Word of the Day / Fashla

Make no mistake about it: This Israeli slang word, which comes from the Arabic, is used to describe screw-ups both big and small.

On the bus to Tel Aviv this week, many of the passengers started grumbling angrily when they realized that the driver had essentially skipped one of the main stops. One of the passengers, a soldier in uniform who appeared to be on his way home from his base at the end of the week, became the spokesperson unofficially charged with explaining to the passengers what was going on after the driver told him that the previous stop was as close as he was going to get to the central bus station and that he wasn't going to turn around.

Incredulously, the soldier conveyed the driver's statement that it must have been him, the passenger, who had "made a fashla [FAHSH-la]" in not getting off the bus earlier, even though no one else had realized what was going on either until the bus was in another part of town.

Fashla is a slang word that comes from the Arabic and means a screw-up or a failure, and has morphed into a Hebrew verb as well. While you can retain the noun form by making a fashla (or just exclaiming exasperatedly "Eizeh fashla!" for "What a screw-up!"), Israelis also use the Hebraicized infinitive form lefashel (le-fa-SHEL, "to screw up") and verb forms like fishel (fee-SHELL, "he screwed up") and fishla (feesh-LA, "she screwed up").

Fashla is similar to another Arabic word that has entered Hebrew slang, fadiha, and though in some cases the two are used interchangeably, the latter tends to be more likely to have overtones of an embarrassing failure rather than a mere blunder.

One example of a fashla that was definitely also a fadiha (assuming it's real, which I have not been able to confirm) is a government-sponsored billboard from Passover time earlier this year exhorting Israelis not to play around with their cooking gas while cleaning for the holiday and urging citizens to go to the website of the Energy and Water Resources Ministry for guidelines on gas safety. The only problem is that the name of the ministry, which appears below the URL, is missing a small part of one letter – a seemingly minor change that turns the word "energy" (energiya) into "orgy" (orgiya). Eizeh fashla!