Sometimes, literal translations don't work

This week marks the end of summer vacation for Israeli kids-- as any Israeli can tell when we venture into the back-to-school mayhem at Office Depot or Kravitz.

This got me thinking: the literal translation of "summer vacation" into Hebrew would be "chufshat kayitz," the "vacation of summer." But most Israelis call summer vacation "hachofesh hagadol," or "the big vacation." Jewish holidays insert a number of shorter vacations into the Israeli school year-- a week off for Sukkot, at least two weeks off for Passover, days off for Purim and Rosh Hashana and Shavuot. Summer vacation doesn't start until July here, but when it does, it's the big one-- "hachofesh hagadol."

There are many other phrases that are best not translated literally. For example, if I look up "retired" in the dictionary, I find "begimlaut" or "bedimus." However, most Israelis say "latzet lepensia"-- to go on a pension-- in place of "retired." Last night, my husband and I watched There Will be Blood, a very depressing Oscar-winning movie about a couple who ends up with a suitcase containing two million dollars and a psychopathic hitman in chase. After finding this windfall, they said they were "retired"-- which the Hebrew subtitles translated as "yotze lepensia," despite the fact that no pension was involved.

Sometimes literal translations INTO Hebrew fail. For example, I tend to say "right" a lot in English, so in Hebrew I say "nachon." Problem is, Israelis don't use "nachon" to express agreement-- they use it to confirm that something is correct-- so I end up sounding like I'm critically assessing what is being said to me instead of agreeing.

Similarly, when we were looking for apartments, I'd tell property owners that I wanted to "levaker et hadira"-- a literal translation of "to visit the apartment." However, "levaker" in Hebrew can also mean "to criticize," so what the owners heard was that I wanted to come criticize their home. (It's best to say you want to see the apartment, "liraot et hadira.")

Finally, there's the literal translation of the English movie title O Brother, Where art Thou into Hebrew: Achi, Aifo Atah? Which is accurate, except that O Brother, Where art Thou sounds like something you might read in the Bible, while Achi, Aifo Atah is something that Israeli cabbies shout at each other over their mobile phones-- "Hey bro, where you at?"

Have you encountered other examples of literal translation FAILS?
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