Purim sameyach

It’s true, I’m a Purim freak: I dress up every year, read the megilla at my synagogue and turn my house and family upside down preparing mishlochei manot and organizing a very-alcohol-heavy Purim Seudah for all my friends.
But thank goodness for Madonna, a real hero to the Jews, because if it weren’t for her no one outside Israel (and the religious Jews living elsewhere) would ever have heard of Esther. Talk about publicizing the miracle. But other than a vague idea that Esther is some sort of Jewish heroine, and you should trust me on this: no one knows about Purim – even most non-observant American Jews have never heard of Purim. Likewise, all those Purim words you might like to use when talking to friends and colleagues abroad are pretty nearly untranslatable. That said, you can use the following options when you are trying to talk about Purim to anyone who is either not Israeli or Orthodox.

  • Purim = Jewish Halloween
  • Raashan = Rattle
  • Oznei Haman = Cookies
  • Mishloach Manot = More cookies (or maybe fruit basket)
  • Matanot Le’evyonim = Money
  • Megilla = Bible scroll
  • Seudah = Dinner

The bottom line is that it’s not Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur or Hanukkah, so you should probably just keep it in the family…

And yes, I’m just looking for every excuse to talk about Madonna right now 🙂


If every meal were just desserts…

Do you hear what I hear?

I got an email from an old friend, someone I consider an English speaker, and he made what I thought was a pretty common mistake in English.
He wrote: just deserves.
I always thought that it was just desserts, referring to the fact that if you do something lousy, you get something appropriately lousy in return. (I imagined that if you acted badly, you deserved really awful dessert in return, like really soggy tiramisu. Ach – I can’t stand tiramisu.)

After spending a few elated minutes congratulating myself on my superior English, I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and look it up.

It turns out that we were both wrong, but he was actually closer than I was.

The real phrase is “just deserts.”  It’s a phrase we say in English when we want to say that someone got what they deserve – sometimes we say it in a nice way, and sometimes we don’t.
But it’s pronounced like desserts (קינוחים) not deserts (מדבר).

The original Latin term was “deservire” and apparently deserts once meant something you deserve, not just dry sandy land where cacti grow. Go figure.

However it’s spelled and pronounced, it’s a really useful idiom which actually does mean getting the rotten recompense you deserve.

  • After yelling at her employees all day, Sandra got her just deserts when her throat was so sore that she couldn’t speak at all the next morning.
  • John had cut corners and taken the cheap route throughout the project and got his just deserts when the final product fell to pieces in front of the customer.
  • After making an obnoxious, sexist comment about women drivers, Raviv got his just deserts when he spent twenty minutes wandering around the parking lot and still couldn’t remember where he’d parked. (Yep, this is the one from the email, and as a feminist, I should’ve replied to the email with some soggy tiramisu.)

Just remember, no matter how it’s spelled, it’s pronounced like warm chocolate soufflé covered with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with fudge sauce.
Now that’s a worthy dessert.

Up to Here

For some reason I’ve been thinking about ways to talk about having had enough of something. And not in a good way. I mean like when you want to stand up and shout “enough is enough” or in Hebrew, something that translates roughly into די!

די is a funny one because, as someone pointed out to me a few weeks ago, if you shout it at your kid in public in America you will likely find yourself arrested, or at least visited on occasion by a creepy lady from Social Services. In English we’d say “knock it off,” “cut it out” or “cool it” which all mean stop doing what you’re doing. But I was thinking about how there are so many Hebrew phrases that describe being tired of something or being emotionally worn down. There’s מיואש, גמורה, מחוק, שפוכה to name just a few. In English you say “sick and tired” which doesn’t mean you are ill or even sleepy, but just that you don’t have the emotional strength to deal with something anymore. And what’s funny is that I find myself resorting to Hebrew when I want to describe this state, because those Hebrew words just seem to do it so well. I wonder what that says about the mental state of our population. So without further ado, here’s a list of sick and tired phrases and words in English:

  • I’ve had it up to here – this can come with a hand motion where you motion just above your head, as if you yourself are totally full of whatever it is that you’ve had enough of and just can’t take any more.
  • Fed up – English being what it is, this, of course, has nothing to do with food. It means that you are tired of something and you can use it on its own “I am just fed up” and you can also specify what you’re tire of “I am fed up with your behavior.”
  • Disenchanted – This means that you used to have good feelings about something, or believe in it, but now you don’t anymore. “I’ve become disenchanted with the shuk since my wallet was stolen there while I was buying olives.”
  • Disgruntled – This means you’re really bitter about something and have trouble keeping it to yourself; you hear this word a lot in connection with people’s places of work. “The disgruntled employees gathered into the conference room to voice their concerns.”
  • Jaded – Jaded is when you used to be able to think the best about someone or something, or see the good in them, but you’ve been exposed to too much and now you are much more cynical and can no longer expect the best or see the good in a situation. I haven’t found a translation for this word in Hebrew. I thought for a while that it was צבוע but that turns out only to mean hypocritical, which means you act one way and feel another. “She was so jaded after the fourth startup closed down, that she started packing her desk the minute she saw the email from the CEO.”

