Friday, April 08, 2005

Ayzeh Mehdeenah* (4) - Davka


[Note to Hebrew-speaking readers (as if you needed encouragement): please add examples, send corrections, emendations, elucidations, opinions, to my risk-loving attempt at explaining this unexplainably wonderful term. ]

The Hebrew term davka (דווקא) is usually an interjection, sometimes an expletive, that implies some kind of contrariness in action, either personal or impersonal:

1. personal - a display of personal power, usually indirect (passive-aggressive). For example:
· if you say tomato, I could דווקא say tomahto, just to be different, to be original, to annoy you, to see whether you're paying attention, to keep you on your toes, to get even for your previous annoying behavior towards me
· A two-year-old is famous for her דווקא behavior
2. impersonal: events that occur contrary to what was expected. For example:
· I took an umbrella, so of course it דווקא didn't rain
· Whenever I leave home early enough to be somewhere on time, there's דווקא a horrendous traffic jam, making me late
Joel Spolsky wrote in his blog, "No matter how debunked the Whorf theory [of linguistic determinism] is, I'm still convinced that Israelis are more likely to do things דווקא, simply because they have a word for it."

My guess is there may be a positive feedback loop involved, so that the word and the behavior encourage each other – a chicken-and-egg situation. The term wouldn't have come into common usage without the behavior it describes, and without said behavior being encouraged/needed/observed by the culture. And once they know such a pithy term, people somehow like to use it. But the term also applies to circumstances outside any individual's control, so it could be applied to other languages/cultures.

For a more thorough treatment of cultural differences between Americans and Israelis, read Border Crossings: American Interactions with Israelis by Lucy Shahar and David Kurz.


Swollen said...

Thanks for this post. I've wondered about "davka" and I think I understand it a bit better now. Your link to Joel Spolsky was a good one! Regards


sirbarrett said...

Your circular theory of language is consistent with the idea that language is use. I can definitely see how that could be the case in this situation. Isn't language fun?

sirbarrett said...

oh, and thanks for the tip on posture. Visualizing the string helps. It's amazing how much I can stretch when my spine isn't curled up and zig-zagged. It effects my brain too. Sometimes I stand up so straight that my brain is suddenly bombarded with so much oxygen that I almost faint. Wild eh? I still have far to go though in the way of learning how to walk.

PPB said...

cool post. I took Hebrew class but remember so little of it....

Savtadotty said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Savtadotty said...

BC: Glad my "string theory" of posture works for you. The dizziness can be avoided if you learn diaphragmatic breathing, like singers do. I can't expain how to do it without poking you, but I bet you can find out.

PPB:Thanks. Must be something about Hebrew that makes it so easy to forget, at least for English-speakers.

Noorster said...

Davka (or rather, Dafke) is my middle name. Well, almost.
Thank you for this post.

The Lioness said...

Yes, davka is a slippery one, after "regah" [insert rude hand gesture here] and "yallah bye" it has to be the most Israeli thing ever.