Word of the Day / Matzav

Fans of 'Jersey Shore' may know The Situation as the character built solely of muscle and ego, but in Hebrew, the phrase has a bit more depth. Whether greeting a friend, describing your mood or delicately referencing the political conflict, you’ll find a situation waiting.

If you want to ask your Israeli friend how it’s going or what’s up, you might say “ma hamatzav?” This literally means “what’s the situation?” but sounds much more colloquial in Hebrew.

If you ask that friend whether she has time to catch a movie with you, she might say, “yesh matzav.” On a literal level, that means “there is a situation,” but not in an anxious “Sir, we have a situation” kind of way; rather, it’s a positive phrase meaning “possibly” or “maybe.” If she can’t go, she might say “ein matzav” -- “there is no situation,” or in plain English: No way, José.

Just say “hamatzav” -- “the situation,” pronounced “hah-mah-TZAHV” -- without qualification or explanation, and you’re presumed to be using a euphemistic catchall for this country’s security-related afflictions: the bombs and the wars, the guns and the rockets.

Matzav” can also mean “condition” or “state,” as in “matzav hagalim” (wave conditions”) and “matzav ha’uma” (“state of the nation”).

If you’re a surfer and those wave conditions are just right, you might be in a good matzav ruah (ROO-akh), a phrase that means “mood” but whose literal translation is “state of spirit.” If the waves aren’t so great that day, you might be metzuvrah -- the colloquial adjectival contraction of the Hebrew for “mood” that means you’re in a bad mood, grumpy or out of sorts.

But before you decide the state of the nation on the basis of the condition of its waves, ask yourself: Might they be better tomorrow? Yesh matzav.