Good news for Britney Spears: If she ever moves to Israel, she can keep using the word “oops,” which in its move to Hebrew has retained its meaning as an exclamation expressing acknowledgment of a minor mistake (even if, as in Britney’s case, you do it again).
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Take the recent Ynet headline about a blunder in Tel Aviv called “Oops, we made a mistake: Police broke into the wrong apartment” and, over the Hebrew translation of an AFP story about an embarrassing mix-up in India: “Oops: On the billboard – Morgan Freeman instead of Mandela.”
But while “oops” works for certain kinds of errors, Hebrew also has a Three Stooges version of the word, used mostly for the kind of physical bungling that can result in tears when the fumbler in question is a young child or in guffaws (among slapstick lovers at least) when it’s Larry, Moe or Curly.
In those cases, the more appropriate exclamation is not “oops!” but opa! (O-pa), sometimes rendered as the diminutive opa’le (O-pa-leh).
Your kid trips over her own rain boots and falls into a puddle? You say “opa’le!” and tell her she’s okay.
You drop a bag of groceries on the way home, or hold onto the bread and milk but bump into a lamppost? You might have hoped no one would be around to notice, but chances are your neighbor just happens to be walking by and chimes in with an ever-helpful “opa!”
Unlike “oops,” which is often said by the person who makes the mistake, opa is generally exclaimed by an observer, whether in an attempt to demonstrate empathy (“Wow, I see you just fell down!”) or as an automatic response to seeing someone or something fall down (“Whoa!”).
So that billboard in India with the photo of the actor who played Nelson Mandela in “Invictus”? That’s a pretty big oops. But if you’re walking along and find yourself staring at that billboard so hard you forget to look where you’re going? Opa’le!
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.