How Do You Say “Fail” in Hebrew?

June, 19 2012
Culture, Latest

by Rebecca Borison

With technology comes the chance of errors, some more public than others…

Ruta Kupfer of Haaretz recently revealed one such technology-related error on the television show “Episodes.” The British-American sitcom starring Matt Leblanc (a.k.a. Joey Tribbiani) embraced the modern age by apparently using Google Translate in order to translate an English epitaph into Hebrew. The English version simply reads “Beloved husband and father, dearly missed.” Above that, however, the Hebrew goes awry. While they clearly used Hebrew letters, they initially don’t seem to contain any actual meaning. That is, until blogger Shahar Golan realized that the Hebrew writing was backwards.

When read from right to left, the Hebrew actually says:

בעל ואב אהוב, החמיץ ביוקר

Which, unfortunately, translates to “Beloved husband and father, pickled at great expense.”

This is the translation you’ll get if you go to Google Translate, which it seems the forces behind the show did. You can easily see how such a mistake could happen: While the word החמיץ can be translated to mean “missed,” it would be used in the context of “he missed the opportunity” or “he missed the goal.” A second meaning of the Hebrew word–to which Golan refers–is “pickled.” This same root is used for pickle, as in a pickled cucumber (חָמוּץ מְלָפְפוֹן), as well as in the context of “I was pickled at the party.”  Suffice it to say, Google Translate was confused.

As Golan points out in his blog, did nobody at Showtime know a Hebrew-speaker who could translate a few words for them?

Yes, Google Translate is easy and available, but maybe it’s worth the effort to find a real translator in these scenarios.

In honor of Google Translate slipups, I decided to try translating the first lines of this post into Hebrew and then back into English to see what happens. Enjoy:

“With technology comes the chance of errors, some more than others … public. Ruta Kupfer Haaretz recently discovered one such mistake on the technology associated with the television program “chapters.” American British sitcom starring Matt Blanc (aka Joey Tribbiani) have adopted the modern age by using Google Translate to translate English into Hebrew inscription. English version simply calls “beloved husband and father, sorely lacking.” above it, however, Hebrew goes wrong. while they are clearly using Hebrew letters, they initially did not seem to contain any actual meaning. meaning to blogger Shahar Golan understood the Hebrew text was reversed.”

Pretty close, although I don’t know what would be worse on an epitaph, “pickled at great expense” or “sorely lacking.”

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One thought on “How Do You Say “Fail” in Hebrew?

  1. When I worked at an English-language business newsletter in Israel 20 years ago, we once received a letter in English from an Israeli PR firm that closed by urging us “do not levitate to call” if we had any questions. We treasured that letter dearly.

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