Word of the Day / Haval חבל

For those learning Hebrew, it’s too bad that certain phrases keep shifting to mean their complete opposite. But figuring out the difference between when something is a real shame and when it’s awesome is definitely not a waste of your time.

Want to say “too bad,” “shame” or “that’s a pity” in Hebrew? The word you’re looking for is “haval,” as in: “Can’t make it to the restaurant tonight? Haval, the food’s supposed to be really good.”

Sometimes the word can also connote “what a waste,” as in:

Yenta 1: “Have you heard? He dropped out of college.”

Yenta 2 (clicking her tongue): “Haval, and he’s such a smart boy too.”

Along the same lines, the phrase “haval al hazman” (literally “haval about the time”) originally meant “it’s a waste of time,” as in don’t bother doing it, it’s not worth the time it takes. But in more recent use, “haval al hazman” has morphed into a slang phrase meaning pretty much the opposite. In this sense, it means something akin to “awesome” (in its colloquial meaning) or “totally worth it.” Sometimes it’s referred to by the acronym “havlaz,” as in a monkey-and-dog video posted online that an Israeli viewer titled “Matzhik [funny] havlaz,” meaning something along the lines of “wicked funny.” But I checked out the video and all I can say is that sometimes, one person’s havlaz is another’s waste of time.