Word of the Day / Studentim סטודנטים

Americans and Brits both speak English, but when in Israel, they had better study nuance to be sure they describe their classmates correctly.

The British Mandate may have packed up and left 1948 Palestine for a rainier clime, but its governors seem to have forgotten a few words behind – all the better to trick those transatlantic cousins divided by a common language.

Take the traditional British meaning of “student” as a university student (as distinguished from a younger schoolchild or pupil). Speakers of American English, who use “student” to describe all those who study, are hereby cautioned not to be lulled into thinking that the U.S. English word – pronounced, of course, with an emphasis on the first syllable – is equivalent to the deceptively similar Hebraicized version, “stu-DENT.” For unlike in U.S. English, there’s no such thing as a first-grade student in Israel, since up through the end of high school, those who attend classes are referred to by an actual Hebrew word, “talmidim.”

By contrast, it is stuDENTim who enroll in institutes of higher education – be they universities (ooniversita’ot), which are public institutions overseen by the government’s Council for Higher Education, or private colleges (mihlalot), which do not have to meet the same standards and are generally considered less prestigious.

And while Americans consider “school” to be a generic word that can refer to college or university as well as elementary and high school, Israelis, like the British who used to be in charge over here, wouldn’t even think of using “school” or its Hebrew equivalent – “beit sefer,” literally “house of the book” – to refer to university. Sometimes, it seems, you have to unlearn your language if you want to get an A in comprehension.