Word of the Day / Sukariyot: The Devil That Tells You Its Name

Hebrew candy makes no bones about what it really is - sugar with sugar on top.

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When my 5-year-old daughter was younger, she attempted to get the bigger people in her life to give her what she wanted by invoking the worst threat she could think of: not being allowed to taste her candy. The fact that this stash of sweets was completely imaginary did nothing to lessen her determination, though it did prompt a few behind-the-hand laughs from her would-be extortionees.

“If you don’t let me, I won’t share my sukariya al mekel with you,” she used to inform us menacingly. In a completely English-speaking environment, referring to a lollipop as “candy on a stick” might be seen as a cute, if overly literal, description of the good ship Shirley Temple made famous. But in Hebrew, “candy [sukariya] on a stick” is the actual name of this tooth-unfriendly consumable.

In fact, it’s not just the stick kind of candy that’s blunt about its character. The word sukariya (soo-ka-ree-YA) itself unabashedly advertises its chief ingredient: sugar, or sukar, with nothing but a little suffix to differentiate it from the white powder that some of its more vociferous critics seem to think is no better than the kind that comes in little baggies.

If sukar (soo-KAR) looks a lot like sugar to you, there’s a reason for that. Both the Hebrew and English words, along with those in many European languages – azucar in Spanish, zucchero in Italian and Zucker in German, for instance – come from the Arabic sukkar via Latin and Old French. The Arabic, in turn, comes from Persian (shakar), the Middle Indo-Aryan language Pali (sakkara) and Sanskrit (sharkara, from a word meaning “grit” or “gravel” that came to refer to ground or candied sugar).

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As for Hebrew’s sukariyot, they are not just candies in the generic sense but also a very specific type of candy: sprinkles, known in some parts of the English-speaking world as “jimmies” or the evocative but long-winded “hundreds and thousands.”

Other words that aren’t shy about announcing their connection to the substance that may or may not be the root of all nutritional evil include Sukrazit, Israel’s version of Sweet’N Low, and sukeret, which tacks the common disease suffix “-et” onto sukar to form the word for diabetes.

The rich vocabulary of the English language ultimately means that it dances around the prominent role played by the hundreds and thousands of molecules of sukar that are regularly sprinkled on ice cream or licked off a stick. Leave it to Israelis – who, if you haven’t heard, are said to be rather a blunt folk – to shout it out loud.

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.