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This review was written by Ghil`ad Zuckermann (, University of Oxford, and appeared in International Journal of Lexicography, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1999): 325-346
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Nakdimon Shabbethay Doniach and Ahuvia Kahane (eds). The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. xxiii+1,091 pages. ISBN 0-19-860172-7. £ 19.99.

(Aramaic for 'a mistake once entered remains therein', Babylonian Talmud: 112a)

As a child I once asked my father to buy me a Greek-English dictionary. I meant an Ancient Greek one (such as Liddell and Scott's). My father, an intellectual but not a linguist, bought a 'Greek dictionary'. However, it was Modern Greek. Was it his error? Not only his, but the publisher's as well. The first mistake of the innovative, up-to-date Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (henceforth, OEHD) appears in its title. It is time to acknowledge that the language spoken by Israelis (reflected in OEHD) is very different from the Hebrew of the past. One could call it Israeli, Ivrít ('Hebrew' in Ivrit; I shall use this term throughout), Tsabarish (from tsabar 'prickly pear', a nickname for native Israelis, allegedly thorny on the outside and sweet inside), or, if one insists, Israeli Hebrew – rather than the vague Modern Hebrew (does the latter embrace the nineteenth century Hebrew of the Haskalah?) and the ambiguous, periphrastic Modern Israeli Hebrew, both of which are commonly used. But to call it 'Hebrew' tout court is misleading.

This may be not only a semantic issue. Unlike Greek, where there has been an unbroken chain of native speakers from Ancient to Modern Greek, Hebrew was comatose, one might even say clinically dead, for more than 1,700 years, going unspoken from the second century AD to the beginning of the twentieth century. There is much debate over whether it is really possible to revive a language (without changing its nature). One might question whether Ivrit is a Semitic Altneulangue, and consequently regard the term 'Hebrew' as totally misapplied. But an exhaustive discussion of the genetic affiliation of Ivrit (see, for instance, the 'contra-Semitic' and relexificational views of Horvath and Wexler 1994, 1997) is, of course, far beyond the scope of this review.

This review will first examine OEHD's structure and general characteristics. This will be followed by a discussion of the target audience, descriptiveness, and problematic vocalization – and their broad implications. Then the analysis will focus, more minutely, on virtues and flaws in the glosses, coverage, phonemic transcription and editing.

1. General description

OEHD is unidirectional, English-Hebrew. It is usually up-to-date, accurate, clear, and concise. It is comprehensive enough to answer many needs, and yet not cumbersome to use. It contains 61,000 items (including entries and subentries). Each entry consists of the headword, phonemic transcription (according to the International Phonetic Alphabet), grammatical designation (e.g. n., v.i., v.t.) and Ivrit gloss. Where appropriate, there are subentries, definitions in English for co-senses, and usage labels denoting register (formal, colloq., sl.), style (poet., vulg., derog., joc., fig., euphem., arch.), field (e.g. Theatr., Comput.) or geographical distribution (e.g. Brit., US). All labels appear only in English, and occasionally they are forgotten; for instance there is no reference to botany in holly, hollyhock and hop2.

OEHD contains 1,091 pages measuring 233X173 mm (the same length as this journal but 18 mm wider). The 1998 paperback OEHD is identical to the 1996 hardback, but the latter is already out of print. An essential virtue in any dictionary is usability. OEHD is indeed user-friendly. The print is clear and the layout – in two columns per page – makes the text easy to scan. Despite the lack of colour, a desired lexical item is easily traceable. The word-headings on the top-outer corners of each page successfully guide the reader's eye. Thereafter, the headwords are written in large bold letters and, unlike the other parts of the definition, they are not indented.

One of the excellent qualities of OEHD, compared to other English-Ivrit dictionaries, is the extensive use of subentries, in which the headword serves as a component. By 'subentries' I mean phrases (e.g. go Dutch, say cheese!, I stand corrected, as pure as driven snow), illustrative sentences (e.g. let's take a trip down memory lane, that music's right up my street, is intelligence nature or nurture?), compounds (e.g. walking stick) and phrasal verbs (e.g. walk away). In the entries for the metalanguage terms cedilla, idiomatic expression, Murphy's law, oxymoron, portmanteau word and spoonerism there is a brief example which elucidates the term. This is very helpful and could be applied to malapropism, palindrome, rhyming slang and tilde as well.

In cases of homonymy there are distinct headwords (see bunk in the Appendix to this review) whereas in cases of polysemy all the co-senses of the lexeme are classified under the same headword (see bunker in the Appendix). The latter system also applies to words which act as both verb and noun.

The choice of headwords, their spelling and their phonemic transcription reflect British conventions. Many American expressions are included but I could not find dial tone (dialling tone), baby tooth (milk tooth) or Groundhog Day. egg-plant is claimed to be American (denoting aubergine) but it is transcribed – as if it were British English – as rather than the American . In peddler (US) the reader is referred to pedlar (GB) but under dope there is the subentry dope peddler. donut (US for doughnut) and check (US for cheque) do not appear. The dialect labelling is incomplete. For instance, while zip-fastener and aerial are specified as British, postcode and hustings are not.

There are no drawings, sketches or other assisting material. There are few cross-references, and these only in the case of variant spellings, for example plow see PLOUGH, archeology (US) see ARCHAEOLOGY, hello, hullo see HALLO. I find it useful that in the above there is a short gloss. However, in indorse see ENDORSE, vigor (US) see VIGOUR, and sizable see SIZEABLE, there is no Ivrit gloss. Furthermore, gaoljail, aeroplane–airplane, catsup–ketchup, soh–sol, moustache–mustache are defined separately without cross-references. The spelling forms chosen for the headwords are usually the older ones, for instance mediaeval rather than the current medieval (which is mentioned as a variant). This might be too pedantic; by now, even the University of Oxford has a Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and Literature.

