As cease-fire negotiations become a thing of the past yet again, many people want some straight talk on this whole Israel-Gaza conflict.
The problem, of course, is that what one person thinks of as talking dugri – pronounced DOOG-ree, a slang word that entered Hebrew via Turkish and Arabic and means speaking frankly, bluntly and honestly, with no beating around the bush – is what another person thinks of as reason enough to defriend someone on Facebook.
This problem isn’t limited to Israel’s relationship with Hamas, of course. In September 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu memorably addressed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a speech at the United Nations, in a very public attempt to goad him into peace talks.
“We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let’s just get on with it,” Netanyahu said. “And I suggest we talk openly and honestly. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s do as we say in the Middle East: Let’s talk dugri.”
But while many saw the much-publicized comments as a public relations coup, not everyone agreed that Netanyahu himself was actually talking dugri in his dugri speech. “Sorry, Bibi, but you don’t talk dugri, and you have no intention of making peace with the Palestinians,” journalist Yehuda Nuriel wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth.
Whether or not Nuriel’s take on the UN speech was accurate, Netanyahu’s use of dugri was more a reflection of the way the word is used in Hebrew slang than in the Arabic from which Hebrew borrowed the word.
“It’s interesting that Hebrew speakers’ understanding of the concept of ‘dugri’ is different from that of speakers of Arabic (the language from which the term was taken, by the way),” writes Israeli linguist Malka Muchnik in her four-volume “Language, Culture and Society.” “While for Hebrew speakers, ‘ledaber dugri’ [talking dugri] is associated with the attribute of frankness, for Arabic speakers it is seen as [referring to] the veracity of facts.”
In Israel, where it would not be odd for a casual acquaintance, or even a stranger, to ask how much you paid for your house and then insist that you could have gotten a better deal, dugri is not just a slang word but a way of life.
On a recent reporting trip to Israel, journalist Raffi Berg wrote for BBC News last year, “I did encounter that special trait for which Israelis have gained a bit of a reputation – a certain, shall we say, straightforwardness, a brusqueness of manner, so familiar to frequent visitors to Israel that they treat it as a source of humour.”
Indeed, the bluntness that outsiders often perceive as rudeness has become a hallmark of the Israeli character, Tamar Katriel, a professor of communications at Haifa University, writes in her 1986 book “Talking Straight: Dugri Speech in Israeli Sabra Culture.”
The Hebrew dugri comes from spoken Arabic’s du’ri, meaning “straight,” which in turn comes from the Turkish word dogru, which can mean “true,” “correct,” “accurate,” “right,” “straight,” “honest” and “proper.” It is part of the Turkish name of Turkey’s True Path Party, also known as DYP, an abbreviation of Dogru Yol Partisi.
It makes sense, then, that talking dugri – being candid, open and direct – is Israel’s version of talking turkey, in more ways than one.
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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