Word of the Day Zayin: Is That a Gun in Your Pants or Are You Happy to See Me?

This word can mean either 'weaponry' or 'penis' - and also happens to be the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Forget all that stuff about love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage. If Frank Sinatra had been singing in Hebrew, his song might have been about sex and the ultimate phallic symbol, the gun.

We’ve already talked about the root shared by weapons (neshek) and kisses (neshikot). Now let’s look at the word zayin, which can mean either “weaponry” or “penis.” Feminism has helped make the world aware that rape is about violence, not sex, though the same instrument is used in both; Hebrew makes that argument all the more forcefully through the words themselves.

Zayin also has another meaning, by the way: It’s the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Though the days of the week are often described by the corresponding letter of the alphabet – Sunday is Yom Rishon (“First Day”) but often written as Yom Aleph (“Day A”) – no one writes Yom Zayin for Saturday. Regardless of one’s Sabbath observance or lack thereof, Penis Day is universally known as Shabbat.

There is one related phrase that sounds dirty but actually isn’t: tizdayen bisavlanut, which sounds like it means “screw yourself patiently” but actually means “wait patiently.” This goes back to yet another (obsolescent) meaning for ziyun: adornment, such that the term means “equip yourself with patience.” I would stay away from this phrase, though, unless you intend to offend.

But in general, other words that share the same root as zayin also express the same duality. Ziyun means “armament” and “having sex.” Dor mezuyan, a phrase made famous by Aviv Geffen’s song “Akhshav Me’unan” (It’s Cloudy Now), is a fucked-up generation. But the same phrase is also the Hebrew title of the 2008 HBO miniseries “Generation Kill,” about the American-led attack on Baghdad in 2003.

Shod mezuyan is armed robbery, and ma’avak mezuyan is an armed struggle, often used as a euphemism for Palestinian terrorism.

And lekh tizdayen is a vulgarity that technically could mean “go arm yourself,” but I don’t recommend using it unless you mean to replace “arm” with a four-letter word beginning with “f.”

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.

That is some serious weaponry.Credit: Reuters

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