Walk down an Israeli street and you might wonder why that mother is calling her child “mommy.” Has she forgotten that the one in the stroller is the baby? Is it some weird Freudian thing? Nope, she’s just using the Israeli term of endearment “mami,” which means “sweetie” or “honey” and which some use for friends, family members and random strangers as well as for children.

The use of “mami” resembles that of the Yiddish word “mamale” (MA-ma-le) the diminutive form of “mother,” which is also used as a term of endearment for girls. You might think that a more logical Hebraization of the term would be “ima’le” (EE-ma-le), which is also used in colloquial Hebrew and has the advantage of retaining the diminutive form “le” while replacing “mama” with “ima,” the Hebrew word for “mother.”

But whereas “mami” expresses affection, “ima’le” is often used as an exclamation of fear, shock or surprise. “Would you mind washing the dishes, mami?” a hopeful parent might ask a busy teenager. To which the teen might reply: “Ima’le! Look how late it is! Sorry, the movie starts in 10 minutes.” In such a case, the teen would be practicing the age-old art of chore evasion – by cheekily invoking his mommy.