like, as in “as if”

The young women here in Tzfat are pretty much like the young women in most places. They like to talk to each other. A lot. Basically, they like to talk. What I’ve noticed most recently is their use of the word


peppered in between most phrases. I have already given away what it means in the title of this post. It is used as a filler. Just to make sure we’re on the same page of meaning, here’s what Dr. Wiki says about the use of fillers in general:

In linguistics, a filler is a sound or word that is spoken in conversation by one participant to signal to others that he/she has paused to think but has not yet finished speaking.[1]These are not to be confused with placeholder names, such as thingamajig, which refer to objects or people whose names are temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown. Different languages have different characteristic filler sounds; in English, the most common filler sounds are uh /ʌ/er /ɜː/ and um /ʌm/.[2] Among youths, the fillers “like”, “y’know”, “I mean”, “so”, “actually”, “literally”, “basically”, “right”, “I’m tellin’ ya” and “you know what I mean?” are among the more prevalent. Ronald Reagan was famous for answering questions starting with “Well…”.

And here’s what it says about Hebrew in particular:

  • In Hebreweh (אֶה) is the most common filler. Em (אֶמ) is also quite common. Millennials and the younger Generation X speakers commonly use ke’ilu (כאילו, the Hebrew version of “like”). Additional filler words include z’toméret (ז’תומרת, short for zot oméret (זאת אומרת), “that means”), az (אז, “so” or “then”) and bekitzur (בקיצור, “in short”). Use of fillers of Arabic origin such as yaʿnu (יענו, a mispronunciation of the Arabic yaʿni) and wálla (וואלה) is also common.

I would disagree with the use of ya ‘nu as being from the Arabic, since I think it comes from the Yiddish, nu? But what do I know? What it brings up is the curious use of “like” as a filler. I’m going to assume that the English came first here. And here’s my point–that language is, at best and always, a facsimile of reality, of meaning, of truth. We can get to the truth, if we are very very lucky, but are often weighed down by so many factors. It brings up the Tower of Babel, for one.

But the reality of that is that even if we are speaking the same language, it is often so difficult to be sure you have the same meaning. This morning, I had the pleasure of having a longer conversation with one of the women in the Beit Avot here in Tzfat. (Oh, believe me, you don’t hear כאילו from the mouths of the seniors!) She is one of the most elegant over 90 year-old women I’ve ever met, which is so much more difficult in an assisted-living facility. I was actually surprised to find out that she grew up in Romania, because she presents herself as so French, and she prefers speaking French. So we went back and forth from French to English. She never learned to speak Hebrew because she didn’t come to Israel until she was 75, although she does understand more than she will admit! But as I asked her why she doesn’t want to speak Romanian or Yiddish with the other residents, it became clear to me that language is so much more than shared words and grammar patterns. She has not that much in common with them.

In reality, this is probably not true. They share a lot of things in common. But she doesn’t want to consider herself like them. When I was first introduced to her, I noticed that she is very careful to wear lipstick and to reapply it regularly. I noticed that a lot of the women in the Beit Avot are very careful to wear lipstick. Is it in the sense of lipstick being the [old] indicator of fiscal depression? That lipsticks would sell because it was the item of value that they couldn’t give up, even as they gave up buying other new things? I would venture it is given a high value to “keep themselves up” while they give up their independence of living. I’m not sure if this is an accurate observation or if I’m imposing my values. But for this woman in particular, it is definitely a way of showing her values. She also loves opera and reading and discussing philosophy. The other Romanian woman who I have been talking to discusses how difficult living in Romania was; how they survived because they had the fortune of planting potatoes in their very small garden; how they were given 24 hours to escape and she never wanted to go back.

So what is it that is common between them and what is the possibility of finding commonality between nations?

As if I have any idea.

The residents are gathered to hear the Jewish history of the destruction of the Holy Temple; instead they are looking at the TV captions about the present war.
The residents are gathered to hear the Jewish history of the destruction of the Holy Temple; instead they are looking at the TV captions about the present war.

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