Monthly Archives: April 2006


 I came up with yet another “system” with might be fruitful in your language acquisition. (But first I’d like to say, “MERHABA!” and “LAHBAS!” , to some new visitors, plus I just learned “hello” in Canadian…see if  I got this right…it’s “hello”, just like english, but first you make sure he’s awake. Sorry, just kidding.) Anyway, for the  news in, about, or highly critical of Hebrew, just slide over to Amos the King of Israel for Affairs of the Tongue at I will be contributing my articles, etc on this topic to his archives…on pain of death, he said, but he’s a pussycat, he never hurt a fly….JSOLBERG


GREAT! (i think?) Nobody found my secret “mistake” in spelling in the previous lesson. (“Hey, Johnny,uh, duh, nobody READ it!”) OK, fair enough. But I can still interpret it as a sign from above, compelling me to persist one more day and lay-out SPELLING in my inimitable style.NEWS..
I’ve accepted an offer to play a major role over at SILOX (Search for Intelligent Life on Xanga). The blow-by-blow will tentatively be posted at with summaries here. (We decided that setting up the 50meter parabolic dish here in Israel would just attract too much attention and waste limited enforcement man-hours down there at the Ministry of Communications). Plus Al’s got a natural “bowl” cleared in the woods, and anti-intrusion expertise ya’all don’t wanna know about. END of NEWS. Spelling. Ugh! Who likes spelling? But, and that’s a big butt, ifa yu make a me-steak, zeh chust don’t comprehende. They’re set in their ways, over there, yes they are. See…you got that on the first read…unlike with my sick-fuck competition, who insist on making you suffer-and-die for each werd. Castration, yeah, that’d be appropriate, in a decent society. Tell it to Dan Quayle. Seriously, proper spelling is a simple indicator of normal healthy respect for one’s fellow woman. But HEBREW SPELLING, now that requires a selfless altruism worthy of Mother Theresa. And why, you ask? (i wish!) Well, simply put, Hebrew ain’t Esparanto. Again? It ain’t got regular spelling. This is only an auditory illusion, however. (I made THAT up) As my one known loyal reader pointed out correctly, the modern-day vocalization of hebrew “smooths over” historical distinctions between letters, leaving us with the afore-mentioned “duplicate” letters for lots of sounds. My favorite prophet-guy, Amos, I’m sure, had no problem spelling, ’cause he “heard” the difference between “tet” and “taf”. I sure don’t, and it ain’t my fault! (Amos, by the way, had other, worse, problems, don’t get jealous.) So 80% of my spelling errors are from this one cause. That’s approximately every other word, incidentally. To account for WHOLE SENTENCES I have typed, where EVERY WORD IS WRONG!, we’ll just blame “The Security Situation”, why not, it suposedly explains the world’s shitiest drivers, evil store-clerks, whatever. Oh, and “false drugs”, let’s not forget that! (Even though I haven’t somehow found any in the last, say, eleven years). Once again, from a cognitive demand-side perspective, we’re talking about the situation where you KNOW the word, and you actually read it ten or fifteen times in a newspaper, but you somehow never lerned how to spel it. Shit Happens. Reminds me of when it was my turn to run to the little store with the list for the Construction-Men-on-Break…I brought back everything, perfect, ‘cept for Groobie, who scowled. “Where’s my coke?” Of course I showed him the list, “proving” how I “got everyth..”Here!, he shouted…Coke- “C-O-C-K”. I explained how I thought that particular “entry” was intended as a joke. He didn’t laugh. I now have renewed appreciation for how a guy who can build a wall straight and level can somehow stare at the word “COKE” maybe half a million times, and still not know how to spell it! (I waited thirty years to tell that story!) But it’s somehow the issue, no? Everytime you see a word, make a conscious effort to remember how Eliezer Ben Yehuda recommends you spell it…and for the other 80 percent, just ask yourself “How would Amos have spelled it?” You’ll be fine. And for anybody who thought this was just a story-telling session, check out the gory details tomorrow. ur prophet, yonatan


