A Lesson in Sexy and Sexist Hebrew Slang
Slang terms that refer to women usually relate to looks. Foremost among these is kusit. Derived from a vulgar word in Arabic that refers to female genitalia, the expression got its start in the late 1970s as derogatory Israeli male locker-room lingo for a very attractive woman. The word is what linguists call a synecdoche, wherein an entire woman is referred to by a single part of her anatomy. The synecdoche has a long tradition in Hebrew: Nekava, which means female in both modern and ancient Hebrew, comes from the Biblical root nkv, which signifies a hole or opening.
“Many Israelis over the age of 50 regard the word kusit as profane,” says Rosenthal. Since the late 1980s, however, the word has been losing its power to shock. “For younger women,” he says, “it has become a badge of pride. ‘I am a kusit’ means ‘I am attractive and sexy.’” As Israeli actress Esti Zakheim explained to reporters in 2007, “I am not fat. I am an extra-large size kusit.”
Slightly less offensive than kusit is frecha. “A frecha [Arabic for young female chicken] is a woman who is sexy but stupid and low-class,” explains Rosenthal. The word has been around since the early 1970s and originally referred to a Sephardic Jewish woman of Middle Eastern origin who exhibited traits of silliness and materialism. The 1979 song Shir Hafrecha (The Frecha Song or The Bimbo Song) by Ofra Haza is one of the biggest Israeli hits of all time even though it was originally banned on some radio stations. Some of the lyrics are: “I don’t have a head for long words/and you’re like a long word” and “I go wherever the fun is, with my nail polish, lipstick and other show-offy things…I feel like shouting out: ‘I’m a frecha!’”
A young frecha is a fakatza. The latter has evolved to refer to a certain kind of teenage girl from the upper-middle class who loves the color pink, uses American valley girl expressions like “ohmigod!” and “whatever” and speaks in an overly cute and mincing style. Linguists call it “fakatza language.”
It is hard to find Hebrew slang words that are female-positive. Mayzenberg recalls that when she was in the army, and a female soldier shot well or did a spectacular job, she would be called a malkah, a queen or hailed as a kelat olam (tool of the world). “We appropriated [the male] words and made them our own,” explains Mayzenberg. And how did these sisters-in-arms address each other? “We’d have military missions and even though you didn’t know the other person, it created a feeling of closeness. We called each other achoti, sister.” Out in the civilian world, women are catching up with men in the slang department as well. There is now a masculine version of the kusit—kuson—to signal that a man is hot. Take that, gever.—Simona Fuma Weinglass