Word of the Day / Teiko

No one likes a tie, but Jews have been 'letting it stand' since Talmudic times.

Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova

The Japanese women’s soccer team seemed to have trouble scoring a goal at the Olympics, tying 0-0 first with Sweden and then with South Africa. The Japanese team’s coach later said the second draw – “teiko” in Hebrew – was an intentional effort to avoid having to play the top-ranked United States or France.

When transliterated into English, the Hebrew word for a draw looks almost like the word for a certain popular form of Japanese poetry. But unlike those spare but evocative three-line haikus, “teiko” (at least that's how it's usually, though not always, pronounced) is spoken with an emphasis on the first syllable.

The word used in Hebrew to signify a tie isn’t borrowed from the Japanese, though. It’s taken from the Talmud, where it signals that a particular argument remains unresolved, with no evident winners or losers.

In “The Practical Talmud Dictionary,” Yitzhak Frank writes that “teiku” – the vowelization that is used for the Talmudic word as well as in dictionary definitions of the sports term comes from “teikum,” meaning “let it stand,” but also notes the popular etymological explanation that the word is an acronym meaning the argument will have to wait until Elijah the prophet arrives to “solve difficulties and problems” in the messianic era. Oddly enough, he fails to mention whether Elijah will also be re-refereeing those scoreless draws.

Teiko.Credit: Ilan Asayag