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January 22, 2017 / 24 Tevet, 5777
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In Hebrew: ‘a Mess’

A daily dose of Hebrew.

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בָּלָגָן, אִי-סֵדֶר

The first eve of Passover is called in Hebrew, לֵיל הַסֵּדֶר  – the Seder night.

The Hebrew word סדרSeder means, literally, order. This very widely-observed traditional Passover get-together is called a סדר mainly because the various pieces of the event take place in a particular sequence.

By contrast, a mess or disorder or disarray, is אִי-סֵדֶר(literally, non-order), or the far more well-known slang expression, בָּלָגָן(also spelled בלאגן).

Since most Hebrew slang comes from Arabic, many people assume that בלגן also comes from that sister language. But the truth is that בלגן derives from Russian балаган (bah-lah-GAHN) meaning farce, which, in turn, derives from the Middle-Persian balakhaana, where it refers to an upper room where people would give theatrical performances – perhaps disruptions of the sense of order that comes with day-to-day life.

For example, a mother might walk into her child’s toy-strewn room and exclaim:

אֵיזֶה בָּלָגָן!
What a mess!

Or, taking this foreign word and plugging it into the passive-intensive פֻּעַל verb form, she might say:

אֵיזֶה חֵדֶר מְבֻלְגָּן!
What a messy room!

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Ami Steinberger

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

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