It’s as Easy as ‘Eizeh’: 7 Hebrew Phrases to Talk the Local Talk and Walk the Local Walk

4 min read
Tamar Pross, CEO & Founder of Citizen Cafe
Tamar Pross, CEO & Founder of Citizen Cafe

From the outside looking in, Tel Avivians seem to be part of this secret society ruled by slang; like Fight Club, only instead of a shirtless Brad Pitt swinging punches at you, it’s the locals swinging Hebrew sayings left and right – all of which you don’t understand.

The most common word you’ll hear on the White City streets – after ‘ke’ilu’ – is ‘eizeh.’ “Ah, eizeh! I know that one…it mean’s which!” You’ll scream out proudly. But which ‘which’ is the right which? Why does that ‘which’ mean ‘what’? And why is this ‘kef’ tacked onto the end of it?

Well, that’s where we at Citizen Café step in. With our guide to 7 essential ‘eizeh’ phrases, you’ll fit right in with the dog-walkers, marathon runners and too-cool-for-Aroma hipsters waiting to order their ‘café hafuch’ (cappuccino) in no time.

1. איזה כיף – Eizeh kef

Wait! This one wasn’t in my guidebook!? While its literal translation is ‘what fun,’ ‘eizeh kef’ has no real English equivalent. It can be used when your baby cousin gets excited over his LEGO tower falling: “Aw, eizeh kef!” when what you really wish to say is “Aw, I wish I still got that excited over plastic blocks.” Or, it can be used in a sarcastic light, as in: “Oh, I have so much work to do, eizeh kef!” Both instances are usually accompanied by an over-egged round of applause.

2. איזה יופי – Eizeh Yofi

This one’s easier to grasp. ‘Eizeh yofi,’ or ‘how pretty’ can be expressed when someone shows you something beautiful – a picture, a view, a future husband. However, don’t get thrown off when you tell someone you changed the day of your party so they can now attend and they respond with ‘eizeh yofi.’ In this case, they’re using the phrase in its more colloquial form to mean ‘how great.’ It’s basically a more enthusiastic way of expressing excitement.

3. איזה באסה – Eizeh bassa

This is definitely the coolest way to express disappointment in Hebrew. Meaning ‘what a bummer’ or ‘that sucks,’ this expression is ideal when trying to impress the hipster heartthrobs down in Florentin. Unleash that angsty teenager from within and let the world know, ‘I feel your pain and it truly sucks.’

4. איזה קטע – Eizeh keta

Tel Aviv is tiny, making it impossible to avoid the person you want to see least. Don’t find yourself lacking words when you inevitably bump into an old friend at AM:PM. Smile politely and say ‘eizeh keta’ aka ‘what a coincidence,’ before going your separate ways. The great things about these phrases are that a simple change of facial expression can alter their meaning. ‘Eizeh keta’ can also be used to exclaim, ‘how funny,’ ‘how weird,’ ‘how strange,’ or ‘how embarrassing.’

5. איזה סרט – Eizeh seret

What a movie? But we haven’t watched anything yet…‘Eizeh seret’ (literally ‘what a movie’) is used to mean ‘what a situation’ or ‘what a story’ I have for you. When the situation seems so unreal or unfair it is as if you’re watching yourself star in a movie, rather than a day in your real life. When your bank stops covering your phone plan, yet you can’t call and sort it out; or when you miss the bus and you’re late for your meeting and your phone dies and there’s an accident on the road and…scene.

6. איזה חום/קור – Eizeh chom / kor

This expression makes the most sense logically. Meaning ‘what heat / cold,’ it’s usually an exclamation or complaint about the sweltering or freezing weather (as defined by Israeli standards), followed by the turning on of multiple space heaters or the blasting of AC, often in alternating order throughout the day.

7. איזה סיוט – Eizeh siyut

When there’s an accident on the road and you can’t see to the end of the traffic jam; when it’s your week to host Friday night dinner and your oven breaks half an hour before Shabbat; when you order a gift from ASOS in time for when your mom is coming to visit and it arrives the afternoon after she leaves the house…these are all perfect instances to shout out ‘eizeh siyut’ (or ‘what a nightmare’) at the top of your lungs.

And there you have it. A lesson in the art of the ‘eizeh.’ Hit up Citizen Café OOlpan at Mindspace to practice your newly acquired vocab and learn more useful Hebrew slang. More information about our Hebrew courses can be found here.

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