In the case of English irregular verbs, the past and past participle forms with their phonemic transcription are mentioned after the phonemic transcription of the headword. There is no separate list of such forms. Irregular plurals and comparative and superlative forms are mentioned as well and even appear as headwords, for example farther, shook, geese, mice, oxen. However, children is mentioned neither under child nor as a separate headword. better and best are mentioned without reference to good.

2. Target audience

OEHD is obviously not suitable for a theologian who studies (Classical) Hebrew, not only because s/he will normally use a dictionary in the opposite direction (Hebrew-English) but also because the glosses reflect Ivrit, not Hebrew (see, inter alia, the colloquialisms and internationalisms below). The audience for which OEHD is most suitable in its present form are native Ivrit speakers who are not beginners in English. Ivrit speakers are the ones who will appreciate the phonemic transcription of the English lexical items. Non-beginners are the ones who will cope with the fact that there are no basic usage illustrations. For instance, under the headword be, OEHD mentions so be it but not a basic example such as I am tired. Furthermore, given the abundance of advanced phrases, the original glosses, and the register-matching translation (see below), OEHD might be helpful for (professional) translators from English to Ivrit. Still, OEHD's British-leaning character might deter many Israelis who prefer the more international American conventions.

Although in cases of polysemy OEHD mentions co-in English, which serve learners of Ivrit, OEHD is not sufficient per se for such users, and especially not for beginners. Both transitivity and prepositional complementation are generally mentioned in Ivrit verbs, but there is no mention of grammatical features such as gender and plural form in Ivrit nouns. Thus, the Ivrit learner needs to refer to further dictionaries. The (idiomatic) subentries clearly seem to have been selected to serve a non-native English speaker who is encountering them for the first time rather than a native English speaker who would like to translate them into Ivrit. Moreover, a non Ivrit-speaker might not know how to pronounce many of the Ivrit glosses since the vocalization is sometimes misleading (see below) and there is no mention of stress (unlike in the Ivrit transcriptions in this review). I would advocate mentioning stress in all cases in which it is not final.

3. Descriptiveness in coverage and glosses

The main advantage of OEHD is its descriptiveness. As the introduction says, 'The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary is an attempt to describe language as it is actually used, rather than to prescribe how it ought to be used in an ideal world.' (p. xiii) This applies to both the TL (Target Language, Ivrit) and the SL (Source Language, English), as follows.

Defying the puristic principle of 'Neologize from Native Roots'1, the Ivrit glosses include many commonly used foreignisms, often specifying the phonetic adaptation of the very English headword. Thus, handbrake is ámbreks; jet lag is jétlag (instead of jétleg) , ignoring yaéfet (the latter is proposed by the Academy of the Hebrew Language in LL 4, March 1994); and hangover is heng-over rather than khamarmóret (id.). However, in rating there is no mention of the widespread réyting2.

Frequently, the form of the Ivrit equivalents is the commonly used one, as opposed to that advocated by the Academy of the Hebrew Language or Even-Shoshan's Dictionary. For instance, consistent is ikví rather than akív (the latter is argued for in Akadém 11: 1, May 1997; YP 1998: 1076; and Even-Shoshan 1997: 1362c). timing is itúy and not itút (ibid.: 1389b). you are one up on me is ekhád éfes letovatkhá rather than the normative akhát éfes letovatkhá. Choosing such forms, OEHD accepts that shabbeshta - kewan deÖal - Ö al (the opening quotation of this review, see translation above). After all, the native speakers' 'mistakes' of today can very well become the grammar of tomorrow. Many linguists (but especially non-linguists) oppose such a 'reckless' attitude, often forgetting that much of what they now regard as grammatical started off as 'incorrect' usage of their ancestors3.

Vulgar and taboo English lexemes, as well as politically incorrect sememes, are not omitted. As in OED, though not in NODE and MWCD, Jew is also explained as tagrán 'huckster' and mitmakéakh 'bargainer'. Jewess is said to be sometimes used in a derogatory sense. Frog ('French'), Yid “yehudón” and Jim Crow kúshi are mentioned as well. Unlike Megiddo (1982) and Segal and Dagut (1994), OEHD has no problem with blowjob, fellatio and cunnilingus4.

OEHD's glosses include many colloquialisms and slang terms. Hence the frequent use of quotation marks, for example wanker “éfes, khatikhát éfes”, bungle “fishél”, hunk “khatíkh”, flaky (US)“kúku”, slut “zoná”, hump “dafák”. fuck int. is translated as kus émak! and kus ókhto!, and fuck off! is lekh tizdayén!. wank, jerk off and toss off are defined as “asá bayád” whereas did you get your oats last night? is ziánta etmól? (There is no mention of did you get your leg over? though.) let's discuss it over lunch is bo nedaskés et ze al arukhát tsohoráim.

However, this commendable descriptiveness contains possible traps. Slang words are transitory and unstable. It is therefore hard to ensure that the proposed colloquial gloss is neither passé nor idiolectal. In fact, OEHD fails from time to time, providing a gloss which might mislead the learner of Ivrit; for instance stony-broke is translated as “bli mil al hanshamá” and bli prutá lefartá, both of which are outdated. bli grush al hatákhat/hanshamá, khasár prutá and “tafrán” (cf. skint) are more common. Some colloquial glosses may not be understood by native Ivrit speakers. For instance, so-and-so (2), defined in English as 'disliked person (euphem.)', is translated as “atá yodéa ma”, lit. 'you know what'. Most Israelis have never come across such a use of the phrase. hu “atá yodéa ma” zakén is definitely not understood as he's a miserable old so-and-so. If at all, with the right intonation, it could mean “he's very old”. goofy is given as “túshtush” and “búlbul”, which are not understood as such by many Ivrit speakers. tipshón 'little silly' could do. termagant is defined only as “ksantípa” 'Xantippe' although many Israelis are not familiar with Socrates' ill-tempered wife. I would add “makhshefá”, mirsháat, soréret.

