Word of the Day / Ookhsheh'le'entsiklopedioteinu: Say No More

Now you know why Scrabble players in Hebrew average much higher scores than players in English: Suffixes and prefixes are allowed.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

What is the longest word in Hebrew? It is ookhsheh'le'entsiklopedioteinu, according to numerous sources.

This is what happens when a foreign word gets adopted and then gets twisted into a 3-D plastic pretzel by rules of modern Hebrew.

It may look daunting at first glance, a tad long and impenetrable, but let's look at this lizard of a word syllable by syllable. The eureka moment is closer than you think.

It starts with U, which is simply the Hebrew prefix for "and."

For instance if "the cat" is "ha-khatool" and you wanted to tell the waiter "and my cat" (as in "and my cat would prefer fish"), you would say ve'ha-khatool. Before certain vowels, the "ve" sound becomes an "oo" sound and there you have it – the first two letters of our word.

We now reach "khshe". Let's not delve into why it's "khshe" and not "kshe" (hint: blame the "oo" sound). It simply means "when."

Moving onto the next two letters, we reach "le," which means "to," or "for." As in, to catch the fish for the cat.

That ends the list of prefixes attached to this word – "and when to".

We are left with "entsiklopedioteinu" and at least the first bit should look familiar. Yes, entsiklopediot means "encyclopedias," plural.

All that's left is "einu", which means "ours" or "our."

Now let us sum up.

Ookhshehleentsiklopedioteinu literally means "and when to our encyclopedias" [there is something or other]. But in English we would probably say "and when our encyclopedias have" something or other. Like "an author", "a shelf of their own."

How useful is that!

And now you know why Scrabble players in Hebrew average much higher scores than players in English. Suffixes and prefixes are allowed.

The 32 volume Encyclopedia Brittanica, even longer than the word Ookhsheh'le'entsiklopedioteinu.Credit: Reuters

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