Take, for example, the popular term for the @ sign in Hebrew, שטרודל or ‘shtrudel‘. Possibly named for its resemblance to the famed pastry and most likely coined on the fly, perhaps by a hungry hacker biting into a cheese Danish, the word spread quickly in computing circles, becoming the standard in Israel. But that wasn’t okay with the Academy of Hebrew Language, the local arbiter of new words and updates to the standard.
The Hebrew word for strudel, or shtrudel, was created back in 1913 by the Academy, but kruchit, the official Hebrew word for the filled pastry, never took. Nobody was ordering a cinnamon kruchit with their cappuccino. The word kruchit is translated as bound, wound or wrapped, as in the expression כרוכים זה בזה, kruchim zeh b’zeh, to (be) interrelated or inseparable – certainly, the dough is related to and linked to its filling. What would a strudel or kruchit be without the chocolate or cinnamon, not to mention cheese or apples? Still, while the etymology makes sense and is occasionally heard here and there, most Israelis don’t use it.
The academy, which has committees to assess language matters in all sorts of subject areas, meets periodically to analyze changing language needs. The creep of English words into Hebrew has long been a progression that many Hebraicists rail against, arguing for purity of the language. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the moving force for the development of Hebrew as a modern language in the pre-state Yishuv period, introduced many words into daily usage, some made it and some didn’t; think ‘tzimri’ya’ (translated as a collection of wool) for a sweater, as opposed to the much used ‘sveder’ of today; ‘sachrachok’ (meaning a distant conversation) rather than the always-used ‘telephone’ or ‘ta nin’al’ (a locking container) instead of the more common ‘locker’. In 2003, the academy, attempting to rescue the word kruchit from where it had been languishing, announced that it would now become the industry standard for the @ sign. The results, nearly eight years later, are not encouraging. Anecdotal evidence shows that so far, shtrudel continues to win out.
But if engaging in correct usage is your cup of tea, try out the word kruchit the next time you’re ordering a ma’afe (baked good), or giving your email address. Chances are you’ll be asked to repeat yourself.