Word of the Day / Ma Bo'er מַה בּוֹעֵר

This phrase is just burning to find its way into the headlines, but what's the rush?

Shoshana Kordova
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Popular radio talk show host Razi Barkai interviews newsmakers on an Army Radio morning program called "Ma Bo'er," literally "What's Burning," but more figuratively referring to the most important, or burning, issues of the day.

True, we do sometimes use "burning" to mean "important" in English, too. That usage gave rise to a recent headline in the International Herald Tribune, which is distributed with Haaretz English Edition in Israel, about a popular Norwegian television program showing hours of footage of a wood fire. The article (which ran under a different headline in The New York Times, the IHT's parent company), was "Put another log on the fire? It's a burning issue in Norway."

In Hebrew the use of "burning" and its variants is more extensive, though. A Haaretz analysis piece from earlier this month asked "Ma bo'er for Obama to visit Israel?" – meaning "Why is an Obama visit to Israel so urgent?" In other words, "What's the rush?" or "Where's the fire?"

The other side of the flames is when no one's hurrying up and nothing's burning, as in a June article called "Failure of nuclear talks: Neither side is burning to reach an agreement." And a 2010 piece about Gabi Ashkenazi's post-Israel Defense Forces life said Ashkenazi, who was then about to retire as chief of staff, was wavering on whether he would go into politics. "I care about the country, of course," he was quoted as saying, "but I don't feel like I'm burning to do something specific."

Because bo'er is so often used in a colloquial way, it can become punny when used literally, as in a description for schoolchildren of flammable material that is entitled "Ma Bo'er," which in this case is actually talking about what burns, and an article from 2010 headlined "The state isn't burning to get equipped with firefighting aircraft."

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.

Fire safety is one of Israel's burning issues.Credit: Francisco Belard