One might argue against my latter example by pointing out that many English speakers are not acquainted with termagant either. Such a claim might serve to justify OEHD's general attitude of matching the English headword with an Ivrit lexical item of the same register even when the latter is not familiar to most native Ivrit speakers (forcing them to use a further dictionary). Consider the formal-register contumelious defined as az pán and the poetic begone glossed as klékh lekha!. Such a choice is lexically accurate and to be welcomed. Although usage labels are provided anyway, equivalents of similar register might convey the SL overtones more subtly and help translators. However, one of the key tasks of a dictionary is to let users know what the actual signifié is. Accordingly, it would be advisable to add in parentheses a more familiar term (e.g. khutspán, histalék! respectively).


4. The problem of vocalization

As in most dictionaries which involve Ivrit or Hebrew, vocalization (vowel marking) appears in the glosses5. (OEHD uses the term pointing, calquing nikúd, see pp. ix, xxiii.) Accordingly, the spelling is ktiv khasér, the Hebrew 'biblical', 'defective' orthography, which (usually) lacks the vowel letters of 'scriptio plena' (i.e. ktiv malé, full spelling, used by Inbal 1994-5). Vocalization might assist in distinguishing between Ivrit words which are otherwise spelled the same. Normally, it also helps Ivrit learners with the pronunciation.

Juxtaposing OEHD's vocalization with the coverage and glosses, one perceives a dictionary at war with itself, acting as host to two conflicting standpoints: descriptivism and prescriptivism. The glosses are by and large descriptive and colloquial. However, contrary to OEHD's claim on p. xxiii (where 'the current pronunciation of a word is different from that which derives from traditional pointing, the modern pronunciation is given precedence'), the vocalization is highly prescriptive. One of the results of this conflict is absurd 'shaatnez' glosses containing a register-mix of colloquial speech and high vocalization or morphology. Consider hi taharóg otí kshetiré me asíti lamkhonít (she'll tear me apart when she sees what I've done to the car). While hi taharóg otí, lit. 'she will kill me', is demotic, me (a variant of ma 'what') is archaic and in fact obsolescent among native speakers (unless we include in our speaking community Israeli sheep, which in Ivrit bleat 'me', not 'baa'). Even the Academy of the Hebrew Language decided to put me out to pasture (on 11 November 1996, see Gadish 1998: 62; cf. YP 1998: 1076). The Ivrit translation should be hi taharóg otí kshehí tiré ma asíti lamkhonít. Similarly, the normative habokhén “asá miménu ktsitsót” (the examiner took him apart) should be replaced by the descriptive habokhén “asá miméno ktsitsót”; taúf li min haeináim (buzz off!) should be changed to (ta)úf li mehaenáim or tus li mehaenáim; and hi lakkhá et hakhók leyadéha (she took the law into her own hands) should be hi lakkhá et hakhók layadáim.

OEHD's vocalization follows the orthoepistic efforts of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. Thus, stink bomb is pitsetsát serakhón rather than the actually-used ptsatsát sirakhón 6, masculine is zkhaí rather than zikhrí, cable-car is rakével rather than rakhbál (the former is urged in LL 27, February-March 1998), and Israeli is isreelí although it is 'really' israelí. Further examples (in each case, the first appears in OEHD whereas the second reflects the common pronunciation): kundéskundás (buffoon, practical joke, prank), “mekhashefá” “makhshefá” (hag, harridan), kikév kikhév (co-star, star), mekhakév mekakhév (co-star), sibúv sivúv (circuit, jog, turn, twist).

I understand the wish to maintain the traditional Tiberian vocalization even though the latter, as well as the other forms of Hebrew vocalization such as the superscribed Babylonian and Palestinian, is relatively new, post-Talmudic, and was introduced between AD 600-850. However, if a descriptive lexicographer really seeks to depict how Israelis pronounce Ivrit words, s/he must reflect it somehow. I perceive two possible ways of escaping from this quagmire:

  1. The radical approach ('once descriptive – always descriptive'): Reforming the traditional vocalization, at least in specific Ivrit words whose pronunciation is different from what one could expect from their vocalization. This is a drastic move, which entails a loss of diachronic information. Imagine English writers spelling 'sign' as sine (cf. nite 'night' and enuf 'enough', used occasionally for modernistic effect), thus losing the link with signal. Since Israelis do not normally use vocalization, the loss in the case of Ivrit might be less significant at first. However, the Ivrit reform might precipitate a total abolition of the distinctions between patákh and kamáts, tseré and segól, and so forth. After all, in Ivrit there is no phonetic difference between these pairs. Taken to its extreme, this approach might lead to the latinization of Ivrit orthography.
  2. The moderate approach (which I prefer): Providing phonetic transcription for specific Ivrit words whose pronunciation is different from that expected from their vocalization. This technique is similar to the one Weinreich (1968) wisely uses in his Modern English-Yiddish Dictionary in cases of lexemes whose orthography does not follow the phonetic writing of Yiddish. Most of these lexemes can be traced back to Hebrew and are written in their original 7form. Consider two of Weinreich's equivalents for matter: and . The former is pronounced matérye as one would expect from its spelling, and therefore there is no phonetic transcription attached. The latter, however, is not pronounced énin, as one who is not familiar with the word and its Hebrew origin might expect, but as ínyen. Hence Weinreich adds the phonetic transcription [INYEN]. Similarly, I would like to propose, OEHD's sub-machine-gun, vocalized as tat makléa, should be accompanied by the phonetic transcription tat miklá; octopus, vocalized as tmanún, should be transcribed tamnún; and so on.

