Monday, February 21, 2005

Hitnatkut - or is it Hinatkut?

On December 18, 2003, Sharon first set out his "disengagement" plan in a speech to the Herzliyya Institute of Policy and Strategy. The details were vague, and would remain so for some time. But a new word was introduced into the Middle East lexicon: hitnatkut in Hebrew, translated into English as "disengagement".

As the months wore on, though, perceptive Israeli news consumers noticed a subtle linguistic shift. Instead of hitnatkut, many journalists and intellectuals were speaking of hinatkut, replacing the second letter (tav) with a yod. This is usually a sign that professional linguists have stirred things up.

Now that the plan's finally passed the Knesset, what's the correct word for it?

Hitnatkut and hinatkut both stem from the same Hebrew root, NTK, meaning to separate or disconnect. In the active (pi'el) form, l'natek means "to disconnect something," such as an electrical appliance. "I'm hanging up the phone" is ani menatek et hatelephone.

Hitnatkut is the reflexive (hitpa'el) form. Generally, this is used when one does an action to oneself, though there are exceptions. For example, while lilbosh is to wear clothing, l'hitlabesh is to get dressed; that is, to dress oneself. In our case, l'hitnatek generally means to disconnect oneself from something. "I'm hanging up" (without a direct object) is ani mitnatek - I'm disconnecting myself from the line.

Hinatkut is the passive (nif'al) form. This is used when we're interested in the object acted on, not the subject performing the act. Thus, l'hinatek is "to become disconnected." It's what happens when I'm on the phone and the line is cut off; we say, nitak hakesher, "the connection has been broken". Here, "disconnection" just happens through some external force.

In the context of Sharon's diplomatic plan, hitnatkut (as I see it) means "disengaging (ourselves)", while hinatkut means "becoming disengaged". The former is an active, reflexive verb; we're doing something to ourselves. The latter is a passive construct, implying a process which happens of its own accord. It hardly seems suitable to a deliberate program.

According to the last paragraph of this article (Hebrew), Sharon's office agrees.

I suspect some of those saying hinatkut just enjoy its highfalutin sound; it's a far less common word in everyday Hebrew than hitnatkut. Say hinatkut and you indicate that you know better than the masses - though you probably can't explain why.

For more Hebrew language discussion of this and other Hebrew language issues, see the hinatkut page on Safa Ivrit. Others object that hitnatkut implies mutuality between the parties to the action, which is clearly not present in a unilateral plan. But I don't see much precedent for the association between hitpa'el and mutuality.

I fully intend to continue saying hitnatkut - while continuing to hope (as unlikely as it seems) that it is never implemented.

(Actually, to be most accurate, I should call it a "withdrawal" or "retreat". Maybe "forced evacuation"? Some on the Israeli right call it "population transfer".)

Update: I should note that sometimes I just refer to it as hitkatnut....


Cosmic X said...

Hinatkut or hitnatkut, it is all Orwellian doublespeak. There is nof disengagement going on here, as I and others have pointed out. See the article at .

Batya said...

I wrote about the linguistics in a few musings on this page.

Zman Biur said...

I agree that there is no real "disengagement"; my analysis of the plan can be found

I still think it's foolish. But at least they can use the right verb conjugation!