There are two types of homonyms:
HOMOGRAPH: each of two or more words having the same spelling but different
meanings and origins.
HOMOPHONE: each of two words having the same pronunciation but different
meanings, origins, or spelling.
During my sophomore year at Bar-Ilan University, I dormed in one of those notorious prefab asbestos huts, known as asbestonim, similar in appearance to caravans. It’s important to note that many of the paths leading to the asbestonim, including the path leading to my own unit were not properly paved.
One rainy day, after a long morning of classes, I returned to my dorm room anxious to make myself a bite to eat. Upon entering the kitchen, however, I was horrified by the sight of the sink and yelled out in dismay, ‘Who dared to clean off her muddy shoes in the kitchen sink?’ A couple of my friends came running to see what the commotion was about.
I repeated my question, but my friends denied that they or anyone else for that matter had cleaned their shoes in the sink. ‘But there is mud (“botz” in Hebrew) in the sink,’ I exclaimed. ‘That’s right,’ they retorted quite nonchalantly. My frustration level began to rise. ‘If no one cleaned her shoes off in the sink, how did the mud get there?’ My friends looked at each other as if I were nuts and told me that they had drunk the botz and that what was left in their glasses they had poured out into the sink. At that point, I began to question my own sanity, wondering what I was doing in a country whose native inhabitants drink mud.
My friends, who had figured out the source of my confusion, sat me in a chair and eagerly offered to prepare a glass of “mud” for me to taste. ‘No thank you,’ I said, starting to regret having returned to my dorm. ‘You’ll see. You’ll like it.’ And they went ahead to prepare a glass of botz. Amazingly, it smelled like coffee, so I figured that there was no harm in tasting the stuff. Sipping the concoction slowly. I was relieved that the taste was familiar and that I didn’t choke to death.
I then went ahead to drink the entire glass of what I had realized was just coffee, but then it happened. I hit the bottom of the glass! (My friends didn’t bother to warn me!) So that was the mud that I saw in the kitchen sink! Thus my introduction to Turkish coffee.
© Tzivia Spiro, 2018. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Original published in “VOICES”, Aug., 1999, Vol. 3,Issue 8, p.33.
Bo reg/Bo regah
I was doing my usual boring work at the factory, when the foreman called me over. I couldn’t imagine what he might want. But I immediately approached him. However, he repeated his demand. “But I’m here,” I said. Impatiently he said again, “Bo reg.” I was standing right next to him. It finally dawned on me that I didn’t understand. He showed me a screw and repeated, “BOREG!” And I was sure he’d said, “Bo regah” (Come here for a moment).
© Tzivia Spiro, 2018. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Original published in “VOICES”, Mar. 1-3, 1999, p.33.
My friend Debi was stuck in the hospital with pregnancy complications, and so she was particularly outraged when she saw people smoking on the maternity floor. Concerned for her infant’s health, she stormed over to a nurse, and demanded that the smokers be evicted immediately. The nurse went to check but returned quickly. “I didn’t see anyone,” she explained to my friend.
Debi was upset and confused. What did the nurse mean, she didn’t see them? They were right there in the hall, smoking away! Maybe she didn’t want to argue with them? What kind of nurse is that?! She plopped down on her bed and reviewed the conversation in her mind. And then…she blushed! She realized why the nurse hadn’t found any smokers – because… she was looking for sleeping people. Instead of saying “me’ashanim” (smoking), Debi had told the nurse, “yeshanim” (sleeping)!
© Tzivia Spiro, 2018. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Original published in “VOICES”, Oct., 1999, Vol. 3, Issue 10, p.34.
Last night I heard someone complaining. “Oh I have serious problems with my roses,” the man said. What kind of problem could one have with roses? They don’t grow? They have parasites? The’ve got thorns?
“They’re painful and swollen,” he said. “Your roses?” I asked. “Yeah, on my feet.” I wondered how someone could have swollen roses and what were they doing on his feet? Then I understood the mistake: He didn’t mean (vradim) roses, he meant (vridim) veins. “Oy, my aching roses!”
© Tzivia Spiro, 2018. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Original published in “VOICES”, Jan., 2003, Vol. 7, Issue 7, p.32.
It was general practice to discuss current events in our Ulpan class. The teacher would decide which newspaper articles we would read that day. As preparation for the lesson, she always wrote difficult words on the blackboard. I would glance at the board as I entered the room, and that would give me a clue as to what we’d be doing. One day I found the words אי-הבנה (E-Havana-misunderstanding) chalked on the board. Reassured, I congratulated myself that I already knew the vocabulary. However, I was mystified as to the content. After all, I listened to the news. I wasn’t aware of any אי-הבנה (E-Havana-misunderstanding). The teacher soon relieved my curiosity. It was אי (E-island), and הבנה (Havana) as in CUBA.
© Tzivia Spiro, 2018. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Original published in “VOICES”, Feb., 2000, Vol. 4, Issue 2, p.34.
An American tourist, totally unprepared for Israeli drivers and Israeli roads, rented a car. He soon found himself involved in a minor accident. Disoriented and shaken up, he myopically groped around for his glasses. Apparently they had flown off when he slammed on the brakes.
Several motorists pulled over and rushed to his aid. “Are you alright, they asked him. “Kain” (Yes), he answered in broken Hebrew. “Aval naflu li et hamichnasayim” (but my pants fell down).
Edited and adapted by Yehuda Danziger
© Tzivia Spiro, 2018. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Original published in “VOICES”, Jan., 2000, Vol. 4, Issue 1, p.34.