Word of the Day / Peshara

The secret to compromise, whether in your personal life or on a global scale, is to find the middle ground. Or middle temperature. Too much heat and things boil over, too much ice and they won't budge. So Hebrew teaches us to look for lukewarm water.

You’re in the midst of a heated fight and all you can think is that you’re 100 percent right and the other guy’s 100 percent wrong; the other guy no doubt thinks the same. The Hebrew language’s solution? Lukewarm water.

After all, lukewarm water (“mayim poshrim”) is neither hot nor cold, neither black nor white, neither my way nor the highway. And that, presumably, is why “posher” (along with its plural form, “poshrim,” used with “water” because the Hebrew for H2O can only be found in the plural) is related to the Hebrew word for compromise: “peshara” (pe-sha-RA).

Other related words include “pesher,” meaning “solution” or “explanation,” which makes sense since a compromise often resolves a problem, and “hafshara,” meaning “thawing” or “melting”: taking something that’s in a frozen state -- whether a hunk of meat or a relationship between individuals or countries -- and nudging it closer to that middle ground where compromise swims in a lukewarm bath.

A couplehood advice column on the news website Ynet addresses the not-always-positive connotation of a willingness to compromise, whether on one’s ideals or one’s vision of a perfect mate.

“It seems like compromise has become, in romantic mythology, the enemy of connection and a dangerous signal that the person who compromises can expect extended suffering,” reads the column’s rather ponderous subhead. But sometimes, it adds, “‘lukewarm’ is just the right temperature.”

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com.