Tag Archives: Hebrew

Meaning Behind The Proverb “In The Land of The Blind, The One Eyed Man is King.”

Main Piece:

Original Text (Latin): “In regione caecorum rex est luscus.”

Translation: “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.” 

Meaning as told by my informant:

“It means that if everything is bad, and one thing is less bad, then it’s automatically the best. It plays on the idea of ‘best’ being a relative term. So literally speaking, someone who has sight in one eye can see more than someone who is blind. Therefore, he’s the best. He rules. In life, if you’re better than people at something, even if you’re not even good at it, you’ll be the best. It’s winning by default. If you were playing a game and the other team forfeited, your team won just because it didn’t quit. You didn’t do anything, but you still did more than the other kids.” 

Background: 

My informant is my mother, who grew up hearing this phrase and doesn’t remember learning it. When I asked her if she knew the saying’s origin, she said “it must’ve come somewhere with a king, so it’s probably European.” She likes the saying because it puts things in perspective: “Once you enter the real world, nothing is perfect. A lot of life is just getting things done the best you can. It’s not like in school where there are grades. Many times, the things that are best aren’t even very good. That can be very comforting or very concerning, depending on your belief system. I think it’s kind of beautiful.” 

Context: 

I am currently in quarantine at my informant/mother’s house, and this piece was collected while we were eating dinner at the kitchen table. 

Thoughts: 

I had always heard this saying in the context of someone getting something by default; they didn’t work hard for it, but they worked harder than others. However, after some research, I learned this specific phrasing is taken from an Erasmus quote in Latin that dates back to 1500, which is likely based off of a Hebrew excerpt from Genesis in the Old Testament “בשוק סמייא צווחין לעווירא סגי נהור”, which translates to “In the street of the blind, the one eyed man is called the Guiding Light.” Once I saw that this proverb is Biblical, it gave me a new perspective on my mother’s idea that it’s “kind of beautiful.” In the Bible, Jesus always says people are perfectly imperfect. While the English proverb in particular is competitive, it also shows that sometimes, even the best people aren’t perfect. I think this saying is a good example of how a proverb can change over time. Biblically, it means that we are all human, and we shouldn’t be so hard on each other. But today, it generally means someone wasn’t good, they were just better. While I don’t imagine myself using this proverb in its original context, it does give me a new appreciation for the saying itself. 

For more information on the proverb’s origin:

Wiktionary. “In-the-Land-of-the-Blind-the-One-Eyed-Man-Is-King.” 

Hebrew Slang: סַבַּבָּח (Sababa)

Genre: Slang, Folk Speech

 

Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hebrew

 

Hebrew: סַבַּבָּח (read right to left)

English: Sababa (suh-bɒ-bɒ)

 

Abstract: סַבַּבָּח (sababa) is a Hebrew word meaning “cool” or “got it.” It is a way for someone to acknowledge what someone said in one slang word. In Israel, it is considered hip and marketed to the population as such.

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was heard and seen all over the streets of Israel. KP can not trace its origin, but describes it as a word that is very common and that is often one of the first words taught to non Hebrew speaking visitors.

 

KP: It means okay, cool, yeah. Or if you want to hurry someone up so they stop talking you say “okay sababa yeah yeah” like stop it I get it.

S: Do older people use it too?

KP: No, not really, just like my age and below.

 

Examples:

 

Person 1: Want to go eat?

Person 2: Sababa.

 

Person 1: Do you understand? Do you get it? Can you get it done? You sure? Okay, you really sure?

Person 2: Sababa sababa.

 

Interpretation: When first hearing this word and definition, I almost immediately compared to the word “bet” which has become popularized to mean “alright” or “you got it.” Once again, there is an understanding in millennials of America that, even though not the traditional meaning of the word, “bet” is a word used for multiple things, in almost the same exact way, like sababa. One thing that KP showed me was a pair of boxers that had the word “sababa” written on them, as well as, marijuana leaves imprinted around the word. Israeli shops are taking advantage of/utilizing the younger culture and generation with the word sababa to make money. The appeal of the younger Israelis and tourists to be cool and in the know is making vendors money. The reason young people tend more to this word than older people is because of the pressure to appear cool. Sababa has a vibe attached to it that means “I’m cool, I don’t really worry about anything. Everything is okay with me.” It has the type of connotation that brings a certain swagger and cool factor to a person’s vocabulary.