Best Hebrew Bloopers by New Olim

A sheretz in the bug-free brussel sprouts

Last week I heard a woman describe her first visit to the yarkan (produce store) as a new olah (immigrant) in the early 70’s. Everyone knew where the produce store was, because a swarm of flies could be seen from a distance. She brought along her teenage daughter for assistance, as the daughter had already spent a year in Israel.

The new olah asked for a kilogram of shratzim (vermin). The proprieter offered her 10 kilo, for free! The olah had meant to ask for carrots, which sort of rhymes with shratzim.

I asked my Facebook friends to share their favorite Hebrew bloopers as new immigrants.

  • Maya  bargained a taxi fare up from 15 to 18 shekels.
  • Shelley once bargained in the Jerusalem Shouk to buy 3 wooden camels at 300 old shekels each, then offered 1000 for all three!!
  • Jean’s friend was asked the time on a bus, and answered, “Ani lo betulah” (I am not a virgin) when she meant to say that she wasn’t sure.
  • Jean’s friend also overheard another poor schlemiel ask for chicken breasts (literally) at the meat counter. The whole queue was giggling. (shadayim instead of chazeh)
  • Jean herself asked a nice couple on the bus if her ticket was for one-way or horseradish.
  • Rut once requested to “switch” or “exchange” something, but got confused and said the word that means, er, “to pass gas.”
  • Malke: “I once had to lecture to a group of ophthalmologists and spent an hour talking about adashim (lentils) instead of adashot (lenses). I couldn’t figure out why everyone was staring at me blankly.”
  • Aliza:  “I was teaching a statistics class, and instead of predictions (tachaziyot), said bras. Luckily I realized what I had said, but still didn’t know the right word. I think I wound up mumbling something about prophecy.”
  • I called up someone in the shul to complain about a nazelet (runny nose) instead of a nezilah (leak). It wasn’t so long ago either!
Thanks to T for sharing the picture. When I told her that her worm was going to be featured, she said she was glad the worm hadn’t died in vain.
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  1. A relative of mine once told a garage she had problems “bamoach” (with her brain) instead of problems “bamanoa” (in the car engine).

  2. A relative once told a guy on a first date that she was frigid (ani kara) instead of cold (kar li).

  3. When I was studying here after high school, I told an interviewer that I was going to be working with mechashaifim (wizards) instead of machshaivim (computers)… 🙂

  4. I once asked for a “chatich”–????–of pizza at a pizza place. But in my defense, it was when I was here for my year after high school and my friends and I were always on the lookout for chatichim. 😀

  5. My hebrew came out as question marks….

  6. Our friend’s sister was running late for an appointment and, getting rather flustered, went into the room and apologised for being kol kach mechueret ( ugly) instead of meucheret ( late)…

  7. One busy Erev Shabbat, my sister yelled at her husband “lech titlakeach” (go burst into flames) instead of “lech titkaleach” (go take a shower).

  8. MY husband and I went to the beach at night on our first date. I sweetly suggested that he take off his “michnasayim” (pants) instead of his “naalayim” (shoes).

    I once was a counsler for a group of American teenagers on a kibbutz. We sent them on a scavenger hunt and one of the items that they had to find was a black olive. One of the teenage girls went into the kibbutz kitchen and asked the soldiers who were cleaning up “slicha, yesh lmishehu zayin shachor”. I am not going to translate that .

    • Ruth Alfasi says

      BS:D Ok, I gotta tell this one – I heard from a friend, who retells of a guest she had for shabbat. They were quite chareidi, fyi. Goes like this – their guest (who was African-American) was at I’m not sure which Sha’ar (gate) at the Old City in Jerusalem, and he wanted to ask for some OTHER gate, and got quite mixed up and announced, “I”m looking for the black zayin?!” Ouch. He wasn’t clear what was so funny to the Arabs in attendance, until someone later at the shabbos table discreetly explained some of the intricacies of the Hebrew alef-bet.

    • Ariella, I was rolling on the floor with the first example. He must have thought you VERY forthright!

