. It was definitely a good start, but what I didn’t take into account is how important colloquialisms are to every day life. From playing Kubiot and having friends yell Stam! (סתם) to texting a joke and getting hhhhh (or חחחחח) in reply, the ins-and-outs of everyday life in Hebrew aren’t as simple as they might appear. So that no one else experiences the embarrassment of accidentally saying Ayzeh Basar (איזה בשר)– “What meat!” to express feelings of disappointment, or thinking someone is talking about the brand of nuts when they say Sababa, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite slang that I’ve learned since being here, in no particular order.

  1. Ayzeh Bassa (איזה בעסה): What a bummer!
    I already brought this up so I’ve gotta define it. ‘Bummer’ isn’t an exact translation of this Arabic-originating word, but I like it because it makes me feel like I’m surrounded by Californian surfer dudes who time traveled in from the 1980s at all times.
  2. Yalla (יאללה/ياللا): Hurry it up, let’s go! 
    The Arabic/Hebrew equivalent of Vamos, this is the first thing you’ll ever hear upon landing on Israeli soil. Probably the airplane staff will yell it at you if you’re not moving fast enough. Don’t worry- Israelis yell a lot. Just yell back, “I’m yalla-ing!” and they’ll leave you alone.
  3. Balagan (בלגן): Chaos, mess
    It’s under Yalla because people also say Yalla Balagan, which is by far the best rhyme in this entire post and probably all my posts ever. I’ve heard that this word originates from Persian, Turkish, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Yiddish… the history of this word is a balagan in of itself.
    My favorite variant: Balagan Atomi; an atomic mess.
  4. Hi-ush/Bye-ush (היוש/ביוש): Hi/Bye
    No special new meaning, it’s just really cute and I’m never saying anything else ever again. Note: people also constantly say Yalla-bye (Okbye!).
  5. Sababa (סבבה/صَبَابَة): Awesome!
    Probably the second most common slang word you’ll hear, it is also of Arabic origin. It is also, like I said before, a brand of very addictive nuts that they need to stop selling in special deals of 5 bags for 10 shek.
  6. Hhhh (חחחח): Text laughter
    One of my favorite things about different languages is how they use different onomatopoeias to represent the same sound. English writes Haha, Spanish writes Jaja, Thai writes 55, and Hebrew writes a string of one single letter- the guttural “ch” sound it is so famous for- which I have to admit does end up sounding like a laugh, if you’re laughing while
  7. 7. Chaim Sheli/ Neshama Sheli (נשמה שלי): My life, my soul
    These pet names sound wild romantic but I hear people casually using them all the time. Time to bring it back to the States, right? ..Maybe?
  8. Ani Meta Alecha (אני מתה עליך): Literally, “I’m dead about you”, but more accurately, “I’m crazy about you”.
    I was going to make fun of the intensity of this statement, but I’ve just realized ‘I’m crazy about you’ is not actually that much better.
  9. Achi/Achoti (אחי/אחותי): My bro/sis 
    Used to refer to that cool friend of yours who’s got your back, or your actual siblings, but that’s boring.
  10. Al Hapanim (על הפנים): Literally “on the face”, but figuratively “awful“.
    I have no idea where this comes from, but always I feel vaguely insulted by it. What’s so awful about my face??
  11. La’asot Chaim (לעשות חיים): Literally “to do life”. Figuratively.. pretty much the same thing.
    Use it to encourage someone to go out and live! It’s never too late to ‘do life’, even if you live on top of a mountain in Haifa and Shabbat’s just started!
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