So, Today we’ll learn to talk, and tomorrow we’ll lern to spel. (I told you this wouldn’t take too long) Let’s go radical demand-side…hey, whata ya need to say? OK, that’s what I thought, everybody’s got different needs..You, in the back, you wanna prove Euclid’s Parallell Postulate, go learn Greek. Another new alphabet, ugh. But I couldn’t help noticing a demand for pronouns (you know, like “I”, “You” “She” (especially “she”…she purty, no? let’s go talk to her) “I love you?”, hey, isn’t it a little EARLY for that? Ok, when and if the time comes, you say:
“ani ohev otach” (Since I can’t put the hebrew letters here in the text, they’re down below in the picture,  “ani” is “I”, just like “ich” or “yo” or “Ya” or “je”. Start simple. “Ohev” is the verb. Now verbs have roots (the three-letter combinations, shoresh(es) which hebrew uses to line everything up) and the root here is “aleph” “hey” “bet”.Just like “LOV” in English, which stars in lovable, lovely, beloved, lover, etc. You can of course find “love” in a glove, a special glove who is glovable, glovely, and begloved. Don’t laugh. “Dexter makes the right glove for both hands” I’ll get you their link tomorrow, we’re busy. On to the “you”. Here’s where the plot thickens a bit. See, in English, when your girlfriend is talking to somebody on her cell phone, and it looks like she’s being a little devious, heaven help you, you just gotta wait and maybe she’ll say like “That was the caterer for my sister’s wedding” something like that…But in Hebrew, you just wait for a verb or a pronoun, and thank Moses for separate masculine and feminine forms for EVERYTHING., you at least know the gender of your competitor! On the other hand, it gets real tiresome trying to remember if a shovel is a girl or boy word, or maybe even a girl-word who “likes” to dress up as a boy-word in plural. There’s no logic to it, did I mention that. But in the sentence under discussion, “ani ohev otach”, if the object were a boy (or a glove, i think), you’d say “ani ohev ot-khah”. Unless of course YOU were a girl speaking, then you have to say “ani ohevet ot-khah”. See there are separate verbs for girls and boys. Girl’s verbs include “shopping”, “pouting”, being intuitive, etc. while boy’s verbs mostly deal with killing stuff and power tools. OK, I’m lying, sorry, the truth is that anything a boy can do, a girl can do also, and better. I know this to be true. Don’t ask how. Let’s keep going…(or actually, back up). See, you don’t fall in love on the first date, so let’s down-scale a bit and try “I like you” How do we say THAT? I don’t really know. Sorry. This is a country of extremes, I never heard anyone say something like that. Closest thing I can think of is “At motset chen b’aynai” (you find favor in my eyes) Sounds poetic from the outside, but you get used to it, after the seventeenth time you say it about a used Ford Fiesta the guy only wants 4000 shekels for. Plus a lot of stuff we say in English has a poetic history to it, to which we pay scant attention in normal thoughtless conversation. In conclusion, it’s pretty obvious we’re gonna have to get rigorous here, to get “down on our hands and knees” with word lists, etc. Tomorrow we’ll lern to spel gud, and if there’s any interest (comments?) i’ll continue. JS


