Word of the Day Madonot: How the Material Girl's Name Became a Hebrew Noun

It's not just the kabbala cabal that has Madonna to thank; it's also the amplification business.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Madonna with a madonna.
Madonna with a madonna.Credit: Reuters
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

For all that Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus have been touted at various points as the new Madonna, the old one (55 years old, to be exact) never seems to be out of the spotlight for long – even if it’s actually for stories about her daughter, who, if you haven’t heard, has just graduated from high school and is enrolling in the same university the queen of pop attended back in the day.

But the music scene and red-string industry are not the only ones with Madonna to thank. She has also contributed to the international language of amplification, lending her name to the big black headset that became as much part of her look as the signature cone bra she wore on her Blond Ambition concert tour in 1990.

Mention a “Madonna headset” in English and pretty much everyone will know just what you mean.

In Israel, this has been taken one step further: There is no need for the actual noun that “Madonna” modifies. These headsets are simply madonot, which would be the Hebrew plural of “Madonna” if “Madonna” were a Hebrew feminine noun – which, come to think of it, I guess it has become.

One website advertises “Madonna for rent.” I’m not sure how pleased she would be to know that she’s going for only 139 shekels, or $40.

It may be the Material Ggirl who turned the headset phenomenon into an accessory, but the trend doesn’t end with the one-name wonder. Here in Israel, the televised singing competition “Kokhav Nolad,” Israeli TV’s version of “American Idol,” has also been thrown into the mix.

An Israeli rental agency for amplification systems breaks down the terminology for prospective customers. Light-colored headsets that aren’t quite as prominent as the Blond Ambition version, its website explains, can be called either nekim – yes, that would be the Hebrew plural of the not-Hebrew-at-all word “neck” – or madonot Kokhav Nolad (‘Kokhav Nolad’ madonnas). Because apparently, one doesn’t replace an aging pop icon, one merely modifies her.

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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