Word of the Day: Balagan

This word describes everything from the traffic you're stuck in to your friend's mess of an outfit to Israel's most recent elections.

David Sarna Galdi.
David Sarna Galdi
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Mothers often tell their kids to clean up the 'balagan' they made.
Mothers often tell their kids to clean up the 'balagan' they made.Credit: Eran Wolkowski
David Sarna Galdi.
David Sarna Galdi

A "balagan" is what you have in your room. A "balagan" is what's going on between you and your girlfriend. A "balagan" is also often the state of Israeli politics. In short, a "balagan" is a mess.

The noun "balagan," ingrained in the average Israeli's daily vocabulary, is actually borrowed from Russian – in which it means the same thing – but derives from the name for traveling-puppet-show wagons common to fairs in days of yore.

Digging even deeper, the word's true origin is Persian ("balchan") from which it made its way across the borders of Turkey to Russia and subsequently to several other languages, like Hebrew and Lithuanian (which uses "balaganas").

"Balagan," along with other terms and linguistic traits, made its way to Israel during the First Aliyah (1882-1903), when many Zionist Russian immigrants, including Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of Modern Hebrew, settled in Mandatory Palestine.

Modern-day immigrants and visitors to Israel may still experience culture shock upon arrival. Feel free to use "balagan" to describe anything from the traffic you're stuck in to your friend's hot mess of an outfit to Israel's most recent elections.

Or get creative and attach any number of adjectives at the end: "balagan gadol" ("big mess"), "balagan atomi" ("atomic mess"), or "balagan expresionisti amerikani mufshat " ("American Abstract Expressionist mess") -- perhaps to describe the Jackson Pollock housed at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott