Word of the Day / Laredet Meha’etz

Getting up there is easy – it’s the coming down that’s hard. For those who find themselves in a tough spot of their own making, Hebrew has a suggestion for how to find your way back to solid ground.

So you’ve painted yourself into a corner and don’t know how to get out. Hebrew has the answer for you: Climb down from the tree (“la-RED-et may-ha-ETZ”). This evocative phrase comes up a lot in political commentary, as when some politician or other takes a tough stance on something and then wants to back away from it or look for an exit.

It’s an image that fits the description so exactly that it’s kind of like an onomatopoeia for idioms, except instead of the sound capturing the meaning (as in “boom!”), this phrase paints a picture that captures the meaning visually. You can just imagine some red-faced minister clutching the branches tightly and looking down, trying to figure out how to get from here to there without breaking his leg or tearing his suit.

Sometimes an adjective is added to the phrase to suit the particular kind of tree that has been climbed. No, not as in pine or eucalyptus. As in “the nuclear tree” (“ha’etz hagarini”), to refer to a take-no-prisoners position on Iran. Someone who wants to offer a solution can be said to be offering a ladder (“soo-LAHM”) to help whoever’s stuck in those upper branches climb down from the tree, nuclear or otherwise. Would that all we needed in the real world were a couple of good tall ladders with Ahmadinejad’s and Netanyahu’s names on them.