Hafifnik: When Details Are the Devil

You know that guy who does things half-assed? This is what you'd call him in Hebrew.

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You know that mechanic who said you could bring your car into the garage for fixing but every time you called, it wasn’t ready yet? Then when you finally came to pick it up, he said he couldn’t find the problem and you couldn’t help thinking that he never really bothered looking very hard. That’s a hafifnik (kha-FEEF-neek): someone who does things half-assed, without paying much attention to the details.

Hafifnik is the epithet formed by adding the Yiddish-influenced suffix -nik (meaning “one connected with or characterized by being” something) to hafif (kha-FEEF), which comes from the Arabic for “lightweight” and means “in a sloppy or effortless manner.”

Among Orthodox Jews in Israel, the word connotes someone who identifies as Orthodox but is seen as none too strict about the shalts and shalt nots. In this context, the stereotypical hafifnik is a guy wearing a tiny kippa, possibly on one side of the head or in the back so it’s not immediately visible. He’s far more likely than his mainstream yarmulke-wearing peers to spend the night clubbing or, flouting the religious restrictions on non-marital intimacy between the sexes, be one-half of the very publicly interlocked couple on the park bench.

Just don’t get the adjective hafif mixed up with the noun hafifa, which means both “shampooing” and “overlapping.” The morning of your first day at a new job, you might well do hafifa twice: first in the shower, and then when you “overlap” with your predecessor, meaning that he trains you how to do your new job.

If the guy you’re replacing is a hafifnik whose training is less than thorough, though, you may end up getting into a lather about just how hafif your hafifa turned out to be.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Chances are a 'hafifnik' fixed this car.Credit: Dreamstime

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