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October 24, 2016 / 22 Tishri, 5777
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How to Say ‘Mermaid’ in Hebrew

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בַּת יָם, בְּתוּלַת יָם


There’s a city just south of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, nicely situated on the coast, called Bat Yam – in Hebrew, בַּת יָם ( listen and repeat). The name means literally, daughter of (the) sea.

When those sitting in the local council gave the city its current name in 1937, they were inspired to do so mainly because of its proximity to the beach and because the beauty and grandeur that the name communicates – בת ים – daughter of the sea. That’s, at least, what this Hebrew Wikipedia article tells.

But another association that seems to have been lost in the shuffle is that בת ים also refers to the beautiful mythical creature, the mermaid (mer comes from the Latin word meaning sea and maid is a young woman).

Likewise, the Disney film The Little Mermaid is translated into Hebrew as בַּת הַיָּם הַקְּטָנָה ( listen and repeat).

Another term meaning mermaid in Hebrew is בְּתוּלַת יָם ( listen and repeat), literally, virgin of the sea. But בת ים is the more commonly used term, as it bears no connotation difficult for children to understand.

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Ami Steinberger

About the Author: Ami Steinberger is founder and director of Ulpan La-Inyan.

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