Word of the Day Ba Li and Lo Ba Li

Israelis have a simple way of explaining why they do what they do and what they want.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Ba means "comes" or "is coming," as in the unintentional first sentence of many a Hebrew-speaking babe in arms, "Abba ba" ("Daddy's coming"), and li means "to me" or "for me." Put them together and you get not just an Indonesian tourist destination but also a Hebrew phrase that means "I feel like it" when the phrase stands alone and "I want" or "I feel like" when preceding the object of the speaker's desire, as in the Givatayim burger joint Ba Li Burger (I Want a Burger).

As in English, ba li can be a bit of a non-answer answer. "But why would you want to ride an ostrich?" a perplexed friend might ask. In that context, "I feel like it" is more of a response meant to fill in the dead air than it is a meaningful explanation.

The flip side of the phrase – lo ba li, meaning "I don't feel like it" or "I don't want"– shows up frequently on the Hebrew Web in connection to different sexual expectations between partners, featuring in phrases like "Lo ba li sex" and its opposite: "Ba li yoter [more]."

In an altogether different context, it's also what some Israeli kids say when you offer them broccoli or tell them it's time to put on their pajamas. One Ynet article entitled "Ima [Mom], lo ba li" advises parents that sometimes a reluctance to perform certain tasks can indicate an underlying learning disability or attention deficit disorder. But it goes beyond children with learning difficulties, driving many Israeli parents up the wall. "There has never been an assortment of words more terrible than 'lo ba li,'" Inbal Arbel, the mother of a young daughter, writes in a Hebrew blog post.

Complaining of the whining tone that tends to accompany the phrase, the blogger adds: "The 'lo ba li' of the average young Israeli child, or at least mine, is enigmatic and ambiguous, and is likely to come in answer to 'Do you want schnitzel?' And then the lo ba li means: Don't want, don't feel like it, not interested Sometimes the lo ba li comes in response to the statement, 'Hello, how are you doing?' And then you stand there and wonder what the hell she wants from your life."

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