The “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” glossary
Seen Adam Sandler’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” but didn’t understand a word he said? Live from Tel Aviv, the fizzy bubblech capitol of the world, I’m proud to present: The Silky Smooth Dictionary to Zohanisms. Everything you wanted to know about the hybrid Hebrew/Arabic/Yiddish/Gibberish that Sandler and his screenwriting partners – Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel – concocted and then wrapped up in an undecipherable accent (more Kazakh than Israeli, a common mistake in these post Borat days, where an Israeli actor played a Kazakh reporter).
If you are on your way to the see “Zohan” pre-load this page on your iPhone browser and refer to it mid-screening, whenever a word unfamiliar to you pops up (I’ve tried to arrange the words in the order they appear in the movie).
- Zohan (Gibberish). This is the character first name (Zohan Dvir is his full name), which would suggest this name does exist in Hebrew. It doesn’t. Zohar is a rather common Sabra name, both for males and females, meaning Glow or Halo (and I would guess you’d find dozens of Zohar Dvirs in Israel), but Zohan is a made-up name, which rings more Persian than Israeli. Maybe they branded “zohar” with “cohen” and came up with “Zohan”, or maybe they just misheard. (Ido Mouserri, who plays Oori in the film, said in an interview today that Sandler and Co. knew that Zohan is not an actual name but they feared of getting in trouble with an actual Zohar Dvir who could sue them).
- Dagim (Hebrew). DA as in DArfur, GIM as in GIMble. Fish. or as Zohan says in the second scene, while standing naked next to a barbecue (or Mangal in Hebrew): “I’m cooking dagim”.
-Yalla (from the Arabic but commonly used in the Hebrew vernacular): a rather rude, but useful, cry for the purpose of speeding one up and demonstrating impatience. Common usage: “Yalla, let’s go”. Or: “Yalla Yalla”. (This is the Arabic equivalent to the Russian “Noo”, that was commonly used in the Jewish vernacular in the earlier in the 20th century).
- Sababa (from the Arabic but commonly used in the Hebrew vernacular). Cool. Fine. The Best.
- Kapara (from the Arabic but commonly used in the Hebrew vernacular). Darling. Honey.
- Motek (Hebrew). Sweetheart, Baby, Honey.
- Eize basa (Hebrew/Arabic): “What a bummer”
- Aba (Hebrew): Dad. Father.
- Imma (Hebrew): Mom. Mother.
- Feigale (Yiddish): Gay.
- Tatale (Yiddish): Kid, Child.
- Babaganoush (Culinary). Eggplant and Tehina salad. Very tasy.
- Beseder (Hebrew): OK. All is Well.
- Poontachat (Hebrew/Gibberish). Vagina. This word doesn’t really exist, it was made up by the writers. Poon is the American slang word for the female genitals, and Tachat is “Ass” in Hebrew. Add one to the other and you get a throaty word that sounds vulgar in three different languages.
- Fizzy Bubblech (Gibberish). A true mystery: where did this word come from. This is the Orange soda Zohan chugs down throughout the movie, but it’s not like anything you can actually find in Israel. Which made me realize: Either Apatow or Sandler visited Israel once, either in the late Seventies or early Eighties (Smigel admitted he’s never been here), and “Zohan” is based on what they saw back then – the hair, the music, the beaches, the blood-thirst, the sexual ambiguity. And also the soft drinks: back in the Seventies the American Fanta was named Kinley over here, and the Orange flavor soda indeed tasted a bit more acidic than in the States, add to that two locally brewed brands that competed – Crystal and Tempo – all bottled in bottles resembling a curvaceous woman, and you’d see were the inspiration comes from. But that was before globalization. Crystal and Tempo disappeared, and Fanta is now readily available, and “Fizzy Bubblech” is not something you’ll find in Israeli supermarkets.
- MUCHENTUCHEN (Gibberish). Ditto. The restaurant chain owned by former terrorist The Phantom (John Turturro) sells Shawarma (or Gyro, or Hero in Greek, or Doner Kabab in Turkish). MUCHENTUCHEN is not an actual word. It’s the closest thing to “Akalakalaka Street” in “Team America”.
- Hacky Sack (English). AKA Footbag. Supposedly a middle-eastern specialty sport, common enough to unite even the bitterest of enemies. Actually Footbag is completely unknown in this neck of the wood. According to Wikipedia all Footbag record holders are west-coast or mid-west Americans. The middle-east is ga-ga over soccer, and Israel is also nuts on Basketball, and the sad truth is that when Israeli teams make the cut and join a world tournament, Arab teams immediately drop out (and not for fear of losing).
- Gay Shlufen (Yiddish). “Go to sleep”. (This has nothing to do with the queer “Gay”. “Gay” in Yiddish is the verb “Go”). Zohan says this to the dogs – Coco and Mr. Scrappy – on the plane. You’d hear Yiddish from people who are mostly over 70 in Israel. It’s an elderly language. If you hear someone in his early 30’s talking Yiddish amongst himself it means last time you visited Israel is in 1976.
- Boker Tov (Hebrew). Good Morning.
- Yofi (Hebrew): Good, wonderful. (The actual meaning is “Beauty”, but the vernacular usage is less refined so ultimately Yofi, Sababa, Achla and Beseder are interchangeable).
- Yofi Tofi (Hebrew slang): Goodie-Goodie. Hunky-Dory.
- Kneidelach (Yiddish): Matzoh ball.
- Sheket (Hebrew): Quiet! (used for the purpose of shushing one up).
- Mensch (Yiddish). Person, man. But it’s used to distinguish someone as an exceptionally good human being, a person with heart. As in with “Gay Shlufen” usage of this word in a character that’s in his 30’s in Present Day is an anachronism.
- Sharmuta (Arabic): Whore.