Transliteration Transgression

In a letter to the editor, Rabbi Schonbrun’s 10th-grade English class in Mesivta Yesodei Yeshurun lauded Hamodia writers and editors for their excellent grammar. I would corroborate that and add that this excellence is not limited to their English grammar but extends to the preciseness in their transliteration of Hebrew terms, which is done not based on the common pronunciation, but instead follows that which is correct according to hilchos dikduk.

That being said, I want to take this opportunity to express my disappointment in Hamodia’s transliteration of the frequently used term for the Hebrew language. This term is usually rendered “Lashon Hakodesh”; however, technically speaking, that term does not make any sense — its literal translation would be “language, the holiness.” This common mistransliteration likely stems from the misconception that the word kodesh is an adjective. In fact, it is a noun from the mishkal po’el, which generally refers to the product of the pe’ulah which shares its shoresh; for example, to bundle a bundle would be to be maamar omer, to plow a plowing would be to be mecharesh choresh, and so too, to sanctify a sanctification would be to be mechadesh kodesh. In truth, the adjective meaning “holy” is kadosh.

Therefore, it would seem that the meaning of the term Lashon Hakodesh is “the language of the Holiness,” which tells us that the word lashon must be davuk, changing its meaning to “the language of …” in which case it would be vowelized Leshon Hakodesh.

We should be zocheh very soon to be able to speak the original, unadulterated Language of the Holiness in Yerushalayim. Wishing you much hatzlachah,

Getzel Groner, Far Rockaway, N.Y.

Mordechai Schiller replies:

Thank you for your praise and your erudition.

You are right. Absolute precision would call for a revision. With all due respect, though, the rule of law is chancy at best in transliteration. Excessive attention to correct pronunciation can be hazardous. If someone davening for the amud pronounces each mapik heh with explosive emphasis, I’d guess he has a bad case of the mapik hehcups. And if they come in rapid fire, people might run for cover.

That said, your question was submitted to the Hamodia Usage Panel. Their decision was that Leshon Hakodesh might be overly correct. What’s wrong with being right? It could be “a turnoff for readers when done right because they’re effectively speaking Yiddish and not Lashon Kodesh or Leshon Hakodesh. So … let the reader see what his ear expects, and move on.”

Yasher koyech.