Slang, oh slang!
If language had a special sauce, you know, that ingredient that just brings the overall dish alive with flavour and spice, it would have to be slang.
Slang keeps a language on its feet with new words and ways to use old words being introduced all the time.
This is especially true for Hebrew. It’s such a dynamic language. Someone five years younger than you could use words that you might have never actually heard. I know that this is true in all languages but in Hebrew slang is so much a part of the language and it’s also just great fun.
Here are 10 of my favourite Hebrew slang phrases that you will hear all the time in Israel…
חֲבָל עַל הַזְּמַן – khaval al hazman
Meaning: Fantastic, wonderful, great (actual), shame on the time (literal meaning)
Use: What a weird phrase – shame on the time – khaval al hazman חבל על הזמן – and mainly because it’s used to mean something really good. You see a great concert, how was it? Khaval al hazman חבל על הזמן. You eat a delicious meal, it was…khaval al hazman חבל על הזמן. You see a great film…khaval al hazman חבל על הזמן. It works anytime you want to say great or fantastic or any of those words.
1: ekh haya hahofa-a etmol? – איך היה ההופעה אתמול – how was the concert yesterday?
2: khaval al hazman – חבל על הזמן – amazing
סְתָם – stam
Meaning: simple, just, ordinary, just joking
Use: You make a joke or tease someone and they don’t realise that you’re joking…stam סתם! You just sat around at home all day and someone asked you what you did…stam yashavti baba’it סתם ישבתי בבית I just sat around the house all day. You went out to a restaurant, ordered an Israeli salad and it was just very ordinary, nothing special…it was stam סתם. Great word with a number of meanings. And if you tell a joke and someone gets annoyed and you were only fooling around then you can say stam סתם at least 3-4 times in quick succession stam stam stam סתם סתם סתם and you will effectively ‘cool’ the situation.
1: Sweetie, that’s a terrible haircut – מאמי זה תספורת נוראית – mami, ze tisporet nora’it
2: What? – מה – ma
1: Just joking! – סתם – stam!
עַל הַפָּנִים – al hapanim
Meaning: awful, terrible (actual) on the face (literal)
Use: Great phrase. “On the face”. Used when anything is really bad, poor, average etc. You have terrible service at a restaurant in Israel – al hapanim על הפנים. You have a really bad day where things just didn’t go according to plan and someone asks you how your day was – al hapanim על הפנים. You can go into an administration office – like Israel’s famous Ministry of Interior and it’s just one big balagan – it’s al hapanim על הפנים!
1: How was your day darling? – איך היה לך היום מותק? – ekh haya lekha hayom motek?
2: awful – על הפנים – al hapanim
כְּאִילּוּ – ke-ilu
Meaning: I mean, like…
Use: Think American teenage soap opera – “and she was like, and I was like, and it was like…”. Ke-ilu כאילו is Hebrew’s equivalent for like in these contexts. So it’s not actually a word that you need BUT it does help mould sentences together and give a fluency to your speech. Also, it’s so common in Israel that it would be remiss of me not to teach it to you. Ke-ilu also means “I mean…” so if you say something and then you need to explain what you mean you can throw a ke-ilu כאילו before you start explaining. Israelis say it quickly say it usually sounds like kilu and not ke-ilu. In terms of sounding more ‘local’, I couldn’t think of a better word to add to your vocabulary.
1: How was the weekend? – איך היה הסופ״ש – ekh haya ha sofash?
2: Nice, I mean intense but nice – נחמד, כאילו אינטנסיבי אבל נחמד – nekhmad, ke-ilu intensivi aval nekhmad
אוֹכֶל/ת סְרָטִים – okhel/et sratim
Meaning: very anxious about the future/what will happen (actual) eating movies (literal).
Use: Another saying that illustrates the vibrance of Hebrew – eating movies אוכל סרטים okhel sratim. If someone is thinking about the future and worrying if things will be ok and in their mind they are running all kinds of ‘movies’ of what might be….this is le-ekhol sratim לאכול סרטים – to eat movies. Your best friend is about to get married and she’s worried whether everything will turn out OK – she’s eating movies – היא אוכלת סרטים hi okhelet sratim.
1: How you feeling about the interview tomorrow? – איך את מרגישה על הראיון מחר – ekh at margisha al ha-re-ayon makhar?
