Looking to KFC for a Hebrew equivalent to ‘freebie’
Is “finger-licking good” a translation from Spanish just like l’lakek et ha-etsba’ot is from Ladino?
How do you say “freebie” in Hebrew? This was the question facing Haaretz when called upon to translate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remark, delivered in Jerusalem in English on April 15, that the United States and Europe had given Iran a “freebie” by deferring further negotiations over its nuclear program until late May.
Haaretz’s initial attempt was matana, the Hebrew word for “present” or “gift.” Yet the following day, Chemi Shalev, its correspondent in the United States, sought to better that. “My first impression,” he had Netanyahu saying in a Hebrew translation retranslated here into English, “is that Iran has gotten a chupar.”
Chupar (pronounced “tshoo-PAHR”) is indeed better than matana, since it is slangy like “freebie” and has a meaning that is similar though not identical to it. A chupar in current Israeli Hebrew is an extra perk — a bonus to an employee, an upgrade to a traveler, a weekend’s leave to a soldier, an ice cream cone to a child — given as a reward or incentive or simply as a nice surprise. The word also yields the verb l’chaper, as in a sentence like, “Hu chiper et ovdav b’nofesh b’Elat,” “He treated his workers to a vacation in Eilat.”
Although chupar has been derived by some from Hebrew shipur, “improvement,” this is no more than a folk etymology, there being no reason that a Hebrew “sh” sound should have changed to a “ch” sound, which is not native to the language and always indicates a foreign influence. Moreover, the influence in this case is clear: It is the Ladino expression chupar los dedos, “to lick one’s fingers” — that is, to enjoy something greatly, such as a tasty dish.