How German built the Hebrew language

Languages evolve constantly. New technologies, new philosophical concepts and ideas, and new social organizations and interactions necessitate new words. Cultural encounter also leads to incorporation of foreign loan word for foreign phenomena, whether to label them as something desirable, or as pejorative influences to be rejected.

Mishnaic and Talmudic Hebrew brought Greek and Latin terms to Hebrew (Apotika=Hypotheka, Dinar, Drachon, Itztaba=Stoa, Sanhedrin, Siqriqon=Sicarii, Biberin=Vivarium; other examples in the Jewish Encyclopedia). Mediaeval Hebrew incorporated Arab and Greek philosophical terms (just leaf through Maimonides’ Guide for abundant examples), and the twentieth century, technological terms.

In recent decades, such words have often come from English – in all languages, including Hebrew. However, earlier in the 20th century, German dominated, and, as DPA documents in Haaretz, Hebrew not inly includes many Yiddish terms, but outright German loan words, too:

When an Israeli gets out of bed on a dark morning, she will flick on a light Schalter (switch in English) and wash down a Biss (bite) of toast with a Schluck (sip) of coffee – all Hebrew words that stem from the German language.

After breakfast, an Israeli driving to work must occasionally using the car’s Winker (from German word Blinker, or indicator) or the Wischer (windscreen wiper) if it rains.

“It’s mainly in the worlds of construction, engineering science and architecture that almost all (Hebrew) words have their origins in German,” says 64-year-old Rosenthal, whose own parents came from Germany.

The vocabulary arrived in Israel particularly during the Fifth Aliyah, or wave of immigrants, in the 1930s when German Jews fled persecution under the Nazis.

[Note to our German speaking readers: Ich finde es eher komisch, über dieses Thema ins Englische zu schreiben, aber der Artikel ershien ja im englischen Haaretz ;-).]

Many of those loan words have proper Hebrew equivalents, but I only know two person who uses “do-el” instead of “e-mail,” and I am one of them (having learned the term from the other person).The most humorous English loan wordispossibly theone of a car axel: “backax,”for when describing the front axel, a good Israeli mechanic will in all seriousness blurt out the nonsensical “backax hakidmi”(the front back-axel).

2 Responses to How German built the Hebrew language

  1. micha says:

    Personally, I like “chipsim”. In Hebrew, “chips” is the singular?


  2. Tom Sotil says:

    oh, how I love this topic:
    – breaksim (one break, two breaks in Hebrew: breaks echad, shtei breaksim, double plural!)
    – tender (a pick-up truck, there was even an army-song about this, nowadays people tend to call everything bigger than a normal car a “tender”. My brother-in-law told me where this may have come from: in British times they had the coal trains. Now the wagon holding the coals apparently is called the “tender”)
    – shuffel (digger truck)
    – jeep (a SUV or an off-road car)
    – lisoa “reverse” (to drive in “reverse”)
    – starter (the car ignitor)
    and so on, I could go on and on with this.
    Knowing fairly good English, having German as my mother tongue and also speaking Hebrew at home, this is and has always been a very fun subject to speak about.
    I heard in one shiur from Rabbi Orlofsky (it’s on that Hebrew is “English with a bad accent”…somewhat true 🙂

    PS: I might know this only person who uses “do-el”…funny

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