Fred Skolnik (editor in chief of the Encyclopaedia Judaica) has a great piece in the Ilanot Review about Hebrew slang. There are also some absurd generalizations sprinkled here and there (British English is “calcified and effete,” journalists “speak and write in platitudes”), but ignore them and enjoy the lively descriptions of Hebrew and its slang. A couple of excerpts:
Also “fuck,” which becomes fack (rhymes with sock), is regularly exclaimed without any real sense of what is being said, though focking is perceived as somewhat strong even if one does not grasp the full force or resonance of the word. At the same time, a word like manyak with its independent Arabic (cocksucker) and English (maniac) origins became totally confused in Hebrew speech and has been used in both senses, sometimes with the (inexplicable) force that the British “bloody” had fifty years ago and therefore not heard in polite society, and sometimes with far less sting for someone acting in a crazy or outrageous way. I would guess that the word was first used in the Arabic sense by Oriental Jews and then picked up by Ashkenazi Jews in the mistaken belief that it derived from the English word. […]
It is also not surprising that the mass immigration from the Former Soviet Union in the 1990s has had no impact on Hebrew slang, or on the face of the country as such. The old Russian standbys remain in place (kibinimat, yoptfoyomat) but there is no interaction between the two languages. Like American immigrants, the Russians consider their own culture superior to Israeli culture so that while assimilating economically they are less interested in assimilating culturally and socially. On the other hand, their Israeli-born children, though retaining the Russian language and some of the culture, aspire to, and succeed in, assimilating totally in the Israeli milieu, like the second generation of Jews in America. (What is almost comical, by the way, is that Ethiopian children living in mixed immigrant neighborhoods, as in Petach Tikva, now curse in Russian.)
I love the double origin of manyak, and the fact that Ethiopian children curse in Russian. Thanks, Andy!