5. Vocalization and spelling of internationalisms

Sometimes OEHD's vocalization is descriptive, reflecting the 'mistakes' of native speakers. For instance, egoist is glossed as enokhí rather than the normative anokhí, psychedelic as psikhodáli rather than psikhodéli, and gynaecologist as genikológ rather than ginekológ. The latter two examples bring me to the issue of OEHD's vocalization, as well as spelling, of internationalisms in Ivrit. OEHD's preferred pronunciation of internationalisms tends to be English in general, and sometimes specifically American. Indeed, the Ivrit special rephonologization of internationalisms (originally and mostly influenced by Yiddish, Polish and Russian, the main languages spoken by the first generations of Ivrit speakers) currently shows signs of Anglicization. Sometimes a pre-existent Ivrit form of an internationalism is even superseded by a more English one. For instance, gíga 'giga' is overriden by jíga whereas tselulári 'cellular' is displaced by selulári (contrast this with the still-current tselulóza 'cellulose'). However, most Israelis who use the term ad hoc still say ad hok rather than ed hok, the latter suggested by OEHD, afázya rather than efázya (see aphasia), déus eks mákina or déus eks mákhina rather than deus eks mékhina (deus ex machina), tétanus rather than tétenus (lockjaw, cf. the former in tetanus), kontseptuáli rather than konseptuáli (conceptual). Most surprisingly, in the very case of cellular telephone, where most Israelis pronounce it the American way selulári, OEHD mentions tselulári.

6. Translation

Translation is often either beautiful or faithful. In other words, with regard to the SL lexical item, it is either 'gestaltistic' or literal. Hence the difficulty of the bilingual lexicographer's task. S/he must avoid over-adoption (faithfulness) resulting in 'cartoon translations' (adopting the terminology of Jocks 1998) such as the Ivrit cacotransposition for When his wife died he went to pieces: ksheishtó nifterá hu halákh lekhatikhót 'When his wife died, he went to [pick up some] chicks (good-looking girls)'8. Still, s/he must also avoid over-adaptation (beauty), such as pragmatistically equating It is too hot here only with tiftákh et hakhalón bevakashá 'Open the window, please'. (Obviously, neither of these examples appears in OEHD.)

Tending towards beauty, OEHD's mild definiendum pigs might fly has a colourful definiens, ílu lasávta hayú galgalím 'if grandmother had wheels' (there is a subtle semantic difference between these expressions). This brings to mind Borges's amusing 1943 remark: El original es infiel a la traducción (1974: 732). Attempting faithfulness, OEHD translates she sweated blood (to get that car) as hi “hizía dam” (lit. 'she sweated blood') whereas hi “yarká dam” (lit. 'she spat blood') is the commonly used expression. he laughed fit to burst is translated as hu kimát hitpakéa mitskhók (lit. 'he almost burst from laugh') whereas hu hitpakéa/met mitskhók (lit. 'he burst/died from laugh') is what most native speakers say. One of OEHD's most elegant and amusing definitions, which is both beautiful and fairly faithful, is for he's as mad as a hatter, hu meshugá al kol harósh, lit. 'he is mad on the whole head'. The latter is a colloquial expression (calquing Yiddish meshúge áfn gántsn kop) which is widely used, maybe less than dafúk barósh (cf. soft in the head) but more than meshugá lakhalutín (see he's as mad as a hatter) and meshugá gamúr (see hatter in Megiddo 1982). Another 'harmonious' equivalent is the almost unprecedented9 translation of mayhem by mehumá 'riot, uproar, tumult, confusion', using a method which I term phono-semantic matching by semantic shifting: the introduction of a new sememe ('mayhem') to a pre-existent TL lexical item (mehumá), the latter chosen not only because it is related to the SL lexical item (mayhem) semantically but also – and most importantly – because it sounds similar to the SL lexical item.

On the whole, the glosses are up-to-date, concise and accurate and the examples are relevant and clear. OEHD explains retreat inter alia as pérek zman lehirhuréy néfesh, lit. 'a period of time for reflections'; trim appears in the meaning tispóret kalá, tikún letispóret 'a light haircut, a correction to a haircut'; thistledown is defined not only as mokh hadardár, the botanical term, but also as sába, the popular signifier. OEHD does not refrain from elaboration and elucidation where there is no single-word equivalent. This is good and unusual. Despite their awareness that there is no one-to-one correlation between SL and TL signifiers, many English-Ivrit lexicographers perceive it as awkward to use a long NP (noun-phrase) as a definiens and opt for a neat (but unused) single-word equivalent. OEHD, on the other hand, does not define vice-chancellor only as sgan nesí haunivérsita 'university vice-president', but adds in brackets hamenahél befóal shel univérsita brítit the act'ing (actual) head of a British university'. After all, the primary purpose of a dictionary is to inform the reader of the actual signifié of the SL signifiant; not to provide the literary meaning or to prove that the TL lexicon is rich. Having said that, OEHD sometimes omits an appropriate equivalent, for instance vegan is glossed as adám sheenó okhél o lovésh dvarím shemekorám bakháy 'a person who neither eats nor wears things which originate from living beings'. There is an Ivrit word for vegan: tivoní.


7. Flaws in the glosses

Sometimes OEHD prefers an uncommon signifier to a widespread one. In band and groupie there is use of lahakát kétsev for 'band' whereas lehakát pop/rok are the lexical items in actual use. Both affirmative action and positive discrimination are translated as aflayá lekhiúv although the usual Ivrit signifier is aflayá metakénet. pull-out is defined as hafréd ushmór whereas gzor ushmór is the expression actually used. Perhaps this was an analogy mistakenly construed on the basis of hafréd umshól 'divide et impera'. cellular phone is said to be (beside pélefon) télefon taí. This is not used. nayád, lit. 'mobile', should be added instead (for selulári, see above). laptop is defined as makhshév mitaltél rather than makhshév nayád (makhshév “léptop”, instead of simply léptop, is mentioned as well). Inconsistently, notebook computer is makhshév “nótbuk”, makhshév nayád katán; notebook computer is makhshév nayád zaír; and portable (computer) is makhshév nayád. All of them should be glossed as léptop, makhshév nayád. take into account is translated as heví bekheshbón, ignoring the popular lakákh bekheshbón. chiropractic and chiropractor are glossed as osteopátya and osteopát respectively although most Israelis have never heard of the latter two and the more faithful khiropráktika and khiroprákt are more familiar.

