Ivrit kasha safa – it's a tough language

It's easy to laugh at mistakes. Perhaps it's not fair to laugh at the translator who translated the full-page color ad on page 3 of Friday's Metro supplement of the Jerusalem Post. But I can't help it – it was funny, and I can't help wondering who's responsible, how much this huge ad cost, and how other readers reacted to the weird address prominently displayed at the top of the page.

See, there's this company that holds sales of art reproductions, prints, and possibly also originals. Once in a while they advertise a big sale offering great bargains. They usually rent a hall in some public building.

The ad in the J. Post says:

We are forced to close our chain of galleries and must sell all of our stock at

"Bayit Yeudi Beserbia"

Tel Aviv

I wonder how many readers blinked and said the proverbial "Huh?..."

I don't know how many Jewish homes there are in Serbia these days…

I do know that there is no building by that name in Tel Aviv; the Hebrew name of the building is Beit Yehudei Besarabia, commemorating Jews from that area of what was at the time Romania.

No doubt about it, Hebrew can be a pretty awkward language. Even native Hebrew speakers are sometimes confounded by words written without nikud. If it's a word you've never come across before, if there's no context, if it can be read in several ways.

On the other hand, some combinations are so common and familiar, that they're a dead giveaway. For example, the "beit" in words such as beit sefer, beit holim.

We're also used to seeing this combination in names of buildings: Beit Asia – Asia House; Beit Tzionei American – ZOA House, and so on and so forth.

Whoever translated the ad obviously went to the trouble of looking up at least some things; otherwise he/she could not have guessed, for example, how to spell the name of the artist Pichhadze; on the other hand, he/she would have known to write Ruth Schloss, not Schlos. So I'm rather mystified, that's all.


Anonymous said...

OK, but how often do we use the word Besarabia in any language these days? This is where the good ol' *aleph* comes in: I'd have written it באסאראביה. Too wieldy, you say? Well, it certainly can't be mistaken for *b'Serbia*.

re Schlos, this reminds me of the all-too-common rendering of the surname שורק as Shorek. Don't get me started...

Stuart said...

Transliteration from Hebrew to English and vice versa can often be amusing. As you drive south down Tel Aviv promenade you will be greeted by the Royal Bitch רויאל ביץ and as you enter Jaffa at Yehudah HaYamit you will be told to Piss off, kike פיס אוף קייק

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