Looking for one word that can, in a pinch, encompass pocketbooks, briefcases, backpacks and suitcases? Don’t go for “sakit,” which refers to a plastic bag (also called “sakit nylon,” meaning “nylon bag,” even though it isn’t). The word you’re seeking is “tik” (TEEK), but its reach extends far beyond transporting one’s belongings.
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A tik refu’i, or medical file, is something we all have. But a tik plili is something you probably want to avoid, since it refers to a criminal record. And a tik bamemshala is something some of us desperately want and most of us will never get: a government portfolio, meaning a ministry the cabinet member gets to head. You don’t need a tik to be a cabinet minister, though. There’s generally a politician or two in each government who ends up with a seat at the table, but no ministry under his or her command; they are ministers without portfolio, or sarim bli tik.
But “bag” may well be the most commonly used meaning of “tik.” A sign on Israeli trains plays with the fact that in Hebrew the word is pronounced the same way as the sound we attribute to a clock. The sign has an illustration of a suitcase, in the middle of which is the word “tik,” followed beneath by “tock, tick, tock.” A brief message at the bottom warns passengers not to leave any of their belongings on the train.
The connection between leaving a bag behind and the sound of a clock ticking is too obvious for Israelis to need to be spelled out. Unclaimed bags are considered suspicious objects that might contain explosives, and so are carefully removed for detonation in a controlled explosion carried out by security officials.
Those of us who use public transportation know that the clock is always ticking for passengers, and that, when things are going wrong, being delayed by just a few seconds can end up making us hours late. But with its long-running campaign meant to encourage train riders to remember their bags, Israel’s railway system has added a new wrinkle in the tik-tock of time.