As you may or may not know, I am a blogger for The Jerusalem Post, which is the major daily English-language newspaper in Israel. My blog, The Chosen Frozen, appears on their website, JPost.com. I blog about Judaism, life as a convert, politics, diaspora issues and events, and much more. Check it out at http://www.jpost.com/Blogger/Ryan-Fagan
פייגן בסביבות מקווה שיש לך שבת נפלאה
Niagara Falls, straddling the border between the United States and Ontario, is one of the grandest waterfalls in the world, and boasts the speediest flow rate. Actually it’s three waterfalls, but why nitpick.
This natural phenomenon was formed eons ago as the Wisconsin Glacier receded. Water flooding from the Great Lakes carved a path through the rock on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Today, Niagara attracts around 20 million tourists per year. The natural wonder is also exploited to generate massive amounts of hydroelectric power.
Wonder of the world it may be, but bring up Niagara in Israel, and the reaction may be other than awe; in Israel, that is the term for a toilet’s water tank.
Yes, indeed. How and why the noble waterfalls came to lend their name to flush-toilet tanks in Israel is unclear.
Disrespectful? Maybe. But come to think about it, naming bathroom fixtures after world wonders has its charm. What about re-naming the bidet: Old Faithful?
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The Hebrew verb “legagel” means “to search on Google.”
That’s the specific case. More generally it means, “to search on the Internet,” simply because Google has become quite the default search engine in Israel. The person telling you “legagel” something or other isn’t necessarily commanding, “Thou shalt search using Google and not using any other search engine.”
Now how did this come about?
Hebrew, like all human languages, evolves. All but defunct for centuries on end, its revival began a century ago. As it was based on the original Hebrew spoken over eons long gone, inevitably it needed some updating.
In latter-day Israel it has been the function of the Hebrew Academy to make up new words as the need arises. Some take on, some don’t. “Sakh-rahok” for telephone (“to talk at a distance”) didn’t take; people still refer to the “telephone”.
But the people don’t sit there slackly waiting for the deadly serious but somewhat slow-moving Academy to hand down the law. They make up words on their own, based on the rules of Hebrew grammar.
Thus the “le” part of legagel simply means “to”, as in “to Google.”
So why not say “legoogle”? Well, that’s a harder one.
First, it doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as legagel.
Second, Hebrew is written without the sort of vowel letters one knows from the romantic languages. That “oo” in Google is spelled in Hebrew with a helpful vav letter…
…But Hebrew words are based on 3-letter roots. Google already has three consonants in Hebrew – g, g, l. No room for the vav!
Thus we arrive at li-g-g-l. You fill in the vowels. Q.E.D.