Friday, May 27, 2011

Indefensible

Even after a week of hearing Netanyahu’s claim that Israel’s 1967 borders are “indefensible,” I’m not quite used to hearing the word in its literal meaning – “Incapable of being defended by force of arms” (OED).

I've surely encountered the literal use before, but the figurative sense of indefensible looms much, much larger in my lexicon. And because the figurative use is so pejorative – not just “incapable of being defended in argument” but “unjustifiable, inexcusable” – I have to make a tiny but conscious adjustment to hear the word as Netanyahu intended it. 

Of course, given our different geopolitical situations, it could well be that the literal definition of indefensible is as dominant in Netanyahu's world as the figurative sense is in mine. 

I have no idea whether the Hebrew word has the same figurative use as the English one; can somebody enlighten me? 

9 comments:

Kay L. Davies said...

I agree with you about the different geopolitical situations.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Vance Maverick said...

Presumably the figurative sense of "indefensible" is intended here as a background meaning -- that is, "to propose those boundaries is a claim that cannot be defended in argument" as well as "those boundaries cannot be defended by military force".

Simon M Hunter said...

I can't comment on the Hebrew, but it seems to me that 'MetaYahoo' and 'indefensible' occupy semantic spaces that overlap considerably.

Lyndsay Wheble said...

This is very, very interesting. I'll share the link with my Hebrew-speaking friends and report back...

T. Roger Thomas said...

Interesting question, which, unfortunately, I can't help to answer.

Anonymous said...

I would think the proper word would be undefendable. To me at least, defend and defense have a slightly different meaning. Defend implies a position (physical or conceptual) that needs to be defended, while defense implies the process of mounting a defense.

John Roth

Emanuele C. said...

Is saying something is "addicting" correct? Isn't it "addictive"? I wonder about it every time I hear someone say it.

Tom Recht said...

Hello, here through Language Hat, with an answer to your closing question: there is no single Hebrew word for 'indefensible'. What gets translated as 'indefensible' is actually a three-word phrase, literally 'not capable of defense'. (Hebrew is poorer than English in derivational morphology, and its equivalents of the affixes in- and -ible aren't very productive.) This phrase is only ever used in its literal meaning, so no, there's no Hebrew parallel for the pejorative sense of 'indefensible' in English.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Meta-Yahoo was trying to say that the 1948 armistice lines or the 1947 UN partition plan were the only non-indefensible outcomes, and that Semitic peoples should stick together, share East Jerusalem, and share the Dream.