2: I’m eating movies – אני אוכלת סרטים – ani okhelet sratim.
Note* For men: okhel sratim אוכל סרטים, females: okhelet sratim אוכלת סרטים
אַשְׁכָּרָה – ashkara
Meaning: totally, so true, really, actually!
Use: A great word that adds emphasis to what you are saying or shows real agreement with what someone else says. “I speak 3 languages but I’m trying to learn Hebrew and it’s אשכרה ashkara 10 times harder than any other language I’ve learnt.” “The family left the restaurant and didn’t leave a tip”. You’d respond with ashkara אשכרה!? “It’s one thing to get to Tel Aviv with all the traffic on the roads, and then you finally get here and you can’t even find a car spot.” You respond in agreement and sympathy…ashkara אשכרה.
1: It’s actually 40 degrees in Tel Aviv today – זה אשכרה ארבעים מעלות בתל אביב היום – ze ashkara arba-im ma-alot be’tel aviv hayom
חוֹפֶר/ת – khofer/et
Meaning: talks non-stop, doesn’t stop talking (actual) to dig (literal)
Use: If you know someone who talks a lot…then they are what’s known as a khofer/et חופר/ת. It comes from the word to dig. The idea is that they dig a hole in your head with all their talking. That teacher at school who talks too much – hu khofer הוא חופר. That blog article that just took too long to get to the good stuff (not this one of course) khofer חופר. You’re father in law who’s into his 70s and starting to repeat stories and lengthen them at the same time – הוא חופר hu khofer.
1: My mother in law talks non-stop! – חמה שלי מה זה חופרת – khama sheli khoferet
2: So is mine – גם שלי – gam sheli
Note* For men: khofer חופר, females: khoferet חופרת
חַי בְּסֶרֶט – khai be-seret
Meaning: living in a dream world, disconnected from reality, completely unrealistic (actual) living in a movie (literal)
Use: What a great one – living in a movie – khai be-seret – חי בסרט. Know someone that is a little disconnected from reality? They might be living in a movie. If someone is a little overly optimistic, or overly demanding they חי בסרט khai be-seret. In other words their expectations are more suited for a Hollywood film than actual real life.
1: Our Ulpan teacher wants us to do 3 hours of Hebrew homework each night! המורה שלנו באולפן רוצה שנעשה שלוש שעות שיעורי בית כל יום – ha-mora shelanu ba-ulpan rotza she-na-ase shalosh sha-ot shi-urei bait kol yom
2: Yeh, she lives in a movie – כן היא חיה בסרט – ken hi khaya be-seret
Note* For men: khai ba-seret חי בשרט, females: khaiya ba-seret חיה בסרט
אֵיזֶה קֶטַע – eze keta
Meaning: what a coincidence/crazy thing, surprising!
Use: You bump into a friend who you haven’t seen for years in the middle of the street – eze keta איזה קטע. You meet someone and find out that you have a mutual friend who you are both really close to but the two of you have never met – איזה קטע eze keta. But it’s even broader than that. It can be used anytime something is just a little bit interesting or strange or worthy of remark. That thing is a keta קטע. You regulary invite friends over for dinner and one couple always comes in separate cars – איזה קטע eze keta.
1: Crazy, we’ve lived in the same building for 6 months and didn’t even know – איזה קטע! גרנו באותו בניין שישה חודשים ולא ידענו – eze keta, garnu be-oto binyan shisha khodashim velo yadanu.
יֵשׁ – yesh!
Use: Your team scores a goal in football – yesh! יש! Your boss gives you a raise יש yesh! You find a carspot in Tel Aviv at 7pm on a worknight – yesh yesh yesh יש יש יש!
1: Yes! יש yesh
2: What? מה ma
1: Just reserved the last table at my favourite restaurant – בדיוק הזמנתי את השולחן האחרון במסעדה האהובה עלי – bidiyuk hezmanti et ha-shulkhan ha-akharon ba-misada ha-ahuva alai
So that’s my top 10. Please share any of your favourites in the comments. With slang it’s always best understood through trial and error. No article or translation can really give you the meaning. So go and try these words. They will almost always bring a smile to people’s faces when Hebrew learners are first trying out a slang word. Go for it and enjoy your slang!
You got to the end of article – יש yesh! – well done!
Yalla, akhla yom – יאללה, אחלה יום