Word of the Day / Oof אוּף

Spelled with aleph, it's an exclamation of frustration. But it sounds just like "oof" spelled with ayin, meaning "fly," and that isn't the end of the potential confusion.

“Oof!” is an invaluable exclamation conveying frustration or annoyance. You might hear someone shouting “Oof! My Internet crashed again!” or complaining, as in the title of a Hebrew children’s book, “Oof! What an irritating brother!”

But when it comes to “oof,” you’ve gotta watch out for words that look or sound alike. First the homophone. “Oof” the exclamation (spelled in Hebrew with the letter “aleph”) often sounds the same as the command form of the verb “to fly” (spelled with an “ayin”), as in the classic Arik Einstein song “Oof Gozal,” which means “Fly Away, Chick,” about a father and his empty nest.

A Hebrew parenting book by clinical psychologist Elli Katz about relationships between parents and their adolescent children plays on this similarity in its title, “Oof, Gozal.” There the “oof” in question is the kind spelled with aleph, that exasperated parents might utter when their teenager strolls in at 3 A.M. for the third night in a row.

And when English words get transliterated into the Hebrew, as they often do, you’ve got another problem: heteronyms, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings when pronounced differently.

“Oof” has two heteronyms that are actually English words: “of,” like the preposition in “Bank of America” as it appears, for instance, on a stock report on a Hebrew business website; and “off,” as in “spin-off,” which the Hebrew version of Wikipedia defines for Israeli readers as a “daughter TV series.” Should you ever get mixed up between “oof” and “oof,” or between “oof” and “of” or “off,” there is only one appropriate reaction, and that, of course, is “Oof!”