I know I’ve complained a lot about words you don’t learn in Hebrew school, or even in Ulpan, but one of the words you DO learn in Hebrew school is “old.”
The word is zakein / זָקֵן. Easy!
(I also learned a related word – beard, which is zakan / זָקָן)
So I felt reasonably prepared, coming here to talk about things that were old, people that were old, even, perhaps, the olden days. You know, once I learned all the other words to go around “old.” (Heck, I didn’t even know the opposite, though I do now – it’s tza’eer / צָעִיר).
Boy, was I wrong.
It’s not like this is another case of outright LYING in Hebrew school. More like stretching the truth… because the truth is that there is very little that is truly OLD and I’m still confused about the rules.
The actual word zakein / זָקֵן, my trusty old friend from Hebrew school, is ONLY used for people. But it is also almost NEVER used for people. It is apparently very rude, and only used for someone basically on the brink of Death Due to Oldness.
Three rules for oldness in people that I never knew before:
- When people are old, you can call them kasheesh / קָשִׁישׁ, which is more polite – sort of like “elderly” or “senior citizen” in English.
- This only applies if they’re actually quite old. If they’re just old in the sense that they’ve been doing something for a long time - “old hands” at something, or old friends – they’re a vateek / וָתִיק, which means “experienced.” The opposite of olim chadashim (new olim) is olim vatikim.
- And you never, ever, ever, use any of these words to compare ages of people. If you want to say someone is older than someone else, you have to use the word “grown” or “mature” – mevugar / מְבוּגָר. Also, in English, we have no problem referring to older kids as “big” kids, but here, I was told this is very insulting to the younger kids. So the older kids in GZ’s gan are also referred to as bogreem / בוגרים, “grown-up.”
As for things…
When things are old and new, it’s a whole different story. A new thing is chadash / חָדָשׁ, and when it’s old, it’s generally yashan / יָשָׁן, a word that is never used for people. Simple!
Oh, except for… well, cities, and some other things that are not just old, but super-old. I guess in English, we’d call them ancient – in Hebrew, they’re ateek / עָתִיק (easy to remember because it sounds like antique, as long as you don’t get it mixed up with vateek and make everybody giggle). So if you want directions to the Old City of Jerusalem (cities are feminine), it’s the Eer Ateeka / עיר עתיקה.
Where, I’m sure – once you’ve mastered the language – you’ll have a grand OLD time!