Walk down the road or take out the trash in Israel and you will immediately notice that the country's streets, sidewalks and garbage cans are full to bursting with feral cats. In fact, when one of my daughters was first learning animal sounds, she refused to buy into my efforts to teach her what sound a cat makes; every time she saw one, she would say "khh! khh!"– which frankly sounds a lot more like the tough, scrawny, dumpster-diving felines we regularly encountered than the friendly "meow meow" I was pushing for.
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An urban legend has it that the British are to blame for our cat problem, because they introduced cats during the Mandate era in an attempt to control the rat population. Of course, cats predated the British in the Middle East by eons. But the question that today's word answers is not who caused the cat plague but what you say to one of these creatures when they've come a little too close to your tuna sandwich for comfort. That word is kishta (KEESH-ta), meaning "scat" or "get away from here."
The word comes from the Arabic word kish, according to Hebrew language maven Rubik Rosenthal. It can be used for other things as well, as it was in a blog post advising job seekers to put effort into initial job interviews, even if they're just meeting with human resources personnel. The headline read: "This week's job-hunting tip: Kishta attitude!"
But while kishta can be used for attitudes, pigeons and, of course, little brothers, it remains most closely associated with cats.
Alfabet, Israel's answer to the online English slang glossary Urban Dictionary, says kishta means "get outta here," and describes it as "one of the few words in catspeak that mankind has managed to discover."
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.