  9. As a tourist, I once walked into the kitchen of a hotel and asked the staff for a small cup of fertilizer (deshen). I was hoping for oil (shemen). I got confused by the 23rd psalm (dishanta beshemen roshi).

    These days, I regularly go to the fruit-and-nut stand and ask for pickles (chamutzim) instead of cranberries (chamutziot). I can’t be stopped.

  10. I switched two letters in a word and asked if plants would be embarrassed (yitbayshu) when I meant to ask if they would dry out (yityabshu). To your fb friend Aliza: An oleh meteorologist did something similar on a national radio station. He meant to say something about weather fronts (hazitot) and instead spoke about bras (haziot).

    • My wife once got on a bus (many years ago 🙂 and asked the bus driver, “L’an ha’autobus holech.” He smiled and answered, “Ha’autobus lo holech!” Everyone within earshot was cracking up and my wife couldn’t understand why the bus, “Lo holech!”

    • Thank you. This actually helps me feel better about what I said!

  11. Trip'n Mommy says

    Both my brother and I have made the same mistake (though years apart) in trying to order chicken wings (knafaiim) by ordering ofnaiim (bicycles) instead!

    I still maintain that ofnaiim should be the word for chicken wings. It just makes sense.

  12. My mother tried to order shiputzim at the steakiya one time. 🙂

  13. I used to confuse the Pope (afifior) with cucumbers (melafefon) – that’s when we usually had one or several Popes in our fridge 🙂
    And then I announced I would go and “letzaftzef sheinayim” instead of “letzachtzeach” – we still use this one in our family.
    I also invented new words such as “lo galuach” (not shaved. Should be lo megulach, but I then derived it from patuach – sounds pretty much the same, right?) and “atzbanim” instead of atzabim (bones)

    • Atzabim are nerves. Atzamot are bones. We’ll all make sense out of this at some point, maybe…

  14. well, here I producet just another one right in my post – it should be atzamot (bones), not atzabim (nerves) – that’s why I confused it the first time. In my opinion, bones in fish are rather “meatzbenim”

  15. And my favorite ever…
    A friend saw her son’s teacher from the yeshiva in the mall on a morning with his wife while the school was on Hanukkah break. She didn’t recognize him right away and when she realized she knew him, she stopped him by saying “I didn’t recognize you with your pants (michnasayim) on” when she meant “I didn’t recognize you with your glasses (mishkafayim) on.” 🙂

  16. Ruth Alfasi says

    BS:D – Hannah, here’s your Ruth, mentioned above – I also once went into a kosher market in a predominantly Ashkenazi area and wanted to get meat with a “sefardi heksher” ie Beit Yosef. Our minhag is to have “tongue” for Rosh Hashana so instead of saying, “Do you carry Beit Yosef heksherim?” then looking for “lashon” myself, I boldly announced “I’m looking for a Sefardi tongue.”

    PS: Sorry for the broken links last week! Won’t happen again.

  17. All these comments are great. I have a few of my own: A friend once told me I looked tired (hayeffa) and I said oh, thank you thinking he said I look pretty (yaffa). And another time I asked for a bus pass and instead of asking how many trip (Nisiot) I get for the price I asked how may flights (Tisot).

  18. As a tourist, I once announced that I had no swimming pool (brichah), when I wanted to say that I had no choice (briyah). It should have been clear from context what I was trying to communicate, but my listeners were totally nonplussed. I, in turn, was even more perplexed at their response. It was a lose-lose moment.

  19. I have a whole collection of mistakes I have made to the hilarity of those around me at the time. I once rendered a supermarket security guard incapacitated with laughter, which was fun in and of itself. It was the morning after Pesach, and the fabulous smell of fresh-baked bread permeated the entire store. I stuck my nose in the air, Bisto-twin-like, and said “Eize masriyach!” (what a stink). Still, we learn from our mistakes, and I’ve never confused “Reyach” (smell: good) with “Masriyach” since. I’ve also lost count of the amount of “fashlot” i had concerning itriyot (noodles), pitriyot (mushrooms) and mitriyot (umbrellas)…

  20. I meant to tell someone I care about that they were a blessing… so I called them a “brecha” (swimming pool)

    • Also, when I first moved to Israel I was on a first date. We saw two cats (Hatulim) on the street and I told my date “Ani Ohevet Hatunot!” (I love Weddings) I wonder why he never called again…

  21. Ruth Alfasi says

    BS:D Oh, these are all great, but that is toooo funny!