Well, there you got ’em…look a little less threatening in blue, no? So, I’m hungry…let’s eat carrots! Simple…just look up “carrot” in your Merriam-Webster. Here it is…”G-Z-R”. That’s right, gimel-zayin-resh, in that order. We’ll call it “gezer”. “Why not”,you may ask “geezer” or “gouzer” or even “gazeer”? The bad news is: Ya just gotta KNOW. That’s right, like I said previously, “There are NO VOWELS” Now you may wanna quit right here, but let me tell you a story first on the way out. You see…ENGLISH IS NO BETTER. “Au contraire!” you protest, we got stinking Vowels, you asshole!” And then I go “Sure you do, dim-wit, but what do you think my buddy Manny over there on the Isle of Mann is wasting his free time proving, if not that English vowels are so dammed inconsistent that you might not be that bad off without ’em…you know, “F U CN RD THS”. Check him out for the whole story. And anyway, Hebrew DOES have vowels, we just don’t use ’em. They’re called “nikud” (say-“knee-cooed”),and they’re basically little fly-shit you can use to “adorn” the letters, so your dear reader shouldn’t “die stupid!” (to use my favorite Romanian expression). Anyway, back to Gezer, ’cause we gotta say it JUST RIGHT in the shuk (open-air food market) or we’ll come home with something inedible. (And don’t try to describe your carrot with “hand signal language”, it’s the fastest way to end up with some guy you’re not even in love with following you home!). Hey, let’s try it backwards…you dig a rotten carrot out of the neighbor’s trash can,take it with you and just ask the nearest thing to a human you can find, “Ma zeh?” (What’s this?).You get lucky this time, and he mumbles impatiently, “Gezer, ya metumtam” (Gezer, asshole!).Now you just strip off the un-called-for “assole” and triumphantly congratulate yourself on the new Word-of-the-Day.(Since my rambling style seems to eat up xanga real-estate like cheese-cake, I’ll make one last serious point here…I’m only doing this cause I love ya-all and I want to help out.) See, the three letters in gezer, GZR, are the key to the everything. In Hebrew, just about every word is based on a three-letter root (shoresh) and the letters stay together in a multitude of similar-sounding words, all with the central “carrot”-ness connecting them.So, for example, the meaning of the shoresh GZR revolves around the theme of “cutting”, leading to such concepts as “gzar din mavet” (“din” is law, “mavet” is death, so you probably guessed that “gzar din mavet” is what you get if you don’t pay your taxes on the 15th…they “carrot” you to death in the town square…at least you knew what was comming!) I could go on of course ’till carrot juice comes out your hard drive,but let’s leave it at that for today. Hope you learned your lesson (Whatever that may mean)…your faithful Moreh, Yonatan


OK gang, I’m not here solely to help my brother Al with his Big Contest, (looks like he needs to “enhance” the first prize to attract Ha-hamon Ha-zoem (the raging multitudes).oops, forgot a closing “)”.So while we’re being pedantic, let’s get down to business with our first look at the (or lack of the) “Hebrew Alphabet”. I’ve noticed some non-trivial interest in this subject, and since I get awake, go to work, bust my ass, and otherwise waste my life in this language, you probably couldn’t ask for a better teacher. I believe at this point I’ll start numbering my claims, should any of them become subjects for debate. By simply referring to its number, e.g “Point #27 is, to quote Wolfgang Pauli, “not even WRONG!”(“), you can save valuable bits which would otherwise need to be recycled up from your Recycling Bin.
   1) It’s not true what you doubtless heard many times, you know, the story of the simple-minded kid who was sent by the proto-hebrew-speakers to the Village with 50 zuzim (about 10 cents) in order to buy an alphabet. Now some versions have him losing half of the letters on the way back, some posit a malevolent streak (he intentionally bought doubles and triples to “flesh out” his meagre purchase).Some have him inventing the worthless “soffiot” (separate forms for a couple letters for when they are the last letter in a word) in order to disguise the fact that he stopped on the way there and blew half the cash on a shwarma. So, like I said, THIS NEVER HAPPENED. The truth, as it turns out, is stranger than fiction.
   2) Did I mention, he also bought a medium Coke. This nicely explains why THERE ARE NO DAMN CAPITAL LETTERS! You think you can “live without ’em”? OK, try! I know, in Thai, there are even no spaces between freaking WORDS, and THEY have to come here to do our farming for us. But (less?) seriously, let me tell you a little story. See, I was at the makolet (kind of a grupsich little Shop-rite, ‘cept that the bread used to be on the floor, till a couple years ago) and I noticed the check-out girl trying to read the newspaper to kill time. When she stopped to take my shekels she very carefully placed her reading finger on the last word, to keep her place on the page. Like we professionals say, this “resonated” me. I read with my finger on the page all the time, so nobody should interrupt me and then I’ll have to search again from the top of the page till I get to where I left off. Always thought it was only my problem, but here she is, all bright, fluent, and sexy, reading just like Johnny. This was a BIG DAY for me. Sure, I said, of course….the capitals give you a quick reference at least to Sentence-starts, not to mention, like, People’s Names, names of Cities, Schools, Hospitals etc. No wonder I can’t read gud. Duh.

