Word of the Day / Mis’hakei Kufsa: Thinking Inside the Box

While in English, board games are known by one of their key identifying features, in Hebrew they are simply lumped together according to the container they arrive in.

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When my South African husband first mentioned a “bottle store,” I had no idea what he was talking about. A store that just sells bottles? Was that some kind of Cape Town trend?

My husband looked at me like I was crazy, and I eventually figured out that he was talking about a liquor store (which he thinks I should pronounce lick-YURE rather than LICK-er). Alcoholic beverages typically come in bottles, of course, though, silly New Jerseyan that I am, I had always been under the impression that it was the contents that motivated people to purchase the containers.

I am reminded of this little tomayto-tomahto divergence whenever I hear someone talking about board games in Hebrew.

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That’s because, while in English board games like Monopoly are known by one of their key identifying features – the board on which the game is played – in Hebrew they are known as mis’hakei kufsa (mees-kha-KAY koof-SA), literally “box games,” which identifies them by the container in which they are packaged.

Mis’hakei kufsa can certainly have a lot of benefits – they can teach children how to follow the rules and be a good sport, offer an easy way to alleviate boredom or have some family time and, in some cases, help children think strategically or learn about, say, capitalism and banking – but they aren’t the sort of children’s games that require running around or catching a ball or honing your imaginative side.

A big box, sans game – in Hebrew, the packing kind is most commonly called a kar-TONE, as in “carton” – is probably more likely to prompt creative play than the kind with board included. Playing with mis’hakei kufsa typically requires inside-the-kufsa thinking; let kids play inside a box, though, and they will likely start thinking out of it.

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.