  22. Danny Hershtal says

    I asked my neighbor to borrow malaria (Kadachat) when I actually needed a drill (Makdeach).
    My brother got off a flight at Ben Gurion and asked an Israeli passenger “Aifo HaSherutim?” (where are the washrooms?) a reasonable request after a long flight. The friendly person said “follow me” and took my brother to the mens’ room, which confused him because he had actually wanted to know where the shuttles (Sheruiot) to Jerusalem were.

  23. I am fluent in Hebrew but a friend of mine who isn’t made this mistake while I was with her: We were at a party and she was looking for a cup, but she mispronounced ‘kos’ in such a way as to have said a bad word (those of you who know Hebrew well can take a wild guess). The room went silent, all eyes turned to her, and she turned to me and said “OK, what dirty or offensive word did I just say without realizing it?”

  24. My friend’s boyfriend had a bunch of friends over at their place. They were all sitting around having a drink. So my friend says to them: Can you all please put some tachtonim (underpants) under your glasses. She obviously meant to say tachtiot (coasters). She had the guys in stitches over that one!

  25. Many years ago when I was a kita alef ulpan student, I was sent to buy vegetables. However, I could not for the life of me remember the word for “onion” once I got there. The yarkan was trying to get me to explain what I wanted and I told him “shum gadol”. So yes, while that means “big garlic” it also means “big nothing”. The guy laughed himself blue in the face. For months I suffered “Hini hi she rotzah shum gadol!” [“Here she is, the one that wants a big nothing”] when I entered the store.

  26. BookishIma says

    Aww, these are just adorable. And hilarious! By the way, my son calls the vegetable in your photo “kruv leitzanim” – maybe you should do a kid Hebrew mis-speak edition!

  27. My lawyer husband always amused his colleagues when he kept saying “lehamlit” (the word for an animal giving birth) instead of “lehimalet” (the word for a criminal fleeing the country). But then someone comforted him by telling him the story of the oleh prosecutor who gave an entire speech in court about how the defendant should be setenced harshly because he had such a terrible “of” (chicken), and wondered why the judge kept giving him blank looks. He had meant to say “ofi” – character.

  28. BTW, definitely should do collection of Olim’s children’s funny Hebrewisms in English. My favorite so far from my son: “I died on those cookies!”

    • My favorite of my kids is, with regard to babysitters “Who’s going to save on us?”

      • Debbie Walk says

        My son once told me that he had not succeeded in calling a friend for the homework because the phone line was caught (tafus). Another time, he returned from school and told us that his friend was absent becuse he was sick with some illness, and then asked if that disease was sticky (midabek).

  29. In seminary, I had a friend who wanted to know if a bus went to Geula, so she asked the driver: “Lech Lecha l’Geula?” and obvious choice considering our chumash lesson.

  30. Today I was ver yself-conscious about sending my 3 yr old to gan with a lice treatment in her hair (I always wash out lice treaments b4 I send my kids to school but she was very resistant to bathing and I couldn’t fight it!). When I went to pick her up, I just assumed her ganenet had something to say to me about it. So when the ganenet said she deosn’t like the “mimrach” I told her that I was going to wash it our of her hair when we got home. When the teacher looked confused, I realized that she wasn’t speaking of her hair at all- but the peanut butter spread (mimrach) that was on her sandwich!

