From Cuss Word to Common Use: באסה
One of the most common Hebrew slang words heard today is the word באסה (“basa”, pronounced |BA-sa|). Israelis and native Hebrew speakers around the world often use this multifaceted word both as an adjective to say איזה באסה (what a bummer), or as a verb to say זה מבאס (it sucks) or התבאסתי (I was sad/annoyed).
While it is well known to most Israelis that באסה is Hebrew slang borrowed from Arabic, many people who speak Arabic may wonder how באסה came into common use in Hebrew given that the original Arabic word בעצה (Ba’atza) is actually an expletive (more commonly known as a ‘swear word’ in English).
The origin of באסה began several years ago when Arab-jews began immigrating to Israel. This migration to Israel didn’t just bring people, it also brought with it a wealth of common Arabic phrases with the potential to intermix with Hebrew. As the use of Hebrew in Israel was established and continued to grow, Arabic continued to be spoken in many homes of Israeli-Arabs throughout the country.
It is widely believed that באסה made the leap into common use beyond Arab-jewish communities when Arab-Jews were drafted into the Israei army, and began using באסה in front of friends and other soldiers, many of whom did not come from Arab speaking countries or families.Gradually the Palestinian בעצה started to lose it’s origin meaning, thanks to the affect of the Hebrew באסה. To the extent that today it’s not even clear which one came first.
As time passed and the use of באסה became colloquially accepted in Hebrew, native Arabic speakers who encountered the word for the first time in Hebrew may have been very shocked when hearing this word being used so freely due to the obscene nature of the Arabic version of the word.
Languages have a life of their own. Every Hebrew word (or any language really) has a complex journey if you look back far enough. But באסה is the recent example of what happens when two languages co-exist together in close proximity. What other words do you know that may be perfectly innocuous or harmless in one language, but may be an expletive or have a more obscene meaning in another?