Jonathan Zausmer

Ulpan for Talking Dirty (or nonsense in tomato juice)

To the Olim who just touched down several weeks ago – let’s have a little chat.

Today we shall talk about swearing, cursing, the use of profanity and some general slang used in the pejorative sense. As you are about to go through the bureaucratic mill, encounter some unhelpful people from time to time and generally need to exclaim profanities, or worse, figure out what has been said to you in rage, at least a basic knowledge is required. This is not an easy task, as I am forced to stay within the constraints of respectability.

To be honest, swearing, we all know, is a feature of daily life. With that, a word of warning: do not try this in public without professional assistance. That means before you utter your profanity, know the implications of your words – anything can happen.

As you are no doubt aware, swearing generally ranges in degrees, where the light end usually emphasizes excrement, orifices of excretion, flatulence and so forth. From there it is often a slippery slope all the way to fornication, genitalia and depravity. Worse, and there is worse, is phrasing all of the above in some form of insult which will often involve abusing religion, sacred family and social mores, and the hurling of a command upon an individual to engage in such abuse, often beginning with the word Go…

Let us begin:

The s h 1 t word locally is simply hara. In using the underlined H here I actually am referring to the hard ch as in the het in the Hebrew alphabet and which English speakers from the UK and the US sometimes find difficult to articulate. From the word hara, we gain an important insight. This is borrowed from Arabic.  Indeed much if not most of hard core swearing in Israel as with slang, is borrowed from the Arabic language. If you have a dire need to begin swearing in the local vein, I recommend hara as a very good place to start. No one will be angered by this and the usefulness is extensive. Used as an adjective, a noun and an exclamation it is versatile for almost any situation. The person who tried to rip you off is a hara, the intense heat of summer – hara, the situation with Iran – hara shel matzav and so on.

From hara we can freely move on to the point of evacuation from where hara is issued which is tahat, surprisingly, Hebrew and not Arabic. If we wish to utter disgust at something someone has said we may try a mild non-profanity such as shtuot be mitz agvaniot meaning nonsense in tomato juice, or alternatively we can address the person or the third person by imploring him to shove it up his tahat. Incidentally, the sister phrase for nonsense in tomato juice is hara beleben often referring to a situation rather than content and this translated means literally, feces in yoghurt. Example: “What’s up?” Answer: “feces in yogurt”. Disgusting as this may sound, both this and nonsense in tomato juice are fairly outdated today, used mainly by over 50s they bear little weight and are often regarded as showing amusing  restraint or ignorance of hard core verbal abuse.

By this time, no doubt you are already on the slippery slope and waiting for me to address the matter of koes. Drawn from Arabic, where it is also profane, it refers to its parallel in English, the C word. Unlike in English where it is often used as a descriptive noun to label an individual, here it is always appropriated to the third person whose sexual organ we are referring to: ohtak (your sister’s), emak (your mother’s) and so on. So this is often addressed to an individual whom we momentarily wish to insult, the implications of which are not good. Why? Well when we put koes and ohtak together we are in fact revealing verbally the addressee’s sister’s sexual organ and in the space of two words we have besieged his family honor which, in all Middle Eastern cultures, is sacred. Example: your local taxi driver took you to the wrong address and you exclaim innocently koes ohtak! You have insulted him, his family, his sister, his integrity and so on. However, if the taxi has a puncture and the driver gets out to repair it and finds that the spare wheel is missing, he may well say koes emak! or maybe even em, em, em, emak!!! leaving the koes part as a silent antecedent. But in this context, it is merely an exclamation of frustration, no more. Something like the use of “motherf****r” in the States. Used correctly by the appropriate individual, it is merely an exclamation or a simple lingual embellishment before every second noun. Used by a foreigner addressed to someone – not good.

The entire gamut of the use of koes is of course highly sexually discriminative and gender offensive. I thus urge you to refrain, however sometimes this terminology penetrates so deep into society, its implications are simply forgotten: as in the variation of the word koes to koesit which takes on a whole different meaning by the adding of a short suffix (it) at the end of the noun. In this sense the genital organ is magnified to represent an entire individual namely a woman. From there it actually takes on a descriptive function. So if a woman is described as a koesit, she considered hot. If she is a koesit-al, super hot, and so on. If however a man is described as a koesit, the meaning then is that he is a wimp. Example: he doesn’t want to get wet at the beach – “Ma, atah koesit?” This of course is not to be confused with koeson the male parallel of koesit describing a hot dude, where the female organ is absurdly appropriated to represent a man by adding the male suffix on rather that it.

For a first introductory lesson, I think that is enough for today. I will try to elaborate on zayin (zoeb in Arabic), the male organ and its many derivatives ziyun, mizdayen etc. all referring to the F word, at another time.

Remember – restraint. There is nothing more offensive and embarrassing than a foreigner attempting the local vernacular of profanity without knowledge, correct intonation and understanding. In fact I am not even sure it can be done at all. Listen to a native  Hebrew speaker use the F word clumsily or even distort the verb and use it as a noun: “I made a f**k”, instead of  ”I f**ked up”.  Sad isn’t it?

Further profanities, such as rabak, or n’aal dinak which you may hear, I urge you to ignore. You don’t want to get into religious curses. It’s bad news and placed in the wrong hands, may end in disaster.

May your absorption into Israeli society be smooth.


To the TOI, I hope I haven’t f**ked up here or as the stranger said to the Dude:

“Do you have to use so many cuss words? “

To which he replied….


About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.