There’s a scene in the 1990 classic “Pretty Woman” in which Julia Roberts, playing a hooker with a heart of gold, walks into a Rodeo Drive boutique dressed in her Sunset Boulevard best and gets snubbed by the snotty salesgirls. Had they been Israeli, when turning up their noses, they’d have called her a “shlukhit.”
In Hebrew slang a “shlukh” (masculine singular) is a slob - someone who is any or all of the following: sloppy, disheveled, crude and/or crass in behavior.
Nowadays you could casually use the adjective “shlukhi” to describe anything from the hopelessly un-ironed outfit of your colleague to your sister-in-law’s messy living room.
However, the word has a somewhat politically incorrect origin.
Imported to Israel by northern African Jews, the slur “shlukh” is a derogatory reference to the Shleuh (or Shilha) people, a Berber ethnic group that sports a Jewish minority, lives in the Atlas Mountains and is considered by its countrymen to be primitive and uncultured.
Popular Israeli singer Kobi Peretz got himself into hot water in 2009 when, during a paid performance at a bar mitzvah, he allegedly called the family that had hired him, “shlukhim” (masculine plural), and wound up getting sued for NIS 100,000. Mr. Peretz eventually resolved the lawsuit out of court.
Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman" got her sweet revenge when, the next day, she returned to the better-than-thou boutique dressed in designer duds bought with her boyfriend’s credit card, at another retailer.
Lesson: Use your ethnic slurs carefully, or not at all.
Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.
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