The Hebrew vernacular for chewing gum is mastik (mass-TEEK), even though there is a formal modern Hebrew phrase for it – gumi le'isa (goo-MEE le-ee-SA), literally "chewing rubber."
- Word of the Day / Chupchik צ'וּפְּצִ'יק
- Word of the Day / Parve
- Word of the Day / Mimouna
- Word of the Day / Hamarmoret
- Word of the Day / Lokshim
The word mastik has its origins in the Ancient Greek word mastikha, which referred both to the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) and the resin produced by it, mainly on the Isle of Chios in an area called Mastikhokhoria (“mastik towns”). The Greek word is derived from the verb “to chew,” which entered the Latin, the French, and eventually English as the verb "to masticate."
Hebrew obtained the word in the time of the Mishna (1st-2nd centuries), in a text called the Tosafot. “There is no chewing (mostikin) on the Sabbath unless for medical reasons in the case of bad breath when it is permitted.” (Shabat 13:7)
This prohibition has been repeated by many rabbis and commentators throughout the ages, though with a wide variety of spellings and despite the fact that, in the West, the practice of chewing mastic had declined.
In the 1860s, modern chewing gum emerged in the United States, still made of tree resin but now it came from an entirely different gum from Mexico - chicle. The practice of chewing gum spread from North America to the rest of the world, including Palestine.
Chewing gum was first manufactured in Israel during the 1920s, but it was reportedly, of inferior quality and was hardly chewed. Only during World War II, with the influx of British soldiers, did the market begin to develop. During the '30s, Elite started manufacturing a popular gum and by 1936, Wrigley’s gum was being marketed in Israeli supermarkets and concession stands under the name gumi le'isa.
The term "mastic" entered Hebrew shortly after Israel’s independence, heard mostly in children's language. Where did it come from? Well, not from the Tosafot, that’s for sure. Its origins are either from Morocco, brought over with the influx of Moroccan Jews at the time, or from Palestinian Arabic. Both groups chewed the resin of the mastic tree, and both called it masteka.
In the 1950s the word mastik began making appearances in the newspapers, with the first reference I could find being in “Herut” in December 1955. In Israeli literature the word seems to have entered in 1959 in Dan Ben-Amotz’s book "Ma Nishma" (“What’s up”).
In 1972, the band Shokolad Menta Mastik (“Chocolate Mint Chewing Gum”) was formed. It was one of the most popular bands in Israel during the 1970s, representing Israel in the Eurovision in 1976. The band’s name further popularized the word mastik, which by the 1980s was used more than gumi le'isa and was even being printed on the packaging of gum.
Today, both words are used in print, though mastik is more commonly used. And no one will ever ask you if you have gumi le'isa, unless he or she is trying to be funny.
Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.