Much as vulgar language is acceptable in certain social situations but not in others, different forms of address are appropriate for different situations. Many European languages distinguish between formal and familiar forms of the pronoun “you” (e.g., vous and tu in French). Since English lost this distinction long ago, and Hebrew never had it, Philologos hypothesizes about how they compensate.
I suspect that languages that lack the tu/vous distinction tend to resort to nicknames much more than languages that have it. French, certainly, has nothing like the pairings of William/Bill, Robert/Bob, Richard/Dick, John/Jack, Albert/Al, Daniel/Dan, and so forth that are systematic in English. And Israeli Hebrew, in this respect, is very much like English. There is hardly a name in it that does not have one or more possible nicknames, many of them formed by suffixed endearments that generally come from Yiddish. For Yosef, there is Yosi or Yoske; for Avraham, Avi or Avrum; for Moshe, Moishele, Moshke or Moishik; for Ya’akov, Kobi or Yankele; for Sarah, Sarke or Sarale; for Miriam, Miri or Mirele; for Rakhel, Rokhi or Rokhele, etc. And there are additional suffixes like the Slavic –ushke or the Ladino –iko that can be appended to many other names.
Editors’ Note: This was Philologos’ final column in the Forward. We are pleased to announce that, beginning in January, his columns will appear biweekly in Mosaic.