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Monday, January 04, 2010

To Yalla or Not To Yalla

How many conversations have you heard in Israel that end in "Yalla!"?

Or that blended phrase, "Yalla-bye!"?

I hear it constantly. I began using "yalla" a bit self-consciously during my first year here, and as an olah, it provoked laughter from Israelis.

I even hear my friends hang up the phone with "yalla!"

So I've grown more comfortable with the word and peppered my scant Hebrew with it. I've used it as a substitute for "let's go" most of the time, and sometimes also "yalla" instead of l'hitraot, which is harder to rattle off.

So last week Yossi and I are running some errands and he asks me, "Is it okay if we stop at my parents' house? I need to pick up something."

No problem. Ayn bayah! Somehow in the course of running our various errands, I brought up "yalla." I may even have said it.

"Never use that word, Sarah, " he told me sternly. "It's not a nice word."

Whadayoumean? I'm saying something obscene without even knowing it?!

"No, it's just not nice." He paused, trying to figure out how to explain it to me in English. We have interesting conversations--I have just enough Hebrew to get me into trouble, and he speaks English well enough for everyday talk, but there are some elusive concepts I don't understand in Hebrew and he can't express in English.

"It's a word from the street," he continued.

"Like slang?" I offered helpfully.

"No, it's not just slang...it's from the street, it's not nice," he amended, still searching for a good explanation.

"It's low class," I said.

"Bidyuch!" he exclaimed. I love how he says it: BEEEEEE-dyuch!

"It's not a phrase an educated person would use, and it can cause trouble," he went on. "If you said 'yalla' to the clerk at the grocery store, it would be like you are telling her to hurry up, she's not doing her job well enough for you. You're talking down to her."

"Condescending," I amended.

"What?"

"That's the word in English -- con-de-scending." I figure if he can correct my Hebrew all day, I can add to his vocabulary. "Like you're better than she is," I explained.

"Yes, that's it. You shouldn't use it--it's not nice," he warned.

By this time we had reached his parents' home, and his mother had actually come outside to give him the item he had come to pick up. She and I chatted for a few minutes, trading good and bad news about our families, and I wished her a Shabbat shalom, and got back in the cab.

Yossi was already in the cab, and as he started the engine, he and his mother finished their conversation, and he called out, "Yalla, Ima!"

"WHAT did you just tell me?!" I asked in fake indignation. "Isn't that a bad word? Isn't that a word you should never use?"

He smiled, a bit sheepish. "Sometimes it just slips out," he admitted.

Yalla!

3 Comments:

Anonymous Mongrel said...

I like this posting.

Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 3:35:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word is in arabic, it has no place in the noble hebrew language.

Monday, February 22, 2010 at 11:45:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger Schvach said...

I thought the street Hebrew 'Yalla' is derived from the Arabic 'Allah'.
Here in the USA, some Latinos are fond of greeting others with 'yalla'.
They have no idea that their 'yalla'
takes its etymology from the Arabic 'Allah', and harps back to the days of the Arab/Moslem conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 11:12:00 PM GMT+2  

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