If you've just handed in a report at work that you spent a long time toiling over and your boss pops in to hand you two tickets to the theater because you deserve the break, you've just gotten an unexpected perk, bonus or reward – or in Hebrew, a chupar (tchoo-PAHR).
The word started out as military slang and may be a deliberate distortion of the word meshupar (improved), from manot krav meshuparot, meaning improved combat meals, according to the Hebrew etymology site Hasafa Haivrit. (Whether soldiers agree that these meals are much of an upgrade is a different matter.)
Meshuparapparently transmogrified into chupar (possibly by way of mechupar), much as the "sh" sound in lehitgalesh (to slide) often gets turned into a "tch" sound (lehitgaletch) on the playground. This slight modification seems to function as a way of making the word more cute and cuddly, kind of like tacking a "y" onto child-friendly nouns to create forms like "ducky" and "dolly."
"At the beginning the soldiers get rolls with spreads, and every soldier gets one chupar a day– Bissli, Bamba or Tapuchips," Israel Defense Forces Col. Yossi Madar told Ynet in the summer of 2006, during the Second Lebanon War. He was referring to the salty snacks, including peanut butter puffs, crunchy flavored wheat snacks and potato chips, that have become Israeli childhood favorites.
Hasafa Haivrit raises the possibility that the Spanish and Ladino word chupar, which means "to suck," had an influence on the development of the word, in the sense of sucking a candy. And who knows, maybe that's why the army agreed during the 2006 war that the salty should be balanced with the sweet –and decided lechaper the combat soldiers, to use the infinitive form of the word, by adding gummy snakes to their combat meals.
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at email@example.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.
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