There are several mistakes. billion is referred to as '1,000,000,000' in USA and France, and '1,000,000,000,000' in England and Germany. The latter is not entirely correct. The current usage among Britons is '1,000,000,000'. deplorable is defined as raúy lignáy, metsaér (bilshón sagí nehór) 'deserving reproach, distressing (meaning exactly the opposite)'. The parenthetical remark should have been bilshón ham'atá 'as an understatement or beó';fen hitulí 'jocularly', consider deplorable stupidity/nonsense.

There are cases of misleading glosses. smear test is defined as shikhvá, lit. 'layer', whereas the real referent is mishtákh tsvar harékhem 'smear of the cervix'. tilde ('~') is metsayén higúy NJ 'indicating the pronunciation NJ'. It might be better to use NY instead of the 'phonetic' NJ because the latter – appearing in an English context – is understood by most readers as , not as [nj]. informative is defined as mealéf. This Ivrit word did originally mean 'instructive, imparting knowledge'. However, it has undergone a semantic change and currently most Israelis understand mealéf as 'amazing, fascinating, very interesting, great'. Accordingly, zot haytá hartsaá mealéfet means 'it was a fascinating lecture' rather than 'it was an informative lecture'. mesapék meydá, maashír (et hayéda), melaméd (as well the rephonologized internationalism informatívi, which appears in the gloss) are more appropriate. serendipity is defined as hakishrón limtsó “metsiót”. This is a flawed definition because this will be understood by most native Ivrit speakers only as 'the talent to find (good) bargains', which is a very specific meaning of 'serendipity'. (hanetiyá) legalót tagliót neimót beakráy/bemazál '(the tendency) to discover pleasant discoveries by chance' will do10. In some entries the information provided is incomplete. For example, affix is defined as musafít (tkhilít o sofít hamekhubéret lamilá). It should also have included tokhít 'infix', a concept which is not foreign to Israelis.

There are inconsistencies. elementary school and primary school are defined in an up-to-date way as bet séfer yesodí but the three R's is described as shlóshet hamiktsoót bevét haséfer haamamí 'the three subjects in the elementary school', using the outmoded modifier amamí, lit. 'popular', for 'elementary'. In rabbit OEHD specifies that zoologically it is arnavón whereas demotically it is shafán and arnáv. In eagle, however, there is no such specification (zoologically áit, colloquially nésher). wire v.t. (2) is said to be hivrík, tilgréf whereas in telegraph v.t.&i. there is hivrík le- and no mention of tilgréf. white elephant is only “pil laván”, lit. 'white elephant', stripped of any explanation such as nékhes matríd o khasár shimúsh/érekh. However, white elephant is adequately defined as nékhes sheakhzakató yekará vetoaltó muatá.

There are numerous cases in which a suitable equivalent is missing. For instance, condom lacks kovaón, defy – hitrís kenéged, erect oméd lo (cf. hard-on), fax v.t.fiksés, filch filéakh, interferencehitabkhút, judicial shiputí, quickie “khafúz, kwíki”, vision maóf, willy búlbul. caret is glossed bombastically as simán “khasér” betikún aléy hagahá. An Israeli will find this difficult to understand. aléy hagahá '(galley) proofs' (cf. alé 'leaf') is archaic and many Israelis might understand aléy as the outdated form of al 'on', currently used only in the fossilized expression aléy adamót 'on earth'. A morphological mistake appears in turtle-necked, said to be tsavarón golf, lit. 'Golf collar' (cf. polo-neck) as if it were turtle-neck. It should be translated as im tsavarón golf 'with a Golf collar'.


8. Omission of co-senses

What was Monica Lewinsky's official role in the White House? An Israeli (reader of English newspapers) who uses OEHD might think she was a trainee medical doctor. intern is defined as such (rofé mitmakhé), ignoring the more general meaning mitmakhé, mitlaméd 'trainee'. Similarly, mobile is not provided with the sememe 'cellular phone' (recorded 1992, ODNW), charger is not given the meaning 'an appliance for charging' (e.g. mobile charger), and server has three co-senses, none of which is linked to computers or telecommunication. junk mail and surf do not include any reference to the Internet. inflammable is defined as dalík, mitlakéakh 'combustible', neglecting the possible American opposite sense. take care! is only defined as hizahér!, tizahér! 'be careful!' whereas it is often used to mean shmór al atsmekha!. An Israeli user who receives an email message signed 'take care!' might misinterpret it as a threat. babe should not only be defined as tinók, olál 'baby' but also as “khatikhá” (o-la-la) 'attractive woman'. professional n. is said to be ish miktsóa 'a person with a profession' (such as a plumber), neglecting the sememe 'one engaged in one of the learned or skilled professions considered socially superior to trade or handicraft', for instance medical doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer, computer programmer. báal miktsóa khofshí will do (rather than ovéd tsavarón laván). pro forma actually has more sememes than kheshbonít lehesdér tashlúm merósh, for example latsét midéy/lidéy/yedéy khová, lemarít áin. While masculine is both gavrí and (bedikdúk) min zakhár (the grammatical gender), feminine is defined only as nashí, omitting the additional co-sense (bedikdúk) min nekevá (the grammatical gender).