 3)Armed with renewed self-confidence, or at the least, diminished self-doubt, let’s turn to an overview of what is laughingly called “THE HEBREW ALPHABET” Now, like any careful first-time Ikea customer (Reminds me of the guy here who died on a Monday but they buried him two weeks later…they bought the coffin at Ikea and they had to put it together by themselves!). Where were we…oh yeah, we were carefully turning the box upside-down, laying out the puzzle-pieces on the floor and comparing them to the wordless one-language-fits-all “instructions” OK, what-a-we-got? First of all, THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME! This may bother some of you who revel in “information theory” insights…and for damn good reason. Did you know that to display A-Z reliably in bit-map, you need a minimum 5 by 7 matrix…that is 5 dots wide and 7 dots tall. That’s all. Try it in hebrew and if you don’t put a gun to your brain first, you end up giving up in disgust. My dog could come up with 50 distinct “letters”, readable reliably at 50 yards..and I don’t even HAVE a dog. Really…the difference between a “hey” and a “chet” (can’t even spell their bloody names!) is one little constipated piece of fly poop hanging on the chet’s tail. (OK purists, it fell off his neck, sue me.) Yediot Aharonot (one of the two copy-cat daily papers) went over, about a year ago, to a new font. They probly call it “Simplified”, something stupid like that. Anyway, the “simplification” is that, to give one example, peh and mem are totally INDISTINGUISHABLE. Period. Necuda. I just bought reading glasses, but I couldn’t spring for the electron-microscope attachment at the moment, I’m busy paying 17% sales tax on necessities and 5 bucks a gallon for gas. So in addition to there being NO VOWELS!, now there are functionally NO DISTINGUISHABLE CONSONANTS either. My deepest apologies to any reader who expected quick victories. Hang on, I just got to rant a little first.
    4) OK, here’s the obligatory chart, only this time in the right order….you tell me what sound ya’all wanna make, and I tell ya what letter to use.
    “a” “aah” “ah”…….You got three choices, aleph, ayin, or hey. (or, just draw a miniature “tee” under the letter)
    “T” as in, well “tea”……You got not one but two “tee”s, tet and taf
    “v” as in “very” (dumb?)…..Well, use either the “b” letter, bet, but without the fly-shit in the middle, or use your “vav” multiporpoise “letter” (sorry, I can’t stop with these damn parenthetical comments…For years here I used drywall joint compound from a bucket on which was gleefully printed in giant letters “All Porpoise Joint Compound” Kinda fishy, I know, but all true)
    “s” as in “saw” (stop me, jackson!)….once again, two choices, the “sh” letter, shin” but without the fly-shit, or the samech, which looks like a zero. My name starts with samech, so I always wanted a business-card that says “When you start with zero, you end up with zero” I know, it sounds funnier in Yiddish, sue me.) What’s left? What, you had other sounds you wanted to make. Tough shit. No, really, there’s a “d” letter, dalet, perfectly good letter ‘cept its identical to the “r” letter, resh.
   And, a “z” letter, zayin, (which is also another name for what I get 20 SPAMS a day offering to enlarge, just so you know (not that it NEEDS enlarged, by the way..(not that I’m sensitive about it, incidentally))). Three, right? Poor baby, you thought you were gonna lern hebrew.
   And a “g” as in goose, gimel. I always say we need a final form letter for gimel, so that the word for roof, “gag” will be less ambiguous when appearing in print. You’ll know which is the first damn gimel and which is the last.
   And I forgot the BEST NEWS OF ALL. The oft-mentioned “kchh” as in “Bach” (as if any English speaker other than a prententious music teacher ever pronounces “bach” as anything but “bak”)
   There are countless Hebrew letters with this horrible sound…Khaf, Khouf, Chaf, Chet, probably forgot a few, The village-idiot’s kid made ’em up from holey cloth and threw ’em in the bag after he finished the Medium Coke. So let’s close for now on an upbeat note and a plea. Please come back again in a few days for Part Two, OK? I just need to get to my shrink appointment. Don’t worry, it’s all up-hill from here. Your faithful servant (god save your soul) Yonatan


