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Puncher

Recently, I learned that in Israel, a flat tire on a bicycle is called a “puncher”.  I brought one with a flat tire to a local bike shop. The shop owner saw the bike and said, “Puncher?”

I didn’t know what language he was using and I certainly did not understand the question, so I told him (in Hebrew) that I didn’t understand his question. I am instantly identifiable as an English speaker as soon as I say one word in Hebrew.  The shop owner repeated his question using a full English sentence: “Do you have a puncher?”.

A puncher? This was fascinating. He was using the term “puncher” while speaking English. It was obvious that he was referring to the flat tire, so I confirmed that the tire was flat. I told him I was not familiar with the word “puncher”. He thought that was odd and asked me what it is called in the United States. I told him it was called a “flat tire”.

I asked him to pronounce the word slowly so I could really hear how it was said: pun-cher. There are many foreign words pulled into modern Hebrew, so I figured the idea was that an object punches the tire causing the flat.

Later, I had a conversation about it with my wife.  It went something like this:

Me: I found out that Israelis call a flat tire a “puncher”.

Wife: Don’t you mean a “puncture”.

Me: No, not a puncture — a puncher…. (pause) Oh, you must be right. He probably can’t say puncture.

Wife: <laughing> You thought he was saying puncher?

Me: Well, I asked him to say it slowly. He was definitely saying puncher. For what ever reason, I never thought of the word puncture.

However, it kept nagging me. He definitely said puncher and he spoke English pretty well. I had trouble believing that he couldn’t say the word “puncture”. The next time I was at his shop, I brought it up again. “You call a flat tire a puncher. Are you trying to say puncture?”

His response: “Puncture? What’s that?”

I explained what the English word puncture means and he responded by explaining to me that “puncture” has a “kah” sound, but the Hebrew word is “puncher” without the ‘kah”. He was able to say “puncture,” but he wasn’t familiar with it and the Israeli word he was using is “puncher”. I asked him if it was derived from English and he didn’t know. So, now I felt vindicated!  He wasn’t trying to say puncture after all.

However, this just didn’t seem right. The Israeli word “puncher” seems to have the same meaning as “puncture” and they sound too similar to not be related.

A few days later, I found out that the Israeli word “puncher” is derived from the English word “puncture”, but it is not a mispronunciation.  The syllables in “puncture” don’t work well in Hebrew, so the difficult sounds were dropped as the word was used over time. Now it is just some foreign-based word in the Israeli vernacular.

In general, there are many English-based words that have been pulled into modern Hebrew. Normally, you can hear the source right away. Somehow this one escaped me until my wife set me straight.

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Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: , ,
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