You may have noticed that human beings have a tendency to associate certain symbols with a particular meaning. It can reach the extent that we sometimes forget they are just symbols, after all. Take a traffic light, whose ubiquity contributes to the collective belief that (Spanish bulls notwithstanding) red means stop and green means go.
By contrast, the Hebrew word for traffic light, ramzor, spells out that the colors are really just visual signals. That's because the word itself is comprised of remez, meaning “hint,” and or, meaning “light.”
Traffic lights, the Hebrew is telling us, use light to guide drivers by giving them hints regarding when to stop and when to go. The problem is that Israeli drivers respond to these hints not just with their accelerators and brakes but also with their severely overtaxed horns.
In Israel, the ramzor turns yellow not just before the red, to warn drivers of an impending need to halt, but also before the light turns green. For far too many Israeli drivers, that pre-green yellow or serves as a remez to angle their hands on the horn just right, ready to honk angrily if the car in front of them doesn’t get moving the very second the light turns green. “It’s time to go!” these impatient drivers seem to be shouting. “Can’t you take a remez?”
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.
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