Al asked me to put this here, I keep trying to do “shidduch” between him ‘n Manny. So he did a real sweet, powerful song using Manny’s lyrics, and the rest might be History! Dig in, readers. You can even leave your contest entries here. The clock starts….NOW!


 Hey, we’re so damn thrilled how this new song came out, (johnny thinks it’s great I’m using Manny’s lyrics for something other than scratch paper) Needless-to-say, Manny’s thinking ’bout quitting his job. Anyway we almost blew our cover down here with the noise from the after-party (sound carries in the woods!) Freida Rohm was free ‘n she brought the rest of her horn section. Sooooo Here’s the CONTEST.
  The song’s just put up on our song-site. Now, first, the PRIZE. You get…A FREE, PERSONALIZED, COPY OF THE NEW CD, “Kid-stuff” from Al Tezachen and the Inna Kinna,  a CD you’re gonna want to give to your grand-children…(listen to it first!) Yep, I’ll mail it anywhere in the WORLD. Really.   But, WHAT YOU GOTTA DO…is…Click the link to the song, get a piece of paper (unless ya got a memory like me)…and WRITE DOWN THE CHARACTERS (in the order they are mentioned on the song) There’s a bunch of ’em, but you can hear real well, Joey mixed the vocals pretty hot ‘specially with your mind in mind. NOW, the first person, cat, or dog gets me a correct list here, or email if you’re not on Xanga, WINS!!! That’s about it. (And I wouldn’t do this if it weren’t a Killer Song) If the contest turns out to be fun, we’ll do it again and again, so dig in, readers.

Oh, and don’t think just because somebody already scribbled his guess here, that he got it right! Put your own version here, just in case. (And if you say why you liked the tune, I might just think about multiple prizes…like Ellington (coulda) said…”I love ya’all madly”!