Me, on the other hand, I’m quite sure that next week’s tips will be more uplifting. There’s got to be some optimism coming our way!

Egg the Monkeys

My friend Dave is great at finding funny comics and passing them along; the one I usually like the best is called Pearls Before Swine because the artist, Stephan Pastis, pokes fun at language by using a strange-looking pig whose grasp of English is often entertaining. In one of my favorites, the pig mistakes the acronym e.g. for the word egg.

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis

It may be unlikely for someone to imagine e.g. means egg, but it isn’t unusual to see people making mistakes when they use the acronym.
Knowing when to use both e.g. and i.e. can be confusing.

  • e.g. is short for exempli gratia meaning ‘for the sake of example’ in Latin.
  • i.e. is short for id est meaning ‘that is to say’ or ‘in other words’ in Latin; in Hebrew it’s זאת אומרת .

Because they stand for Latin words, they’re hard to remember (unless you speak Latin). There are lots of memory tricks for trying to remember what they mean – some people try to remember these terms by imagining that i.e. stands for in essence and e.g. stands for egg-sample.
It’s important to know that e.g. introduces an example (part of a longer list):

  • Neta loves flowers, e.g. daisies, roses, cyclamen, and sunflowers.
    (Neta likes these flowers as well as other flowers.)
  • David plays sports, e.g. basketball, tennis, football and hockey.
    (David plays these and other sports.)

i.e. introduces a further clarification (these are the only items in the list):

  • Neta loves flowers, i.e. sunflowers.
    (These are the only flowers Neta likes.)
  • David plays sports, i.e. basketball and tennis.
    (The only sports David plays are basketball and tennis.)

My best advice about i.e. and e.g.: avoid them.
According to the Microsoft Style Guide for Technical Publications:

  • Instead of i.e. write ‘that is’
  • Instead of e.g. write ‘for example’

That’s pretty good advice, unless you want to take your chances with the eggs.


I recently invited a friend and his family over for dinner and was rather shocked when, in response to my heartfelt invitation for delicious food, the friend said “I don’t care about coming to dinner.”
If you can imagine my shock, you probably don’t need this tip. And before you recommend that I quickly run out and make some new, more polite, friends, take a breath (like I did) and think about the translation.
In Hebrew, we have the wonderful phrase לא אכפת לי   and if you have any teenagers in the house like I do, you’ll definitely be familiar with the many faceted faces and shrugs that can go along with this loaded phrase.
And, in truth, my friend’s translation wasn’t really wrong, it was just misplaced. There are many ways to let someone know you don’t care in English—many of them pretty foul. So here are the (clean) phrases that can be associated with not caring in English and the proper ways they should be used:

  • I don’t care, I couldn’t care less: This means that something is unimportant to you.
    Throwing your plastic bottles in the street is like saying I don’t care about the environment.
    Do you want pizza or pasta?
    I don’t care, either one would be fine.
    couldn’t care less who finished the wine as long as there’s another bottle.
  • I don’t care for: adding for after I don’t care changes the meaning. This means I don’t like.
    I don’t care for raw onions in my salad. I pick them out and leave them on the side of the plate.
    I’m leaving you, Martha, because I’ve realized that
    I don’t care for the perfume you wear.
  • I don’t mind: this means something does not bother you.
    I don’t mind picking little Jimmy up after kickboxing practice, you picked up last week and besides, I have nothing better to do than drive around in circles picking up the kids.
    Do you mind passing me the water? No, I don’t mind at all – here’s the water.

    Now, there is one funny use of do you mind which is using it on its own to let someone know that they are doing something really annoying, and this is a big one used by teenagers.
    When I stick my head into my daughter’s room without knocking she might whine “Mom!!! Do you mind??!!”
    If someone you don’t know seems to be eavesdropping on your conversation at a restaurant, you can give them THE look and say “
    Do you mind??!!”
    It’s sort of an expression and sort of a question and it’s full of attitude so you might want to be careful who you say it to.

So I imagine my friend meant to say that he wouldn’t mind coming for dinner. Which may not be enthusiastic enough for me to ever invite him again, but it isn’t as bad as saying I don’t care.
My advice to you is that in English, unless you really feel strongly about something it’s always better not to let people know when you “couldn’t give a shit.”


I just got back from a really long vacation with a lot of juicy stories. People are always accusing me of exaggerating. And though I won’t admit it to anyone, they’re probably right; I just like to think of it as embellishing for the sake of storytelling. Subtlety might be highly praised in other cultures, but us Americans, we like things louder and bigger and brighter, trust me on this – I was just at Disney World. And I’d argue that Israelis are just the same, only much louder… they just don’t like to admit it. That being said, the Hebrew word for exaggerate causes a lot of confusion for English speakers. In Hebrew, we’ve got the word להגזים  which can mean so many things that all have their own expression in English. So it often comes off as funny when a Hebrew speaker uses “exaggerate” as a translation into English. So here’s a list of situations in which you would use the Hebrew word להגזים  and what you should actually say in English.