  31. Here are some creative ones

    wishing a person before he drinks tea – be’ tae- a’von

    a lady who is a ga’on – she’ga’on

  32. Many many years ago – after we were here for about a week, someone asked my mother something on the street. i wanted to say that she doesn’t speak hebrew, but with my american hebrew school education, i got the pronouns mixed up and said “at lo midaberet ivrit.” (“you don’t speak hebrew.) the person asked me “v’at can?” (and do you? – obviously being satirical.) but i just answered “lo”.

    and the first time i tried to by a bus “kartisia” i asked for “harbe nisi’im” (lots of presidents) instead of nisi’ot – trips.

  33. This takes me back 34 years, when we made aliyah and my husband was preparing his Bar Ilan lectures for one of his political science classes. He wanted to talk about Washington lobbyists. He looked up the Hebrew word for lobbyist and found “mizdronaim” — which actually means the people who clean the halls. When he used the word half the class rolled in laughter. Finally catching their breath, they asked him what he wanted to say and provided him with the “Hebrew” word: LobbYIST.

  34. A few weeks after I had my first baby, I went to town with him for the first time. I had to nurse, so I went into Michal Negrin store and asked the lady “efshar linakot poh?” (can I clean here) instead of ‘lhaanik” (to nurse).

    They seriously looked at me like I was nuts…

  35. i’m not an oleh and i don’t know if this counts as a blooper, but . . .
    once in the old city i asked the women working in the judaica store to take out some ear rings–nezamim–from the case for my wife to look at. the woman corrected me to say agilim. i told her i thought it was nezamim (as in the chumash). she informed me that today we say agilim. i muttered something about nezamim being good enough for me if it was good enough for moshe rabbenu.

  36. Nezem is still used to mean nose- ring.

  37. OK, so I have to jump in too. When we first moved here went out for pizza. When I got the bill, I wanted to make sure he added our (self serve) drinks into the bill. I figured that since one drink is “shteeya” that multiple drinks must be “shtuyot.” (which most of you know is “nonsense”) I caught it right away and we all got a good belly laugh.

    My husband, on the other hand, just butchers some words. Instead of “chad pa’ami” he called it “ha-paw-nee.” That’s one of the things that stuck in our family and that’s what we always call it now.

    One of my favorite stories is out of the hot RBS in the summer time. A chareidi olah took her shoes off in the house because it was so hot. She wanted to ask her rav: “I go barefoot in the house in the summer. If someone comes to the door, do I have to put my shoes on?” but instead she said: “I go naked in the house in the summer. If someone comes to the door, do I have to put my shoes on?”

  38. One year, while cleaning up and switching our kitchen back to chametz after Pesach, our neighbor came over asking for a remedy for atzirut (constipation). I thought she meant a clogged drain (tzinor biyuv satum), so I tried to offer the very poisonous drain-unclogging solution. It makes me laugh to this day.

  39. My husband was trying to tell my 5 yo’s psychologist about how our son was making shadows with his hands. He said my son made a shape and told him it was a gviah (dead body) instead gabiah (goblet).

  40. Someone I know meant to compliment his coworker on her lovely plants, “atzitzim”. You can guess what he said instead.

    A lot of these mistakes are forgivable, in general, Israelis are really tolerant of nasty grammar mistakes, that Americans would never ever tolerate in a foreigner. So we’re lucky.

  41. Love this! I asked a lady at the post office how much it would cost to send a small scrambled eggs to England (chavita-chavila). I also reassured some customers that the clothing would not shrink in their car (mechona-mechonit). My sister made up a little song to help her straighten out some close sounding words: chazzir chazzar b;chazziya-the pig returned in a bra.

  42. My brother walked into Matam Chafetz Chaim years ago and asked for a hot dog to go , but he said “kelev Cham lalechet”

    • This works the other way too. A friend’s Israeli wife was in his home town, Philadelphia, and asked him where all of the hot dogs were. She saw the street vendors’ signs, but no dogs…

  43. My friend “Devorah” had only made aliya the day before and on her first solo venture out ended up at Ben Yehuda. She walked in to one of the stores that sells freshly squeezed juice which she had heard so much about. “Devorah” walked up to the counter and asked the probably 75+ year old man behind the counter for a big glass of his “Mitz Gever” (man juice) insteasd of “mitz gezer” (carrot juice.) Apparently he could not stop laughing even after she paid and left with her carrot juice.

