Word of the Day Mi Ma Mu: A Quick Way of Referring to All That Jazz

English has the five W's. Hebrew has the sound a cow makes.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

"Who, what, where, when, why and sometimes how" can be quite a mouthful, whether you're learning how to write an elementary-school composition, you're crafting a news article, or you're just trying to figure out the ABCs of some new venture.

Forget for a moment about the five W's. If you want to talk about all that jazz in Hebrew while packing a colloquial punch, sum up those pesky little details in three little words: mi ma mu.

Mi means "who," ma means "what" and mu – well, mu just means "moo," but if you use it in conjunction with the other two words, it rounds off the phrase nicely. Together, the three words refer to all that stuff you need to know.

The phrase has been adopted as the name of the Hebrew website Mimamoo, which provides recommendations to and from Israelis about where to go and what to do in various countries. A promotional video for the site features a catchy song with the chorus: "There are three things that every Israeli needs to know: mi ma mu / And it doesn't matter if you're in L.A. or Kathmandu."

This trio of short words is a useful way to represent miscellany. "First I need to find out mi ma mu, and then I can decide if I would want a job like that," one friend might tell another. A teacher who is asked a lot of pinpoint questions about when she's going to start teaching which concepts might respond by lumping all the specifics together, saying, "You'll be informed of all the mi ma mu as we get to it."

Then again, the job seeker might switch the order, instead choosing to talk about Ma Mu Mi, as the Olive restaurant chain headlines its About page, while the teacher could just as easily say Ma Mi Mu, as in the title of a Gidi Gov song. Even the words of the phrase itself are just little bits of paraphernalia, floating around in no particular order.

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.

When you use "mu" ("moo") with "mi" and "ma," it's a handy way of summing things up.Credit: Ilya Melnikov

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