Wordsmiths toy with Hebrew word for fidget spinner
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Wordsmiths toy with Hebrew word for fidget spinner

The Academy of the Hebrew Language has challenged Israelis to find the right term for the popular revolving toy

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The ad from The Academy of the Hebrew Language, advertising the institution's contest to find a new Hebrew word for fidget spinners (Courtesy The Academy of the Hebrew Language)
The ad from The Academy of the Hebrew Language, advertising the institution's contest to find a new Hebrew word for fidget spinners (Courtesy The Academy of the Hebrew Language)

The fidget spinner, the simple, palm-size toy that has spun its way into the hearts of kids in Israel and around the world, has Israeli linguists twisting their tongues trying to come up with a name for the tchotchke in Hebrew.

Scholars at The Academy of the Hebrew Language, the institution which is the authority on modern Hebrew, has turned to the Israeli public for help, asking kids and teachers to try their hand at coming up with the right term for the propeller like toy.

“It’s a good learning opportunity,” said Ronit Gadish, the scientific secretary for the Academy. “We decided to take advantage of it.”

Most toys and commercial products have proper names, even if not in the Hebrew that ends up being used by Hebrew speakers, said Gadish.

“Lego doesn’t have a Hebrew name,” said Gadish. “But ‘spinner’ is just a basic English word, it’s not a commercial name. And there are plenty of Hebrew words and roots that have to do with spinning.”

The Academy put forth their challenge on Facebook, listing 18 different Hebrew words that have to do with spinning, turning and circling.

ספינר – הזמנה לתלמידים למצוא שם עבריבשבועות האחרונים פרץ לחיינו צעצוע מסתובב חדש – ה"סְפִּינֶר". לצעצוע הזה אין שם עבר…

Posted by ‎האקדמיה ללשון העברית‎ on Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Facebook post has already received more than a thousand comments, including from those who don’t feel it’s necessary to make up a new word for a trend that may be gone within a few months time.

Among the suggestions getting likes are “sahriron,” which combines sahrir, or spin, with the structure of sevivon, the Hebrew word for a dreidel or top and savsevet, which uses root sav, or turn. But neither of them are as popular as an idea to make it an homage to the spinner-in-chief, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We’re not taking it that seriously,” said Gadish. “It’s just a great opportunity to think about how a new word is formed, about language and its formation.”

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