Word of the Day Shushu

This word helps keep the kids quiet in class. But when it comes to government action, 'hush-hush' doesn't win a gold star.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

One of the most effective ways to get kindergarten children to be quiet, according to a blog by an Israeli kindergarten teacher called Secrets from Gan, is a collection of rotating standby phrases including "Sha sha sha, sheket bevakasha" (sha is the usual Hebrew version of "shush," with the full phrase meaning "Sh sh sh, quiet please") and "Shu shu shu, bevakasha teshvu" ("Sh sh sh, please sit").

From kindergarten's shu shu shu we get to Haaretz's front-page shushu, part of the Hebrew headline of Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn's column Wednesday on the mysterious and somewhat absurd saga of Prisoner X: "Demokratiyat shushu," or "hush-hush democracy."

Assuming the accuracy of the Australian Broadcasting Association's report this week that a man found hanging from his cell in a high-security Israeli prison in 2010 was an Australian Mossad agent named Ben Zygier, we still don't really know what led up to his incarceration or to his death in a cell that was supposed to be closely monitored to prevent suicide. Those missing links and the absurdity of the situation is where the shushu element – the secretive, or cloak-and-dagger aspect – comes in.

That's because even after the Australian television station broke the story and Israelis were already talking about it online, the military censor still ordered editors in this country to conceal all reference to the story from a public that had already heard about it.

"The results are ridiculous and, instead of hushing up the blunder, they merely shine a spotlight on it," wrote Benn.

This is hardly the first editorial mention of shushu, though elsewhere it is sometimes enclosed in quotation marks to indicate that it is a non-standard word. A recent essay about how secrecy shapes Israeli society, also published in this paper, was called "How the Israeli 'shushu' culture has taken over," and a 2009 Globes article criticizing the Israeli media coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict in the winter of 2008-2009 announced "The return of 'shushu.'"

Now that Israel has partially lifted the gag order on the Zygier case, we can hope that the government's kindergarten cops will step back and allow all this shushing to give way to the truth.

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.

Kindergarden children are taught to be quiet for reading time. The government, in the case of Prisoner X, may have taken their silence too far.Credit: Bloomberg

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