I, Thou, and You

Pick
Dec. 10 2014
About Philologos

Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic. Questions for him may be sent to his email address by clicking here.

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.

Read more at Forward

More about: Hebrew, Ladino, Language, Yiddish

The Possible Death of Mohammad Deif, and What It Means

On Saturday, Israeli jets destroyed a building in southern Gaza, killing a Hamas brigade commander named Rafa Salameh. Salameh is one of the most important figures in the Hamas hierarchy, but he was not the primary target. Rather it was Mohammad Deif, who is Yahya Sinwar’s number-two and is thought to be the architect and planner of numerous terrorist attacks, of Hamas’s tunnel network, and of the October 7 invasion itself. Deif has survived at least five Israeli attempts on his life, and the IDF has consequently been especially reluctant to confirm that he had been killed. Yet it seems that it is possible, and perhaps likely, that he was.

Kobi Michael notes that Deif’s demise would have major symbolic value and, moreover, deprive Hamas of important operational know-how. But he also has some words of caution:

The elimination of Deif becomes even more significant given the current reality of severe damage to Hamas’s military wing and its transition to terrorism and guerrilla warfare. However, it is important to remember that organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah are more than the sum of their components or commanders. Israel has previously eliminated the leaders of these organizations and other very senior military figures, and yet the organizations continued to grow, develop, and become more significant security threats to Israel, while establishing their status as political players in the Palestinian and Lebanese arenas.

As for the possibility that Deif’s death will harden Hamas’s position in the hostage negotiations, Tamir Hayman writes:

In my opinion, even if there is a bump in the road now, it is not a strategic one. The reasons that Hamas decided to compromise its demands in the [hostage] deal stem from the operational pressure it is under [and] the fear that the pressure exerted by the IDF will increase.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas