Hebrew is a wonderful language. Just think of @, which English-speakers call, rather unimaginatively, the “at sign” or “at symbol.” The only reason those names are appropriate is that the symbol was used (and perhaps still is) in commercial contexts as shorthand for “at,” as in “3 pairs of socks @ $1 each.” (Lordy, I was going to write 25 cents, but then couldn’t find a cent sign on my keyboard. What’s the world coming to?)
Hebrew, like its second cousin once removed Yiddish, is so much more expressive. In common parlance in Israel, the “at sign” is referred to as “strudel,” pronounced “shtrudel.” When I dictate my e-mail address over the phone, the second half is “strudel gmail nekuda [dot] com.” But “strudel,” fitting to a “t” the symbol it names, isn’t really Hebrew, of course. The proper Hebrew name, which you can hear used on the radio more frequently these days, is “cruchit,” which comes from the Hebrew root caf resh caf—originating in Akkadian—that signifies wrapping and binding (and also the actions involved in creating a book, so that the word for “volume” in the sense of a book is derived from it).
Many Jews are familiar with the root from the Haggadah, read at the Passover seder, which mentions how rabbis in ancient times ate the symbolic foods of the festival. One of these symbolic foods is corech: the bitter herb between two pieces of matzah—a Passover sandwich, if you wish—symbolizing the bitterness of exile and slavery (and also, paradoxically, the beginning of redemption, according to the commentary of Adin Steinsaltz). The Haggadah explains that “this is what Hillel [one of the greatest scholars in the time of Herod] did.”
“Cruchit” is simply Hebrew for strudel, which, as you know, does not contain any matzah but is made by wrapping a tasty filling—apples, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins—in a fine dough (the secrets of which, alas, my mother, who was a master baker, did not pass on to me). So, at year’s end, I’m left with a cent-less keyboard and a strudel I can’t eat. But among the year’s blessings is that ever-renewable source of psychic energy: joy in the versatility and expressiveness of Hebrew.
Text copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.