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Why ‘Shithole Countries’ Sounds A Bit More Poetic In Hebrew

If you’re wondering what “shithole countries” are in Hebrew, here’s the answer from Israeli newspaper Haaretz: medinot mechurbanot.

Countries = medinot. And, well, shitty = mechurban. Of course, churban is “destruction” in Hebrew, as in the destruction of the Temple. Or Temples.

For the uninitiated, churban is a college-appropriate word, but mechurban is not.

Maybe a nicer way of translating Trump is to take a cue from Temple history and say “post-destruction,” which seems to apply these days not only to Temples but also to presidencies.

Mechurban is not exactly elevated, fit-for-company Hebrew, but it sounds a little better than the word Trump chose: “shithole.” In both Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot, another Israeli paper, the main story was about how Trump was responding to reactions to his language.

But on the street, on a 15-minute walk through Tel Aviv, the word “shithole” — in English — was heard every few minutes. Not mechurban, and not churban.

Trump, untranslated, remains the main story. Not Trump trying to spin what Trump said. Apparently, appalling language doesn’t need a translation, even after a year of it. The destruction of America’s presidential language is apparent, across the world.

That is the true hole we are in, right now.


Aviya Kushner is the Forward’s language columnist and the author of “The Grammar of God” (Spiegel & Grau, 2015). Follow her on Twitter, @AviyaKushner

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