9. Lexical lacunae

The Introduction to the dictionary (p. xv) reads: 'The objective was not to include as many words and phrases as possible, but, within a volume of specified size, to include those words that are most common, and that are likely to be most needed by an average user'. This might be used as justification for lexical lacunae such as ATV/all-terrain vehicle, beef tomato, biennale, blackbuck, black tie, bon appétit, bullock, carjack, chicken-and-egg (situation), chutzpah, cornflakes, decaf, delegitimize, deli, dork (US), dress rehearsal, ER (US), ex libris, fin de sie˜ cle, gyro, hickey (US), hummus/hoummus/hummous, humongous, infarction, IT, (Portuguese) man-o(f)-war, MIA, moni(c)ker, myocardial, park-and-ride, peafowl, prequel, speleology, and whoops. However, nothing can justify such severe lacunae as euro (1971, ODNW), geek (1991, ODNW), high-tech(nology) (1972, 1964, OED), HIV (1986, ODNW), homophobia (1969, ODNW), karaoke (1982, MWCD), laid-back (1969, MWCD), modem (1952, MWCD), political correctness (1986, ODNW), politically correct (1936, MWCD, sic!), spin doctor (1984, MWCD; 1992, ODNW), mall, salesperson, and zapping.

Interestingly, the following appeain OEHD but not as a headword: solecism (in the Introduction, p. xiv), RRP (recommended retail price, on the back cover), ISBN (International Standard Book Number, id.), ASA (American Standards Association, the standard scale for rating film speed; in speed n. 5).

Unlike Alcalay (1996), OEHD includes numerous computer terms, for instance scroll v. and computer virus. However, it fails to include many other widely used words such as Internet (1987, MWCD; 1994, ODNW), WWW/World Wide Web/(the) Web (1992, MWCD; 1995, ODNW) WYSIWYG (1982, ODNW and MWCD), spell-check (1992, ODNW, cf. spelling checker 1981, MWCD), homepage (1992, MWCD; 1994, ODNW). There are several cases of coverage incompleteness, for instance nano but not giga, muon and neutrino but not tau11.

10. Abbreviations

My earlier suggestion that OEHD is especially suitable for native Ivrit speakers leads me to the issue of abbreviations, especially initialisms (e.g. VIP, DIY, a.k.a., HQ), clippings (e.g. admin, limo, perm, rep.), and contracted written forms (e.g. dept, Ltd, Revd), but also acronyms (e.g. JAP, laser, PIN, scuba) and blends (e.g. sitcom and the portmanteau words brunch and smog). OEHD does not give the full version of such abbreviations despite the fact that the reader might want to know what they stand for (inter alia as a mnemonic aid)12. One could argue that there are numerous cases in which native English speakers themselves do not know what the abbreviation stands for, for example napalm, pixel, radar. However, in many other cases they do, and instead of trying to distinguish between the cases, a dictionary (which mentions the co-senses in English) should provide the whole phrase in all abbreviations commonly used. The exceptions might be terms whose full version is highly scientific (e.g. LSD, PVC) and words that are abbreviations solely by etymology, for instance jeep (<G.P., general purpose), goodbye (<God be with ye) and nuke (<nuclear).


11. English pronunciation

Most English-Hebrew and English-Ivrit dictionaries do not provide phonemic transcription of the English headwords, cf. Alcalay (1996), Inbal (1994-5), Scharfstein (1961), and Kaufman (1956). If they do, they usually transcribe the English items using Hebrew letters and vocalization, cf. Megiddo (1982), and Segal and Dagut (1994)13. Unlike those dictionaries, not only does OEHD transcribe the English lexical items, but it also uses the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The advantage of IPA is that it differentiates more elegantly and clearly between the various English vocalic sounds. In the case of transcription which uses Hebrew letters and vocalization, representation of the differences between [I ] and [i:], for instance, is possible but is highly awkward. The disadvantage of IPA is that most Israelis, like other users, are not adequately familiar with it. IPA is not part of an Israeli high-school education. In my opinion, OEHD's choice is wise, and users should familiarize themselves with IPA. By doing so, not only will they grasp the unpredictable peculiarities of English pronunciation, as presented in OEHD, but they will also enable themselves to use many other English and international dictionaries.

OEHD's transcription reflects standard British English. Usually, there is no mention of the American counterpart, for example advertisement is solely schedule , clerk and geyzer . However, in laboratory and sojourn the US pronunciation is given as well. As in OED, the subentries are not phonemically transcribed, so a reader cannot be sure of the pronunciation of phrases such as persona non grata, the Bard of Avon, or bureau de change. I would advocate the use of phonemic transcription in such phrases with components that are not otherwise included in the dictionary (e.g. non grata, Avon, de change).


12. Flaws in the phonemic transcription

Often the stress is left out. Consider, for example, apocalypse, arcade, archer, archery, argon, artiste, ascend, ascension, avid, avidity, bergamot, bullring, bulrush, burgomaster, carving, charger2, chatter, cliché, colander, collie, conform, designer, discourteous, evolve, fully, funicular, hamburger, harmonium, jockey, membership, nom de plume, novella, O-level, oozy, pita, saying, side-show, softly, vesicular. In bureaucratic, carcinoma, Christianity and overthrow only the secondary stress is represented. In beatitude, continent and ponderous there is only a secondary stress sign, which appears where the primary stress is. In bathos, breathalyser, cafeteria, coincide, constipation, desideratum, Hallowe'en, hallucination, mediaevalist, mediocrity, offprint and persimmon there are two primary stress signs although non-compound English words have only one primary stress.

