Word of the Day / Tihye Bari

It means "be well," except when it doesn't. As in, "You want to drive through that flood anyway? Good luck with that."

Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova

"Be healthy." It sounds like a nice enough phrase, a version of "be well" or "feel good." And sometimes tihye bari (tee-hee-YEH ba-REE, for a man) and tihyi bri'a (for a woman) are indeed used in that way, especially if the person on the receiving end of the phrase is sick or recovering from an illness.

But this is a phrase to watch out for, since its meaning can depend a lot on the tone of voice and the circumstances surrounding its usage.

It could be a good thing, as when some version of this phrase is used a fond way of voicing approval for a big appetite. If there's a family gathering and the grandson asks for a third slice of cake, the grandparent might pass it along over the parent's objection, saying she'yihye bari ("he should be healthy"). In this case, appetite is correlated with health and the phrase connotes something like "Let him enjoy it." It's all in the tone, though; another person present might be raising eyebrows over just how necessary that third slice really is and convey that incredulity with a more disapproving expression of the same exact words.

The phrase can also mean that someone has given up trying to convince the other person of the rightness of a given position. "Don't head that way, the streets are flooded," one driver might warn another during a severe storm. If the answer is something along the lines of "No, I'll take the chance, I'm sure it'll be fine," the response could well be a dubious "All right, she'tihye bari," meaning some combination of "If you insist," "Fine, do what you want" and "Good luck with that."

It's the context you have to watch out for to figure out when tihye bari means you should enjoy good health (or that extra serving of dessert) and when it's being used as a curt dismissal. In the latter case, the tone and meaning can resemble "screw you" or "go to hell" even as the actual words seem to indicate the opposite.

Let's say you walk into one of those stores where the guy behind the counter is the owner of the shop. You heatedly bargain over the price of, say, a set of candlesticks, and the shopkeeper insists that selling them for the price you're willing to pay would send him to the poorhouse. The angry imprecation you might hear as you walk out the door is the not-as-innocuous-as-it-sounds "Tihye bari!"

The use of tihye bari to mean something closer to "go to hell" than "feel good" is an example of what's called in Hebrew (from the Aramaic) lashon sagi nahor, meaning a euphemism that turns the meaning on its head, a negative concept expressed in positive words. The term itself is an example of such a euphemism; sagi nahor literally means "great light," and refers to the blind – in other words, someone who's in the dark.

Another euphemism in Jewish sources is the use of the word "blessing" to mean "curse." So the next time someone wishes you good health, be sure to think twice about whether you have really received some good wishes – or have just been cursed.

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.

You're going to drive through that?Credit: AP