Tel Aviv, Sunday night…Jets overhead in both directions. (No, not fighters, has v’halil, cattle-carriers to and from Ben Gurion).Carrying three hundred people who will Know-what-to-do tomorrow some time when they get to Bombay or Pasadena or Ypsilanti or Bern. I know, even in principle it’s impossible for me to compete. “Compete?…With whom?…fer vos?” Well, you might consider this a tad megalomaniacal, but I really won’t allow myself a decent knight’s sleep ’till I….KNOW EVERYTHING! Hey, I was in California twice, I think, ’64 and ’69…has anything changed?….Oh, really!…I was back to the United Snakes a couple years ago… exactly, and I mean to the minute, when the press had stopped, appearantly, appending “sport and utility vehicle” to the stupid trade-acronym SUV. Having been dependent here on the vowel-poor and insular hebrew press for my latest gossip, I only knew that we were dealing with something divisive, possibly fatal. Now as truth-streched as this may sound, through a run of incredibly improbable bad luck, it took me a further, i think, half a day to finally nail it down! AM Radio, “We’ll be right back with Big Jim discussing “that SUV controversy” after this detestable jingle!”…or “Poll survey in USA TODAY (a dumbed-down but daily “Weekly Reader”) shows 37% of US for/28% against…turning to Sports.. NO!, you ain’t turning to no damn Sports till you at least give me a good clue….a virus? Yeah, could be a virus, they’re popular lately…”Sudden Unbelievable Virus?…No, I’d be seeing more guys with masks, that ain’t it. Guy I asked at the Restaurant just looked at me kinda sadly, “You don’t gotta worry ’bout it!” I was trying to think up the perfect follow-up question when his eggs arrived. Anyway, somewhere along the line, I decided to just flow with it…to try to put together some semblance of a functional life NOT KNOWING. Made me feel “special”. Like, “Guess what, I’m the only guy within twenty miles of here don’t know what a fucking S-U-V is…Beat that!”                                                                                   It’s OK, I’m used to being special. I work at it. All the time. I was in, maybe, third grade, we had a special assignment. We were gonna be taught “The Calorie, vos is dos?” Every kid had to write down his calories for a day, and the teacher in her wisdom thoughtfully prepared a simply-gorgeous graph on the blackboard, with each kid’s name across the bottom, ready for the data. Zero to 4,000 calories. She forgot about me. (No, not my little name…, my”ewigsheidichkeit” (what we professionals call the juvenile abberation I suffered from). My mother had just come back from her yearly trip to the supermarket. Wasn’t much we couldn’t grow ourselves in those days, but potato chips were best left to the professionals. I loved them anyway, but a quick read of the label, cross-referenced with our handy mimeographed look-up table, convinced me that “Chips…yeah, that’s do-able, yes! Two giant Family Size bags later, let’s see, that’s 60 servings times….anyway, I had an honest 35 Kcal to turn in, proudly, next morning. And the poor teacher, bless her heart, her hands were tied. See, like “ketchup-as-a-vegetable”, this exercise counted as math for the day,too. So she added zeros to the “Y” axis…changed the table to zero to 40,000. My competition suddenly looked more and more like random background noise on a spectrum-analyzer, while my “50 EGGS” stood out, a Giant Oak in a field of crab grass.                                 It’s been down-hill since then. And here I sit, watching Jumbos carry the Lucky off to remote locations where they eat (lo-cal) bread, and drink (lite) beer, and everything. And it’s not about calories anymore.

Fan-mail from some flounder?…” “No, this is what I really call a message!”…(lead-in to a commercial break from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show…or, go check on your TV-Dinner)

And so, as we watch helplessly as another couple hundred yards of Christo’s Running Fence scrolls off, un-loved and un-commented, onto the Previous page…no, actually, I’m over that. Tina, like she did for Manny (don’t jump over there yet, I’m in the middle of a sentence, nu?)…so Tina “explains it all”. This is NOT the New York Times Book Review letters page, this is the place where I “chat” with my little losers from Old Mammy Hummel’s grades 1 thru 6 (“One size fits all”) one-room schoolhouse, where I learned to spell using nothing but the most advanced pedagological breakthrough..(You get hit with a big stick, once for each word you mis-spelled, on the way back in from recess) She never laid a hand on me, (Well, once, when I wrote r-e-a-d (past tense) and she meant r-e-a-d (present tense) or was it the other way around?)). Mainly I learned “There’s either something wrong with ME or THEM…and I got to find out, and soon”. Like, I never had much on-topic to say on the bus, (tractor-pulls, cow farts), and if I had a penny for every time one of ’em yelled at me “Hey, Nature Boy, look at THIS bug” and then waited till I was within eye-shot (Papillo Glaucus! I need him!) to tramp it into oblivion, I would buy him and the fucking cow he rode in on and grind them both up for beef!
 Course he’s probably Professor Emeritus in Entomology for the stinking Louvre, by now. So, like, all is forgiven, cya in recess, and god-speed learning to swallow your own spit!
     hmmm…1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 = 1? gotta run, Mammy Hummel’s comming with her stick!
  PS: If you guys think for a minute I forgot your names, think twice! I will hunt you down, one by one, just like after Munich! No, seriously, All IS really vergeben, everybody suffers in

his own way. I’m just practicing being “deep”,