Word of the Day Lehitraot: Goodbye, for Now

In this final Word of the Day column, the time has come to say see you around someday.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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'So long, farewell / Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight,' the von Trapp children sing in 'The Sound of Music.'
'So long, farewell / Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight,' the von Trapp children sing in 'The Sound of Music.'Credit: AP
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

First, the announcement: This is, sadly, the final Word of the Day column. Next, the word: Lehitraot, dear readers – goodbye for now.

Israelis have lots of ways to say farewell. Colloquial Hebrew has seen surges in popularity for borrowed words like ciao, bye and the Arabic-English hybrid disparaged in 2005 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: yalla, bye (he preferred “the beautiful word shalom”).

Shalom is Hebrew, of course – I would not be surprised if an international poll were to find that it was the most recognizable of all Hebrew words – and famously means “peace” as well as both “hello” and “goodbye” (as in Bill Clinton’s famous parting words to Yitzhak Rabin, shalom, haver.

If you’re aiming for a cutesy, giggly way to bid someone adieu, or for an ironic takedown of a cutesy, giggly way to bid someone adieu (assuming you get your tone just right), you could try bye-oosh. Don’t forget the exclamation mark and the finger-wiggling wave.

Or you could bring the past into the present with halakhti or yatzati, both of which mean “I left.” Though they are in the past tense, when used by someone about to leave they mean “I’m outta here,” which is both a statement of intent (and so certain is the intent that, linguistically speaking, the action has already taken place) and a parting remark.

And then there’s lehitraot (le-heet-ra-OTE), the reflexive form of “to see” (lir’ot) – an optimistic, not-so-final way of taking your leave that, like the French au revoir or the Spanish hasta la vista, is less a definitive, absolute parting than a “see you around.” But though the sentiment may be warm and fuzzy, the word is so common that it is often used unthinkingly, not just with friends but with cab drivers or telephone technicians – people you may never see again, or would not necessarily recognize if you did.

Shalom and lehitraot often go together, sometimes to complement each other (shalom ulehitraot generally means “goodbye and see you around”) and other times, due in part to shalom’s flexible nature, as a contrast.

With shalom meaning “hello,” the word pairing can be used to say goodbye to one thing and hello to something else (“Lehitraot Big Brother, shalom police state,” reads the headline of a recent blog post about due process and privacy laws). When shalom means “goodbye,” the words can indicate that this isn’t a final farewell (“This is a poem of lehitraot and not shalom / Even though we are ostensibly parting today,” reads a greeting card) or, if you switch the word order, to demonstrate that the end really has come (“Shalom and not lehitraot, Mr. Disturbed and Dangerous Billionaire,” reads a Calcalist headline from early this year).

Sometimes this Hebrew version of “see ya” pops up in other forms, like the colloquial contraction lehit (le-HEET) or the future-tense plural nitra’eh (neet-ra-EH, meaning “we’ll see each other around”). You could also go for a similarly structured word that focuses on a sense other than sight: lehishtame’a (le-heesh-ta-MAY-ah) or nishtame’a, the reflexive form of “to hear” (lishmo’a), which essentially means “we’ll talk” or “we’ll be in touch.”

“So long, farewell / Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight,” the von Trapp children sing in “The Sound of Music.”

As for me, I say shalom ulehitraot. It’s been fun, folks. Goodbye for now, and see you around.

To contact Shoshana Kordova, email her. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

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