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Lesson Transcript

Hebrew Teachers Answer Your Questions - Lesson #14 - What Are Some Common Hebrew Idioms?


Michael: What are some common Hebrew idioms?
Lenny: And how are they used?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Karen Lee hears an idiom she's not familiar with. She asks her friend Hagar Horovitz:
"What does 'it finds grace in my eyes' mean?"
Karen Lee: מה אומר הביטוי "זה מוצא חן בעיני" (Ma omer ha-bituy "ze motse khen be-eynay"?)
Karen Lee: "?מה אומר הביטוי "זה מוצא חן בעיני (Ma omer ha-bituy "ze motse khen be-eynay"?)
Hagar Horowitz: ,"זה אומר "אני אוהבת את זה (Ze omer "ani ohevet et ze.")
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: "?מה אומר הביטוי "זה מוצא חן בעיני (Ma omer ha-bituy "ze motse khen be-eynay"?)
Michael: "What does 'it finds grace in my eyes' mean?"
Hagar Horowitz: ,"זה אומר "אני אוהבת את זה (Ze omer "ani ohevet et ze.")
Michael: "It means 'I like it'."

Lesson focus

Michael: So, the topic of this lesson is "Hebrew idioms," or
Lenny: ניבים בעברית (nivim be'ivrit)
Michael: An idiom is an expression with a meaning that is not evident from looking at the actual words. It should not be taken literally. A good example to help us understand this is the English 'a piece of cake', meaning that something is done very easily.
We use idioms to emphasize a message we want to give the listener.
Now, let's look at some examples of idioms in Hebrew. Our first example is:
Lenny: לדחוף את האף (lidkhof et ha-af).
Michael: This literally means "pushing or shoving one's nose." As you can probably guess, it means to meddle in other people's business, and it's something I don't think you want to be accused of!
Let's hear it one more time.
Lenny: [NORMAL] לדחוף את האף . [SLOWLY] לדחוף את האף
Michael: Our next idiom is:
Lenny: לעשות סיפור (la'asot sipur),
Michael: which means, "to make a story," and it's used like the idiom "to make a big deal" in English. For example,
Lenny: אל תעשה מזה סיפור (al ta'ase mi-ze sipur)
Michael: "Don't make a big deal out of this."
Let's hear it one more time,
Lenny: [NORMAL] לעשות סיפור (la'asot sipur) [SLOWLY] לעשות סיפור (la'asot sipur).
Michael: Our next idiom has to do with superstition. Listen carefully.
Lenny: [NORMAL] לפתוח פה לשטן (liftoakh pe la'satan) [SLOWLY] לפתוח פה לשטן
Michael: It literally means "to open one's mouth to the devil." It originated from the Jewish prohibition against saying bad things about yourself or other people. Today, however, it's used in a similar way to the expression "Don't tempt fate," In other words, don't express good things or hopes because you might jinx your luck. Here is an example:
Lenny: אני חושבת שאני אעבור את המבחן, אבל אני לא רוצה לפתוח פה לשטן.
(ani khoshevet she-ani e'evor et ha-mivkhan, aval ani lo rotza liftoakh pe la-satan)
Michael: "I think I'll pass the exam, but I don't want to tempt fate."
Michael: Our last idiom represents a life philosophy.
Lenny: [NORMAL] בא לי (ba li) [SLOWLY] בא לי (ba li).
Michael: It literally means "comes to me," but the real meaning is something like "I want," with a whimsical edge to it. The idiom is a lot like the expression "I feel like." It was once considered a children's idiom in Hebrew but quickly became common among people of all ages. You can use it with nouns, like in
Lenny: [NORMAL] בא לי פיצה (ba li pitza) [SLOWLY] בא לי פיצה (ba li pitza).
Michael: "I feel like pizza." But you can also use it with verbs. For example,
Lenny: [NORMAL] לא בא לי ללכת לעבודה (lo ba li la'lekhet la-avoda)
Michael: "I don't feel like going to work." I should warn you that this is a slightly cheeky expression! You shouldn't use it in formal situations or with people you don't really know, as it could seem a bit rude.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's go back to the main dialogue. Do you remember how Karen Lee says, "What does 'it finds grace in my eyes' mean?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Lenny as Karen Lee: [NORMAL] מה אומר הביטוי "זה מוצא חן בעיני"?
Michael: Well, the idiom here is
Lenny: זה מוצא חן בעיני (Ze motse khen be-eynay),
Michael: which literally means "it finds grace in my eyes." and it actually comes from the Old Testament of the Bible, or the Torah, where it is said that Noah 'found grace in the eyes of God.'
Michael: In Modern Hebrew,
Lenny: זה מוצא חן בעיני (Ze motse khen be-eynay)
Michael: is used to say that something is nice. Instead of saying "I like it." you can say "It finds grace in my eyes," Note, the modern expression does not have exactly the same meaning as the Torah implies. The word for 'grace' in Hebrew has to do with favour and the implication is that God had mercy on Noah. In modern Hebrew, however, you can use this idiom to describe anything that you think is nice - even a person!
Michael: In this lesson, you learned that idioms are non-literal phrases that are used to emphasize your statement. You also learned a few commonly-used Hebrew idioms.
Michael: Learning and using idioms will help you use Hebrew more freely, and to express your feelings in a more accurate or emphasized way. For example, let's consider the idiom:
Lenny: לפול בפח (lipol ba'pakh) [SLOWLY] לפול בפח
Michael: This literally means "to fall in the trash can." You can use it to describe someone who is being captured, tempted, or who falls for something which might not be good for them. Here is an example:
Lenny: הם יספרו לך כל מיני סיפורים, תזהר לא לפול בפח. (hem yesapru lakha kol minei sipurim, tizaher lo lipol ba'pakh)
Michael: "They will tell you all kinds of stories, be careful not to fall for it."


Michael: That's all for this lesson. Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Lenny: !להתראות (lehitra'ot!)
Michael: See you soon!