·         You have over done it.
We say this in cases where you have done too much, usually in a rather negative way; it’s a statement of concern and consternation.
You have a cold and worked all day long. You are chubby and out-of-shape and jogged 10 KM. You are really in shape and jogged 50 KM on a snowy day in your gym shorts. You have really over done it.

·         You’ve gone overboard.
This one is very similar to the previous one. We say this when someone has done too much, but it’s perhaps a bit less harsh. You can say this to someone when you’re really pleased they have gone to a lot of trouble for you, in order to express that they didn’t really have to fuss quite as much.
You make a huge meal for someone expecting a sandwich, but who really wants a sandwich anyway? You’ve purchased three books for your friend’s birthday instead of one, but who doesn’t want three books? You’ve really gone overboard.

·         You have out done yourself.
We say this when you’ve done more than was expected of you, but this time in a positive manner; the speaker is very impressed with your efforts.
You were supposed to prepare dinner but you’ve made a six course meal that includes homemade pasta and crème brulle.  You usually straighten up the house on Friday but this time you also weeded the garden and ironed the drapes. Wow, you have really out done yourself.

·         You have gone too far.
This one is negative too. We use it when someone has crossed a line or behaved too badly or done something one too many times.
You insulted her mother, her daughter and her cousin, but then you insulted her dog. You brought over some clothes, took over his closet and left a toothbrush in his bathroom, but when you put pink sheets on his bed, he said that you had gone too far.

·         Over the top.
This one can be good or bad – it depends on the context. We use it for when something was a bit too much.
We knew he was crazy about her but a four carat diamond ring from Tiffany’s? That’s over the top. The wedding was just as extravagant – 800 people and live performances by Madonna, Sting and Michael Jackson back from the grave. It was totally over the top.

·         Blowing things out of proportion.
This is pretty self-explanatory. You use it when someone is making a bigger deal than necessary about something.
You refuse to ever talk to your neighbor again because his dog accidentally peed on your roses. You quit your job because you got a room with a really lousy view. Well, once again you are blowing things totally out of proportion.

I think I can go on like this for pages – almost every time someone translates להגזים as exaggerate I can think of a more fitting expression. Let’s start with these and feel free to let me know if you have more.

·         Exaggerate.
Ahhh, you knew I would get to it eventually – the one you feel most comfortable throwing around. So there are instances when you should use exaggerate – and they all have to do with overstating something.
When you say that everything in Michigan is covered in melted processed cheese except the breakfast cereal. If you describe the fall you took after flying through the air on skis as being deadly (ok, so you got snow up your shirt from your waist to your chin and the bruises to prove it). When you describe the tickets to Disney World as costing a fortune and the roller coaster at Universal as the scariest thing in the world. Well, I wouldn’t admit it in a public forum, but yes, those things are exaggerations. Except the cheese. They really do put it on everything.
Exaggerations? probably. More entertaining? Definitely!

Sick and tired

I don’t know what this winter has been like for you, but from my vantage point it loosely resembles a tissue box. That’s right, just because it’s been nice and warm out doesn’t seem to mean I was safe from the winter cold season, the flu seems to be everywhere.

Here are some words and phrases having to do with illness that might help you explain to your English speaking co-workers why you’re so slow to respond to their e-mail:

  • Coming down with something: This means getting sick.
    I’m afraid I’m coming down with something and won’t be able to attend the meeting tonight.
  • Under the weather: This means, in a word, sick.
     Sorry for the slow response, I’m a bit under the weather this week.
  • Laid up : This means sick enough to be stuck in bed.
     I wasn’t able to answer all the e-mails piling up in my inbox since I was laid up with the flu all week.
  • Sick as a dog: This means REALLY sick.
     Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, I have been sick as a dog for days.
  •  Clean bill of health: This means you’re no longer sick.
    I thought I would miss the wedding but the doctor gave me a clean bill of health before the weekend.
  • Ship shape:  This means feeling completely well, good as new.
    You’ll be in ship shape before you know it.
  • Right as rain: Just like ship shape and good as new.
    I went to bed with a burning fever and woke up right as rain.
  • God bless you: This is what you say when someone sneezes. You can shorten it to “bless you” if you’d rather avoid religion.
    But if you want to make sure your coworkers think you are polite, make sure you say it. Every time.
  • White as a sheet: This is how you can describe a coworker who looks sickly pale. Don’t say “white as a wall.”
    I knew she was coming down with something when she showed up to the meeting looking white as a sheet.
  • Catch your death: You might get sick.
    Put a coat on before you catch your death.
  • Runny nose: I’m not going to describe this one, you can figure it out on your own, but suffice it to say that this is runny nose and not running nose.
    When she showed up at work with watery eyes, a runny nose and rosy cheeks we were afraid she had the flu.
  • Burning up: To have a fever.
    You’re burning up. You should take something to bring that fever down.


So, I’m sorry the Tip Tippa has been sporadic lately, I have a cold that I can’ t seem to kick.  So I hope you’re not coming down with something, but if you’re under the weather, well, bless you.