I was recently asked: What is something about your language that you’ve never noticed until a foreign learner pointed it out?
I recalled that only the night before, my good friend Bob Macdonald, who has undertaken a mammoth task of making a musically-oriented English translation of the Hebrew Bible, asked me why in the Hebrew, Zephaniah (2:2) says:
בטרם לדת חוק, כמוץ עבר יום; בטרם לא-יבוא עליכם, חרון אף-יהוה
(Beterem ledet ḥoq, kamotz avar yom; beterem lo-yavo aleikhem ḥaron af-Adonai)
which literally reads, ‘before God’s wrath doesn’t come down on you’
when he clearly meant ‘before God’s wrath comes down on you’
The reason, I explained to him, is that Jewish fear of the ‘evil eye’ is so deeply rooted in the culture, that to keep it at bay, one never speaks about a future adversity as coming, but only as ‘not-coming’. Thus the common Hebrew…
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