Frustrated Israeli Oarsmen Appeal to Public: Name Our Sports

In Hebrew, there's one word for multiple sea sports. It's high time that changes, athletes say.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

It is possible that the seamen of ancient Israel had different words for paddling and rowing, but if so these haven’t been preserved over the hundreds of years in which Hebrew has been extinct. Come the 19th and 20th centuries, when Hebrew scholars and laymen were coming up with words in a frenzy to make up for some long lost and some that never existed, the field of boating came up short. It got only one word – khatira – for a myriad of sports.

These sports - kayaking, paddling, stroking and rowing – have been practiced in Israel since the 1930s, and it’s high time the confusion stops, says the Israel Rowing Federation.

Being, it seems, the only body aware of the problem or at least caring about it, the IRF contacted the usual source of rulings on Hebrew: the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which, however, answered that sport isn’t its thing.

‘Academic rowing’ who?

Of particular interest to the Rowing federation, says Zohar Neuner, head of The Friends of Daniel for Rowing Association, is a proper Hebrew word for the sport of rowing, which is currently called khatira akademit (“academic rowing”). It became thusly called because of its affiliation with the famous rowing clubs of Eton College, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford universities. Snag is: “There’s nothing academic about it,” Neuner protests.

The core of the problem, Neuner explains, is that a layman may think paddling and rowing are the same thing, a notion bolstered by the use of one Hebrew word. But they are totally different.

“When rowing you face backwards and you propel the boat by extending your arms out and pulling them back in, while when paddling you face forward and push the oar into the water on each side of the boat propelling it forward.” Good to know.

A recent appeal to the public for help brought a number of names for specific forms of such activities, Neuner says: khatira zuranit (“form rowing”), meshotit (a diminutive of paddle), khatarshoot (a portmanteau of rowing and paddle), grifa (a verb meaning pushing water, originating from the root that now means “rake”), tzufit (a diminutive noun form of the verb “to float”), meshotaut (“paddle-ation”), shotira (a portmanteau of paddle and boat), and meshotit (a diminutive form of paddle). But none describe the sport very well, says Neuner. Thus its plea to the Academy of the Hebrew Language two weeks ago.

You say kayak, I say ka-YOOK

Tamar Katz, who heads the academy’s Committee of Words in General Use, answered the Rowing Federation by email on Wednesday. She said that the academy doesn’t have a committee specializing in sports terminology and isn’t likely to set one up in the near future.

Even so, she and her coworkers compiled a short list of suggestions, Katz wrote - which though not officially sanctioned by the academy, could be adopted by the federation and the athletes participating in the sport and thus enter common usage. And who knows, maybe they will be.

One of Katz’s suggestions was that the different boating races receive two-word names, the first word being the same old verb khatira conjugated in its construct state (which is a grammatical noun form common in Semitic languages for the non-linguists among you) - mikhtar in conjunction with the name of the boat, or sport, in question: e.g., mikhtar kayakim - “kayak racing” and mikhtar yekhidim - “single scull racing”. Katz says a web search found that this naming system is already in use by some.

Another alternative, offered with the caveat that it is likely to cause further confusion, is to use newly invented words made with the same root kh-t-r, such as khe-TER and khi-TUR.

For paddling Katz suggested a new word mi-SHOOT, which is made from the Hebrew word for paddle - ma-SHOT.

The Rowing Federation has also appealed to some of Israel’s most well know linguists, such as Rubik Rosenthal and Ruth Almagor-Ramon for assistance but to date no satisfactory suggestions were received. Appearing on the Sports Channel, Rosenthal did however suggest a verb for the action of kayaking - ki-YOOK.

A proper term for rowing may actually matter to more people soon, because rowing champion Daniel Friedman is one of Israel’s greatest hopes for a medal in the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The IRF hasn’t lost hope and is appealing to the public for suggestions.

Have better ideas than the Academy? Write to Zohar Neuner at

Rowing at the Daniel Rowing CentreCredit: Itamar Greenberg, Daniel Rowing Centre