Word of the Day Ahalta Ota

Sometimes you have to eat your words or swallow your pride. In Hebrew, when things don’t go your way, you can consume that too, with this useful phrase.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

What happens when Lady Luck skips town? In Vegas, you could lose a fortune. In Israel, you eat her.

Ahalta ota” literally means “you ate it” (the “it” is used in the feminine form and can also mean “her”), but when not used in a food context, it means “you’re screwed and there’s nothing you can do about it.” If an Israeli left his brand-new leather jacket on a train in Rome on the way to the airport, his friends back home might tell him that he “ate it,” meaning there’s no going back now and he should just move on. It has a similar meaning to the English term “eat your losses,” but has a broader range and is more colloquial.

The fatalism of “ahalta ota,” which implies that the time has come to accept your misfortune -- whether you’ve been had by a swindler or things just didn’t go your way -- can also be turned on its head to create a kind of happy acceptance, as in the 1980 comedic film “Hayeh [Smile], Ahalta Ota.” The chorus of the song of the same name, which is featured in the movie, urges people to move forward: “Laugh with all your heart, no it doesn’t hurt / Smile, ahalta ota.”

Both the literal and metaphorical meanings of the phrase can occasionally be captured simultaneously, as in this rather insensitive Hebrew headline of an online fashion article about how hard it is for plus-size women to find youthful clothes in Israel: “Fat? You ate it.”

'Ahalta ota' implies that the time has come to accept your misfortune. It can also be turned on its head to create a kind of happy acceptance.Credit: Tal Cohen

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