Word of the Day / Laheet

It took a while for this Hebrew word meaning 'a hit' to climb to the top of the charts.

The Hebrew word laheet (la-HEET) has its English definition in it: It means hit -- as in top of the charts. This is no coincidence as we shall see, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

During the days of the British Mandate in Palestine, the small community of Hebrew speakers had no word for hit songs, movies or plays, so they had to make do with a German word, “schlager,” which literally means hit (as in to strike), but since the 1870s has come to mean a commercial success.

Many Hebrew zealots thought that this was unbefitting and several of them tried to introduce Hebrew terms, but these didn’t catch on. In 1960, the Academy of the Hebrew Language mobilized to action and the Committee for Words in Day-to-Day Use held discussions and came up with the word "yahalom" (ya-HA-lom, the Hebrew word for diamond), but this was rejected by the academy's general assembly in favor of "kaftor" (kaf-TOR, the Hebrew word for button), which was in turn rejected in favor of "ashgar" (ash-GAR, which doesn’t mean a thing).

In the end the academy discovered that a Hebrew word had already come to be adopted by Israeli young people, a word that was coined by a young Israeli radiocaster nearly two years earlier.

“The word for ‘hit’ was ‘schlager’ and then suddenly I came up to Moshe Hovav, who was the head radiocaster, and said I want to call it ‘laheet’ or ‘lahoot,' which was better? He said that he thought that ‘laheet’ was better. And that is it. I started using it in my show,” recalled entertainer Rivka Michaeli in an interview last week. “The word was similar to the English word 'hit' and the root l-h-t is related to heat,” she explained her decision to call the week’s hottest songs “lehitim.”

And thus out of the Michaeli’s “Hit Parade” on Israel Radio, the word laheet spread and gradually supplanted schlager, which is today rarely used at all.

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.