Word of the Day Yalla: Let's Go!

When you need to get a bunch of people moving in a hurry, no matter where, yalla is the word for you.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Word of the Day: Yalla, I'm out of here.
Word of the Day: Yalla, I'm out of here. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Trying to rush your friend out the door so you guys can make the party before everyone has gone home? Or maybe you’ve had your fill of the festivities and want to announce that you’re heading back?

Whichever end of the party you’re at, the word is the same: yalla.

There’s the hustling, get-a-move-on yalla of “Yalla, let’s go already!” and there’s the yalla that forms an integral part of what then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon disparaged in 2005 as the unholy Arabic-English hybrid “Yalla, bye!” (He preferred “the beautiful word shalom.”)

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If yalla sounds suspiciously similar to walla, which we discussed Friday, that’s because both words not only come from the Arabic but, some say, contain the Arabic name for God, Allah, though the compound word (if that's what it is) has taken on a life of its own that doesn’t seem to reflect its origins.

The phrase ya Allah, meaning “O Allah,” can also be rendered as two separate words, both in Arabic and Hebrew. In that case, its connection to God becomes more evident and it changes meaning to reflect surprise, shock, anger or frustration, much like “Oh my God.” In this sense it is similar to walla, though it tends to be a stronger exclamation, in Hebrew usage at least.

Ya is an Arabic word signifying direct address and immediately preceding a person’s name. In Israeli street talk, it is often used in a derogatory manner, immediately preceding an insulting epithet.

The religious flavor of the full phrase is expressed in its use in Muslim prayers; an English-language website on Islam describes ya Allah as a term to use “when in pain or distress, calling upon Allah and no one else.”

In 2011 Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died in October, ruled that Jews should not say ya Allah – not because one might think they are invoking the Muslim deity (as some Orthodox Jews refrain from saying “Jesus”), but because “Allah” is a name for God, and the Ten Commandments prohibits taking God’s name in vain.

That’s it for now. Yalla, bye!

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.

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