The Academy of the Hebrew Language is a curious institution. Founded in 1953, in Israel’s socialist days, the AHL is Israel’s official state regulator of the Hebrew language: not only does it authorize the entry of new words into the dictionary, it also coins them. These new entries often occur at the request of a public frustrated by its reliance on using forms of bastardized English where no Hebrew alternative exists. But help is here.
On New Year’s Eve, the AHL published a new collection of words intended to help Israelis discuss their society without having to resort to loaning English words. Now, consider how well-spoken Israelis are thus expected to argue about the news, or other societal issues:
As rising prices in Tel Aviv squeeze residents out of previously affordable neighborhoods, Israelis must not lament jentrifikatsia (gentrification), but rather ilut [עִילוּת] (from
If local acts of terrorism were to escalate again, Israelis are instructed not to give in to panika. Tavhela [תַּבְהֵלָ
Members of Knesset are expected to speak Hebrew correctly in their quest for histarerut [הִשְׂתָּרְרוּת
These new words will enter the dictionary alongside other creative coinages in recent years, and they may very well catch on. “Junk food” is now the gluttonously onomatopoetic z’lolet [זְלֹלֶת
But other words attempting to replace terms in common parlance may struggle. Israelis will raise an eyebrow if invited to a mitzleh [מִצְלֶה] (from the root for “grill”), since barbecues are already known as al ha-esh (“on the fire”). The word nechdan [נֶכְדָּן] (from
In its exploration of new words, the Academy frequently opens its decision-making to public consultation. Visitors to its website are invited to vote on a new Hebrew word for, say, “bunker” (presently, boonker), using the root b-ts-r (meaning “to fortify”). Other options include betser (after a
The Academy does not believe that every foreign word should be replaced with a Hebrew alternative. Indeed, the Mishna is full of loans from across the ancient world. Amusingly, in over 60 years of existence, the Academiya has yet to coin a Hebrew term for its own name. The institution’s enactment in law was delayed for four years because Ben-Gurion objected to this irony. What chutzpah!
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