The graphic representation of the primary stress sign is very small and is not superscribed (unlike the secondary stress sign, which is subscribed). Consequently, it is sometimes hard to see, for instance after /g/, cf. exacerbate, exact, exaggerate, example, exorbitant, exorbitance.block lacks a phonemic transcription. The size of the fonts in the phonemic transcription of epilepsy is larger than usual. There is a redundant stress sign between the /n/ and /t/ in coincident, and between the and in coeducational. In Boxing Day the secondary stress is dislocated. In the phonemic transcription of colloid and ponderous there is a redundant space.

13. Typos

In addition to the phonemic transcription errors, editorial slips are not rare. There are several typographical errors. art decco should have been art deco, tercentary should have been tercentenary. In the Introduction, we have oposite instead of opposite (p. xvii), native Hebrew speakes instead of speakers (p. xiv), Phonetic transcription can, help the user…instead of can help (p. xviii). prussian should have been Prussian.

Typos in the glosses include indidini instead of indiáni (Amerind), endifáli instead of entsefáli/enkefáli (encephalitic), kandéntsya instead of kadéntsya (term of office), tkhukatí instead of khukatí (constitutional) (The former might arise on the basis of a mistaken malapropistic analogy with tkhikatí 'legislative', cf. khakikatí.), et hatokhnít habaá tagísh et méri déyvidson (the next programme is introduced by Mary Davidson) instead of et hatokhnít habaá tagísh méri déyvidson. OEHD's spelling of tsed in tsed mekhashefót (witch-hunt) is .

aphasia is defined as efázya, leayét, lit. 'aphasia, to spell'. I wonder whether 'to spell' is a gloss (note) for the typesetter (to check whether it is spelled ) rather than part of the defining gloss (definiens). Phonological aphasia can sometimes affect reading and writing and has a remote chance of affecting spelling, but the major manifestations of aphasia – unlike dysgraphia or dyslexia – are in speech production and comprehension.

There are mistakes of vocalization (not to be confused with the 'prescriptive vocalization', discussed above). For example, felt2 is defined as levád ('alone, by oneself') instead of léved, suite (3) – as sawíta instead of swíta, oxidize – as khamtsán ('oxygen') instead of khimtsén, put the cat among the pigeons – as zará meribá instead of zará merivá (The latter mistake appears only in the paperback). post- is defined as béter whereas batár is much better. béter doktorát might mean 'a doctorate section' whereas 'postdoc(toral research)' is postdók, postdoktorát or batár-doktorát. psychic is glossed as mádyum instead of médyum (cf. medium). bats is translated as témbal instead of témbel (cf. chump, goon, juggins, mug1, yokel). Perhaps the former was meant to be the colloquial Ivrit támbal, cf. Arabic tánbal, támbal, as opposed to the more common (etymologically related) témbel, cf. Turkish tembel 'lazy'. raáv 'hunger' (in famished) should be raév 'hungry', and kili sháit (in dock3) should be kli sháit 'sea craft'. The 'etymologically hyper-correct' monetín (character, damaging, goodwill, name, reputation) should be monitín.

There are several typographical mistakes which may not affect the content but are aesthetically displeasing. In clump, dire, doublet, inhaler and oestrus '/' is missing whereas in goose-step, harum-scarum, infantile and Ltd there is a redundant '/'. In cluck the '/' is dislocated. In Americanism, don, palindrome, salt of the earth and speed (5) '(' is omitted. In cotton ')' is omitted whereas in filibuster there is a redundant ')'. In VCR there is '(' instead of '/'. In entertain, extramural and lessor ',' is missing. In birch, brink, casuist and heraldry a space is lacking. In the gloss of subcontract v.t. and in the phonemic transcription of drawer2 there are bold letters for no reason. b and b should have been B&B. Finally, in the 1996 hardback, Doniach's middle name is once given as Shabbethay (p. vi) and once as Shabbatai (on the back inner flap of the dust-jacket), which brings me to the issue of inconsistency.

14. Inconsistency in Ivrit spelling and vocalization

15. Concluding remarks

Despite its shortcomings, OEHD is indubitably a major step forward. The main elements which make this dictionary remarkably useful – compared to any other English-Ivrit dictionary – are its currency, descriptiveness in coverage and glosses, the abundance of phrases and illustrative sentences, and the choice of IPA for phonemic transcription. A first edition understandably has rough edges, and in fact the finishing touches still have to be put to this dictionary. OEHD é finito ma non rifinito. OEHD might make a mistake in a headword, gloss or phonemic transcription that Alcalay (1996), for example, does not even mention. The editors of a second edition should proof-read every detail in the dictionary and correct the mistakes and lacunae. They will also have to update the coverage andthe glosses since both Ivrit and English are changing rapidly in a world characterized by global talknology and skyrocketing lexical mobility. It would also be advisable to produce an OUP parallel Ivrit-English Dictionary. This is not going to be a simple task because Ivrit is caught between carefree speakers and frustrated normativists. Choosing lexical items and their forms to include in such a dictionary will be a very challenging task. Producing a second edition, as well as a parallel Ivrit-English dictionary, will do justice to the great vision of Naky Doniach, the outstanding founder editor of OEHD.

I shall certainly use the Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary.


1 cf. ekrón hasheivá mibifním, lit. 'The Principle of Drawing from Within', used by Bar-Asher (1995: 8); cf. Akadém 8: 3 (March 1996).

2 Neither is there a mention of midrúg 'rating', which was proposed by the Academy of the Hebrew Language on 20 November 1995, cf. Akadém 8: 1 (March 1996).

when it appears at the beginning of a word or, again, in rare words following a consonantal sound.


Akadém (The Bulletin of the Academy of the Hebrew Language) 1993-8. E. Gonen and R. Selig (eds). Jerusalem: The Academy of the Hebrew Language.

