One of closest friends grew up in Israel, and as a result, I’m around my fair share of Hebrew-speaking individuals. Now, I don’t know the first thing about speaking Hebrew, and I’m certainly not the person to ask for any language learning advice. My friends are always kind enough to translate, and being the odd one out has never been a problem… that is, of course, until there is no way to accurately translate and they’re completely and collectively stumped trying to describe to me the precise connotation of such a powerful and useful Israeli expression.
Because while most languages have their selection of slang words and unique turns of phrase, the Hebrew language seems to have a lot — and they’re all really really good ones too!
So, with the help of my lovely friends, I’ve compiled a list of 7 amazing phrases for use in everyday life that exist in Hebrew but don’t quite make sense in English — yet.
Maybe if we work together we can make them a thing…
1. חי בסרט = chai beseret
Literal translation: living in a movie
Rough meaning: main-character energy, living in la la land.
In Hebrew this phrase is used to describe the attitude of someone who may be at risk of believing that the world really does revolve around them. It’s what we all felt as a child staring dramatically out of the car window listening to our favourite song and pretending there were cameras rolling all the while.
If you’re living in a movie then you’re crazy confident things will work out, and you don’t care to come down from the clouds you inhabit any time soon. Life in a movie is all the drama, none of the reality.
2. החיים שלנו תותים = hachaim shelanu tutim
Literal translation: our life is strawberries
Rough meaning: life is good, life is easy.
As a personal favourite of mine, the phrase life is strawberries is used to reflect on a particularly positive occasion, or, alternatively, to act as a reminder when things get rough.
Telling someone life is strawberries effectively means “look at the grand scheme — isn’t life great?! There is no reason to stress, nothing to worry about, just take it easy, my friend!”
3. תתחדש\י = titchades-i
Literal translation: be new
Rough meaning: compliment on the newness, enjoy the new
Used as a congratulations of sorts for anything from getting a new haircut to moving into a new house.
I like this phrase because it captures the joy of that signature new car smell, without the car or even the smell. In a sense, it’s a way of acknowledging the excitement of novelty on behalf of the other person, and paying them a compliment at the same time.
4. להכיל = lehachil
Literal translation: to contain
Rough meaning: to hold all that another person may bring, to be encompassing/absorbing of someone else’s energy
This phrase is a tricky one to get right — simply because nothing of the sort exists in English. To consider someone “containing” means that they have a way of allowing others (or perhaps just one person in particular) to open up and be themselves fully without it shaking or affecting the one that contains.
5. לאכול סרטים = l’ecole sratim
Literal translation: to eat movies
Rough meaning: being dramatic
Similar to living in a movie, eating movies means to forgo the reality of a situation in favour of an extreme. To call someone out for this is a way of saying “you’re being crazy,” or providing a reality check to a major overreaction.
6. חבל על הזמן = chaval al hazman
Literal translation: shame on the time
Rough meaning: totally unreal, out of this world
Contrary to what you might assume if you were to hear this phrase translated into English, this expression is widely used as slang to describe amazement towards a situation, event, or outcome.
It’s a super positive one, usually accompanied by some degree of shouting or an array of emphatic hand genstures to signify complete and utter happy disbelief.
7. חולה עליך = chola aleicha
Literal translation: sick on you
Rough meaning: love drunk on you (but casually)
This is a term in Hebrew slang that bizarrely can be used just as frequently with casual acquaintances as well as more intimate ones. From a classmate, to a niece, to a romantic partner, this phrase is a causal expression of both admiration and appreciation — but emphasis on the casual!
Miscellaneous Terms of Endearment:
נשמה שלי = neshama sheli
Literal translation: my soul
כפרה שלי = kaparaa sheli
Literal translation: my redemption
חיים שלי = chaim sheli
Literal translation: my life
Speaking of casual..these terms of endearment are popular within the Hebrew language as notoriously informal but affectionate (and slightly over the top) ways of addressing a stranger, acquaintance, friend, or loved one.
All the above phrases can also be used in casual conversation without the “my” similar to the way Brits might say “thanks love,” “babe,” or “mate,” and how Americans might to use, “dude,” or “man.”
So there you go! Not only is Hebrew a beautiful language, but its interesting application of words and sometimes counter-intuitive connotations makes for the witnessing of some very fun and delighting conversation.
If you’re anything like me then you might find yourself using some of the phrases on this list the next time you’re in search for that je ne sais quoi of a description that doesn’t quite exist in English!
Alexandra Walker-Jones — March 2021