About סתם (stam) and נו (Nu)

yuvali

Member
Hebrew, Israel
Hey all.

While traveling in India a few years back I made the acquaintance of a young German guy (about my age) with whom I found myself engaging in long conversations. As we were both non native english speakers, though both descently fluent in it (as it was the only common-language for both of us to communicate in), the conversations were... interesting, in a sense that it seemed as though the language-barrier was a very minor thing, and I soon felt like I'm speaking with one of my friends from Israel. That "freedom of speech" feel, gave me the urge to start inserting and incorporating into my (english) sentences two hebrew words that I use quite alot (or used to use) in my "spoken vocabulary". I had to explain what they mean first, which is not an easy job in the case of these two words.

סתם (pronounced Stam (sta like in "STUff")) is probably my favorite hebrew word, ever. Mainly because its diversity and its ability to express so much in just a single word, and also because its vocalization fits so nicely (IMO) to what it means, in an onomatopoeian way.

The general translation of it to english, would be: "with/for no particular reason, purpose or cause". For example, I could be picking-up a wooden-stick in the middle of the street; somebody would ask me: "why did you pick-up that stick?, and I'll reply: "stam..."
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Stam can also come after a certain sentence or passage (of any length and subject), meaning - "I didn't really mean any of that stuff I just said". For example, I could say:
"I have a million dollar in my bank acount. [short pause...] Stam..." (or "no, stam!").
In the same sense it also means "I was only kidding!". e.g.
"You are bleeding from the eye!! [longer pause...] Stam...".
But, again, these are just few of many of its useages in the spoken hebrew. Another example: I could return from a party and be greeted with a question from a friend (who wasn't at that party): "how was it?". I can say "stam", meaning "It was non-interesting, pretty boring and dull..."

It's not a noun. Definitely not a verb. It's kind-of a "super-adjective" :)

Stam is also used as a part of a popular expression: "Min HaStam" ("from the stam"). Which is even harder to translate and explain, since it is used in a variaty of different situations. Sometimes it means "Duh!" or "obviously", like: - "Do you work here?". - "I'm wearing the store's uniform, so Min HaStam I work here...". Sometimes it means "probably" or "most likely": e.g. "They already went on 4 dates, so Min HaStam they are sleeping with each other..."

This word is also used in another deviant form: Stami, which is an adjective describing something as being "without any particular nature", something not defined and purposeless.

These are all aproximate translations and meanings, and AFAIK there is no one single word in english equivalent to that word... or is it? This is one of the reasons for this thread - to find out if there is such a similar word in english, or in any other language. Also, can anyone think of better ways to explain the meaning of it in english?


The other word I mentioned is נו (Pronounced Noo, like in 'NOOn'). It is also diverse and has many uses, probably to the same extent of stam.

One common use of it would be to try to make someone "get a move on already!" (Or "Do it already!", "Say it already!", "Get on with it already!", ".... already!", and so on...), similar to the use of the arabic "Yalla" (as mentioned in the hebrew-arabic thread), and in-fact those two words are used together on many occasions (saying "Nu, yalla!").
Another common use is for saying "...so?" (as in "So... what's the big deal?") or "...and?".

Any ideas for a word meaning a similar thing in english?

- Yuval
 
  • hasbeard

    New Member
    American English United States
    I don't know of any English word that conveys all the functionality of either "stam" or "nu." My own advancement in Hebrew is still very limited, so I am relying on the meanings for "nu" and "stam" that you have provided.

    As far as "Nu" goes there is one English word that provides some of the functionality you have described. I am (trying) to learn Hebrew, and one word that I miss very much is "well." "Well" can be used in some interesting ways depending on the context and especially the tone of voice with which it is pronounced. As far as its use as an equivalent to the functions of "nu" that you have listed, here are some parallels.