Alcalay, R. 1996. The Complete English Hebrew Dictionary. Tel Aviv: Chemed – Yedioth Ahronoth. (3 English-Hebrew vols)

[This edition is called 'new enlarged edition' and looks modern from the outside. In reality, it is identical to the 1959-61 four-volume edition published by Massadah, Jerusalem (which was a remarkable, comprehensive and authoritative dictionary in its time). The only change is the added English translation of the introduction. Alcalay writes there 'I shall be only too happy to receive any suggestions of improvement or correction'. I wonder what happened to such suggestions over thirty-seven years. I personally think it is chutzpah to publish in 1996 a 'new enlarged' dictionary which ignores compact disc (1979, OED) and which mentions computer only as 'calculating machine'. I am sure that Alcalay himself bears no responsibility for this negligence.]

Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bab= li) [3rd-6th centuries AD; finally redacted in the sixth century AD; consisting of the Mishnah (written by the Tannaim, signed in c.200 AD), the Gemara (written by the Amoraim in Babylon), and auxiliary material] 1980. Y. B.-R. A. A. Halevi (vocalization and comments). Jerusalem: Hamenaked.

Bahat, S. 1987. 'darká shel haakadémya lalashón haivrít bekhidushéy milím' (The Way in which the Academy of the Hebrew Language Neologizes). Leshonenu La'am 38 (9-10): 504-30.

Bar-Asher, M. 1995. 'al kharóshet hamilím beváad halashón uvaakadémya lalashón haivrít' ('Fabrication' of Words in the Hebrew Language Committee and in the Academy of the Hebrew Language). Leshonenu La'am 47 (1): 3-18.

Borges, J. L. 1974. 'Sobre el “Vathek” de William Beckford' (1943) in 'Otras Inquisiciones' (1952) in Obras Completas. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores.

Brown, L. (ed.) 1993. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (2 vols) (NSOED)

Cohen, C. E. 1998. 'dikdúk haivrít hamitkhadéshet umekorót yenikató' (The Sources of Modern Hebrew Grammar). Leshonenu La'am 49 (3): 117-31.

Even-Shoshan, A. 1997. hamilón hekhadásh – hamahadurá hameshulévet (The New Dictionary – The Combined Version). Jerusalem: Kiryat-Sefer.

Gadish, R. 1998. 'haakadémya vetsibúr dovréy haivrít' (The Academy and the Hebrew-Speaking Public). Leshonenu La'am 49 (2): 58-64.

Horvath, J. and Wexler, P. 1994. 'Unspoken Languages and the Issue of Genetic Classification: the Case of Hebrew'. Linguistics 32: 241-69.

Horvath, J. and Wexler, P. (eds) 1997. Relexification in Creole and Non-Creole Languages – With Special Attention to Haitian Creole, Modern Hebrew, Romani, and Rumanian (Mediterranean Language and Culture Monograph Series, vol. xiii). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Inbal, S. 1994-5. Hebrew / American / English / Hebrew User-Friendly Dictionary. Jerusalem: S. Zack & Co.

Jakobson, R. 1966. 'On Linguistic Aspects of Translation' in R. A. Brower (ed.), On Translation. New York: Oxford University Press, 232-9. (reproduced in Selected Writings II: Word and Language 1971. The Hague – Paris: Mouton, 260-6.)

Jocks, C. 1998. 'Living Words and Cartoon Translations: Longhouse “Texts” and the Limitations of English' in L. A. Grenoble and L. J. Whaley (eds), Endangered Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 217-33.

Kaufman, J. I.-S. (ed.) 1956. English-Hebrew Dictionary. Tel Aviv: Dvir. (written by Kaufman as well as by Israel Efros and Benjamin Silk)

Knowles, E. and Elliott, J. (eds) 1997. The Oxford Dictionary of New Words. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press. (ODNW)

Laméd Leshonkhá (Teach Your Language): New Series. 1993-8. S. Bahat (ed.: Leaflets 1-2), R. Gadish (ed.: Leaflets 3-10), R. Selig (ed.: Leaflets 11ff.). Jerusalem: The Academy of the Hebrew Language. (LL)

[These leaflets, published by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, depict practical applications of the 'correct' Hebrew usage of words and expressions, both old and new, in specific fields. Each leaflet (six per year) is devoted to a fresh subject, ranging from the culinary world to the latest terms in nuclear physics.]

Levenston, E. A. and Sivan, R. (eds) 1982. The Megiddo Modern Dictionary. Tel Aviv: Megiddo. (2 English-Hebrew vols, identical to the 1966 one-volume edition) (Megiddo)

Mish, F. C. (ed.) 1998. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition). Sprin(Massachusetts): Merriam-Webster. (MWCD)

Pearsall, J. (ed.) 1998. The New Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (NODE)

Segal, M. and Dagut, M. B. 1994. English-Hebrew Dictionary. Jerusalem: Kiryat-Sefer. (identical to the 1988 edition)

Scharfstein, Z. (ed.) 1961. English-Hebrew Dictionary. Tel Aviv: Dvir; New York: Shilo. (written by B.-A. Scharfstein and R. Sappan)

Shachter, H. 1963. The New Concise English-Hebrew Dictionary. Jerusalem: Achiasaf.

Simpson, J. A. and Weiner, E. S. C. (eds) 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition). Oxford: Clarendon Press. (OED)

Weinreich, U. 1968. Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary. New York: YIVO. (identical to the 1977 edition by Schocken and YIVO)

Yalkút haPirsumím (4602) 1998. hakhlatót bedikdúk uveminúakh shel haakadémya lalashón haivrít hatashnág-hatashnáz (Decisions on Grammar and Terminology by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, 1993-7). Jerusalem: The Israeli Government. (signed by the Minister of Education, 4 January 1998) (YP)

Ghil`ad Zuckermann

University of Oxford

email: ghil-ad.zuckermann at (replace at with @)

email: gzuckermann at (replace at with @)

Appeared in International Journal of Lexicography, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1999): 325-346

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