Britannia Rules the Words No More in Israel

Only Vestiges of British Speech Still Remain in Use

Trainspotting:  In Israel, one can hear only a few hints of English as it was spoken in the days of British Mandate Palestine.
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Trainspotting: In Israel, one can hear only a few hints of English as it was spoken in the days of British Mandate Palestine.

By Philologos

Published September 29, 2013, issue of October 04, 2013.
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And then there’s tremp, Israeli Hebrew for a hitchhiked ride, from British “to tramp” — that is, to hike. Hitchhikers or trempistim, though still more prevalent in Israel than in other Western countries, are less common than in the past, but if I give a lift to a friend, that’s a tremp, too.

Nor, to go from verbal to sign language, does one thumb a ride, as one does — or used to do — in America. Rather, the trempist extends his arm horizontally from the shoulder, European style, with its open palm facing the oncoming driver, and leans slightly forward.

A jinji, from Mandate-period “ginger,” can be in Hebrew to this day anyone with light-colored hair. The feminine form is jinjit, and the masculine and feminine plurals are jinjiyim and jinjiyot. The word is particularly used for redheads, but I can remember more than once, in the days when I still had a full head of light-brown hair (which hasn’t been for a while), being called by it. “Halo, jinji!” — “Hey, you with the light hair!” — can be an effective way of hailing someone in a country of mostly dark-haired people.

Halo, “hey,” from English “hello,” is a British-Mandatism, too. It’s pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, which is probably also British influenced, as in British “hel-lo” — “Look at that!” or “What have we here!” But a shouted “hel-lo” is also used by the British to hail someone far-off whose name you don’t know. (“Haloo” or “haloa,” on the other hand, is a traditional cry for urging on one’s dogs in a foxhunt.)

Halo, uttered with a falling rather than rising tone, as “hello” is in English, can also be an Israeli way of answering the telephone. Yet it has a slight gruffness about it — a hint, as it were, of “Who’s bothering me now?” — that makes it less polite sounding than the more frequently heard “Shalom.”

There may be more Mandate-period English words in today’s Hebrew, but if there are, I can’t think of them. The British Mandate lasted only 30 years, and though educated Israelis continued to speak English with a British accent for quite a while afterward, that, too, is a thing of the past.

American English now sets the tone, as it does almost everywhere, and words like pancher and tremp are part of the little that is left from the days when Albion ruled the waves.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


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