    Unfortunately this was nothing compared to the HUGE blooper – when “Devora” was the only female on a double bus in Geulah (very religious area) she realized the bus wasn’t slowing to let her off after she pushed the button to signal for the next stop. She wanted to get the drivers attention so he would open the back door so she could get off the bus. Yup – its as bad as you think – she proceeded to yell up to get the driver “Nahag Nahag Tiftach Oti Me’achorah” the entire bus turned around! Not knowing what she said but knowing it was not right, she bound off the bus a soon as the doors opened.

  44. So, a friend was a little confused on the Hebrew word for houseplants (atzitzim) – it was summer and she was out on the mirpeset watering the plants so she didn’t hear the doorbell. When she eventually opened the door to people who had been waiting some time she apologized “selicha, aval haya kol kach cham kahn, velachen samti ketzat mayim al hatzitzim’. Her visitors perhaps considered it too much information….

    In my first job interview in the country, an Israeli lady was explaining how they would start me off on a low responsibility job before moving me to more important stuff – her English was imperfect so she mixed it up a bit with Hebrew…and said “I’ll just give you rosh katan to to start with, then we’ll move on from there”. So in my head I was directly translating “rosh katan” = “a little head”…I couldn’t figure out a work-related context for this sentence. After a minute she looked at me and said “you don’t know what rosh katan means do you?” and I said “well, I guess not what I thought it means”….oddly I never got the job.

  45. I studied in Haifa University. There there is a building called “Multi Purpose Building” or in Hebrew, “Binyan Harav Tachliti” Since a few building, auditoriums and so on were named after people, for a long time I was sure it was named after the famous Rabbi “Tachiliti” . I only wondered, why, unlike other buildings, it did have a different name in hebrew. Then I learned that multi purpose is “rav tachilti” in Hebrew 🙂

    • My husband told me about an oleh who thought that when radio announcers said, “Shalom rav” they were greeting the Chief Rabbis of Israel. “Shalom rav” is simply a more formal greeting than “shalom”. In addition to meaning rabbi and multi-, rav means much or great.

      • My aunt claims that when she 1st moved to Israel she thought there were 2 news readers on the radio–the 2nd one was called, she believed, “Ikaran T’hilah.”

  46. Debbie Walk says

    I once spent a doctor’s. visit going on and on about the problems I was having with my Vradim (roses) when I meant Vridim (veins). Didn’t even realize it until years afterward, as the doctor. did not react to the blooper.

  47. I once called the IT Department at work and tried to explain that my browser (“dafdafan”) kept freezing–except I used the word “dagdagan”…(a very important female body part) instead.

  48. My best friend once asked for a glass of COUS mayim (instead of cos mayim). The waiter literally walked away.

  49. bill frankel says

    I couldn’t figure out what nose ball was… Kadur AAF. Volleyball.

    • i thought volleyball is kadur reshet? (or is that nucom)

    • It’s actually not the same word. Af as in nose is spelled with an aleph. Af as in kadur af is spelled with an ayin and comes from the same root as to fly, la’oof. (Yes, la’tus also means to fly. La’oof is for living creatures. La’tus is for inanimate machine-driven objects.) I looked up kadur reshet. It seems to be a volleyball game with slightly different rules than kadur af.

  50. I once told someone I was interested in studying Economica (Floor cleaner) rather than Kalkalah (Economics) – I think the response was something about doing a minor in Sponja.

    My brother once commented that it felt shravravi (plumber-like) outside instead of shravi (heat wave)

    But my best cultural mistake, after several years in Israel and during an extremely high pressure time at work; one of the guys in my group called me to say that he had “angina” and would stay home from work today… Not knowing what it was I looked it up on the internet….and found “Angina (pectoris)” on wikipedia, a heart condition which can be triggered by stress.. I immediately called him back and told him to take as long as he needs, and not to worry about it. A minute after our conversation he called me back and asked “What do you think I have?” – he explained that “angina” in Hebrew is synonymous with “flu”