Word of the Day Yotze Dofen: Most Exceptional

Yotze dofen is an exceptional word, in that it is two words, thanks to which we'll make an exception and give you two two-word words of the day.

David Sarna Galdi.
David Sarna Galdi
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David Sarna Galdi.
David Sarna Galdi

We live in a day and age when cultural icons as colorful as Lady Gaga proclaim the glory of being different and dignitaries like U.S. President Barack Obama upload videos to YouTube decrying bullying and reassuring "different" kids that uniqueness is an admirable quality.

In Israel, when something or someone is unique they are "yotze dofen." It's a widely used but little understood expression, almost as unique as whatever thing it might be describing. For instance, if you were to walk into a shoe store and ask for stiletto heels, the salesman might muse, "Wow, that's yotze dofen."

Literally, "yotze dofen" means "exiting the wall."

The Hebrew term comes from a Talmudic phrase "[he] who exits the wall and the he who comes after him are neither [considered] the firstborn, neither for property nor for priesthood" (Bekhorot 8b), in reference to the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who was supposedly born by Caesarean section, even giving the phenomenon its popular name in English as well as Hebrew, "nituakh keysari" (Caesarean section).

Thus, an extremely unique type of birth (in Talmudic times at least), in which a baby exits "the wall" of the uterus instead of through the vagina, lent its name to the colloquial term for "unique."

However, a popular historical mistake has been perpetuated with the Hebrew and English terms for the unconventional birth. The term "Caesarean section" existed at least 700 years before the emperor himself and comes from the Latin term for "to cut" – "caesum."

Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that Caesar was born by C-section, a procedure that rather frequently killed the mother in labor, in ancient times. We know that Caesar's mother lived long enough to witness her son's military conquests.

That being said, perhaps you should be unique and use the more correct but less popular Hebrew term for C-sections, which is "leydat hatakh," or "birth by cutting." Most importantly, celebrate you individuality in any language.

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

A bust of Julius Caesar in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. He wasn't born that way.Credit: Wikipedia

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