Word of the Day / Yisrablof ישראבלוף

A specifically Israeli swindle has a specifically Israeli word, with roots in pop culture and branches among frustrated suckers across society’s spectrum.

Take Yisrael (meaning “Israel”), combine it with the Israeli pronunciation of “bluff” (as in “There’s no way you really have a good hand – you must be bluffing”) and you get… Yisrablof (“Israbluff”). This derogatory word can refer to a hoax or a swindle, or a person or entity – often someone or something power – pulling the wool over someone’s eyes.

The word comes from the classic Israeli comedy troupe Hagashash Hahiver, in a 1974 skit that features an uneducated prospective bank messenger being interviewed by bank officials. They tell him he can claim certain expenses to boost his salary: book expenses, although he can’t read; and car expenses, although he makes his deliveries by bicycle.

“Israbluff” connotes both deception and illusion, or as the messenger says toward the end of the skit: “Everything is make-believe. You say one thing and do another.”

The word lives on today. For one, it’s the name of a Hebrew-language website (spelled Israblof) that aims to expose what the media are hiding from the public and boasts a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil logo representing the media, elected officials and the justice system. It’s also the term used in opinion pieces like one in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth earlier this year claiming that the cabinet’s housing recommendations were an Israbluff because not only would they not solve the housing shortage or lower the cost of living, they would make those problems worse.

And it’s the word that is sometimes used for local scams, whether it’s millions of shekels stolen in a fraud scheme or, according to Israelis commenting online on a Channel 2 news broadcast in June, a “hotel” in Jerusalem whose unhappy customers say is nothing but a diminutive apartment with dirty sheets, stinky towels and AWOL owners. Perhaps the oddest reference found in a random scour of the Internet, though, is the one by the person who posted about having an “Israbluff hen” that sits in its nesting box for half an hour every day, but doesn’t lay any eggs.