Word of the Day / Lehishtolel לְהִשְׁתּוֹלֵל

You can go wild with this word.

When little kids are running around making a lot of noise, when drunks refuse to sit down on the plane to Cyprus and spit sunflower seed shells on the floor, when rental prices in Tel Aviv go even higher than usual and when a forest fire rages - it's all the same word in Hebrew: hishtolelut.

As you can imagine given the wide variety of situations to which this word applies, there's no single English word that adequately covers every angle of lehishtolel (le-heesh-toh-LEHL), to use the more common infinitive. But essentially, this word refers to behavior like goofing off, being unruly or boisterous, going wild, causing mischief, wreaking havoc and basically being out of control.

The word comes from shalal, according to the venerable Even Shoshan dictionary, which means booty or the spoils of war. I guess that's because when soldiers or pirates plunder, they're usually on the unrestrained side of the behavior spectrum. They might also be temporarily "bereft of sense," which is how the 1917 edition of the Jewish Publication Society Bible translates eshtolelu (Psalms 76:6). (In today's Hebrew that would be hishtolelu, the past plural of lehishtolel.)

The next time a frustrated elementary school teacher yells at her students to stop lehishtolel, maybe she should just be grateful that all they're most likely doing is goofing off, not destroying a forest or plundering gold.

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.