    For example:
    A. Someone is stalling, and you want them to hurry up. "Well" spoken with a somewhat irritated tone can convey this.
    B. Someone tells you a story or makes a statement and you want to convey that you are not impressed. "Well...." spoken with a certain tone of voice and or facial expression can also convey the same meaning as "big deal!".
    C. Someone tells a story or makes a statement and you fail to see how the story or statement adds anything to the present discussion. Again, "Well," spoken with the correct tone of voice can convey this. This is similar to the use of "and???....".

    Because the context of the situation and the tone of voice used is so important, it's hard for me to describe a word like "well". For example, "well" can also be used to convey surprise, anger, or even pleasure. It's all in the tone of voice, the emotion behind it, and the context.

    As far as "stam" as you have described it, I can't think of any single word close to being an English replacement.

    Thanks for your post. It's very helpful. :)
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Hi, Yuvali,

    I'm afraid that such words are notoriously difficult to translate in any language. German has just as many of these "flavoring particles" as Hebrew - if not even more so (did your German friend happen to use any by any chance? ;)).

    That said, unfortunately both of these words will have to be translated differently depending on the particular context.

    Of course, the same works in the other direction. Can you think of a Hebrew word that covers all the meanings of "well" (great example, hasbeard), "just" or "right"? :)
     

    Lingohappy

    Member
    English, England
    Hey

    It might not be the same, but my boyfriend's israeli and when he uses Stam, he means "just kidding/joke" or in another context, "whatever" in a dismissive sense. "Whatever" is very colloquial English for expressing a relaxed attitude towards something and would never be used in a formal situation or amongst adults. In all honesty i now prefer saying "stam" to only joking, or just kidding, it's much quicker and i'm lazy!

    As for "nu"... we don't really have an equivalent, just "come on", and "hurry up". You'll find that if you're in England, especially around the jewish communtiy, everyone will understand "nu", or "yalla"!

    Hope that helps a little more
     

    yuvali

    Member
    Hebrew, Israel
    Hey

    It might not be the same, but my boyfriend's israeli and when he uses Stam, he means "just kidding/joke" or in another context,
    Yep, that's one of the main uses of the word.

    LingoHappy said:
    "whatever" in a dismissive sense. "Whatever" is very colloquial English for expressing a relaxed attitude towards something and would never be used in a formal situation or amongst adults.
    Yeah, we use it too (at least in my circle of friends, and others...) for lack of a better word in hebrew, in the same situations as english-speakers use it - when we want to express that "It doesn't really matter, this way or the other", and of-course we'll also never use it in a formal situation or amongst adults. I don't think it's a good "replacement" for Stam, though...

    hasbeard said:
    As far as "Nu" goes there is one English word that provides some of the functionality you have described. I am (trying) to learn Hebrew, and one word that I miss very much is "well." "Well" can be used in some interesting ways depending on the context and especially the tone of voice with which it is pronounced. As far as its use as an equivalent to the functions of "nu" that you have listed, here are some parallels.
    That's a very good example. I think that's the closet to Nu as you can get (which its functions also greatly depend on the context and tone of voice, if I didn't mention that).

    By the way, as for the use of 'well' at the begining of a "story" or an "answer", to create a short "tension" or as an "introduction" to what you are about to say (like: "Well... it goes something like this:", or "Well, look at it this way..." etc.) - there IS an equivalent hebrew word:
    ובכן (OOV-CHEN). But that's a pretty formal word, hardly never used in the casual spoken language (but used alot sometimes in the written language, and in public speeches)...
     

    chaya

    Senior Member
    english (UK) French Spanish Italian
    STAM & NU are just two of the fascinating words discussed. How about discussing the word DAVKA ? What are its origins? What are the different translations apart from 'deliberately' or 'on purpose'.

    And don't forget that NU is a Yiddish word.

    L'hit......Chaya
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    No, please let's not discuss even more tricky words in this thread.

    I chose to turn a blind eye to the fact that two words were being discussed in this thread, but I'm not lenient enough to allow further digressions. :D
     
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