Word of the Day / Shalosh Arba Ve: Counting on Action

The Hebrew version of 'ready, set, go!’ is a cliffhanger that leaves parents wondering what will come next.

I have friends who dread hearing the sound of their children counting because they never know if it means an emergency medical visit will be in their immediate future.

Counting might seem like a pretty innocuous preoccupation for a child, or an outright laudable one. But when you hear a kid shout “shalosh arba ve,” meaning “three, four and…” – the Hebrew equivalent of the American “ready, set, go!” – you know that kid is about to try something, whether it’s a daredevil stunt or just jumping into a puddle.

While “ready, set go!” or its British cousin, “ready, steady, go!” is an introduction to action that is structured like a classically composed essay, with a clear beginning, middle and end, the Israeli version is more of a cliffhanger. For someone who can hear the counting but isn’t close enough to see the action, that long pause after the “and” can sound ominous, or at least dubious.

The implicit ellipsis after the ve is made all the more noticeable by the fact that “and” isn’t even a separate word in Hebrew; it is normally written as the first letter of whichever word follows the conjunction. In this case, though, the ve is followed by the action itself – and, sometimes, by a splash, a bang or a wail.

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