Lexicon Valley

The Hollywood Studio Proudly Named for an Arabic Swear Word

The Jimi Hendrix Experience At TTG Studios: October 1968
The Jimi Hendrix Experience At TTG Studios: October 1968

StudioHaze68

This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing. 

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This is the story of a bygone Hollywood recording studio whose name was an acronym for a sweary Arabic-Yiddish (and also maybe Turkish) epithet. I learned about it in a comment on a blog post about a Korean-English translator.

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Needless to say, I love the internet.

The post, “Why She Learned Korean,” appeared in Language Hat, Steve Dodson’s excellent and often scholarly blog about language. About halfway into the comment section, the conversation turned to acronyms, and a commenter identified only as “Y” offered this, a propos of nothing in the original post but extremely interesting to me (and to you Strong Languagers, I’ll bet):

TTG Studios, who recorded several seminal albums of the 1960s, got their name from the Arabic-Yiddish compound Tilḥas Ṭīzī Gesheftn, ‘Lick my Ass Enterprises’, which had been used as a code/inside joke in the anti-British Jewish underground in Palestine.

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The other interpretations of the name, “Two Terrible Guys” or “Two Talented Gentlemen”, are apocryphal.

This turns out to be a highly plausible argument, for reasons I’ll get into in a minute. But what about the “apocryphal” stories?

The link in Y’s comment goes to a Wikipedia entry that gives three citations for the “Two Terrible Guys” interpretation, none of them a primary source. One of them, a 2010 article in Analog Planet, is an incomplete reprint of a 1997 Analog Planet article—so incomplete that the name of the interview subject was lopped off. He (I assume it’s a he) is identified only by the initials “BB.” Piecing together the evidence, I surmised that BB was Bruce Botnick (born 1945), an American audio engineer best known for his work with the Doors. He told Analog Planet’s Matthew Greenwald:

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The rest of that album [the Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun”] was recorded at TTG Studios, which stood for “Two Terrible Guys” (laughs).

Was “BB” laughing because he knew the real story of what TTG stood for? BB continued:

They weren’t terrible guys. It was Ami Hadani and Tom Hildley, the same guys who designed and built all the famous Record Plant studios. Anything but two terrible guys. The cool thing about Ami was that he was a General in the Israeli Air Force, and he’d be doing a session and there’d be problems and he’d have to leave the session and go fly off to Israel, fight the war, then come back and finish a session. Weeks could go by, it was kind of funny.

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The early history of Amnon “Ami” Hadani, who also went by Omi Hadan, is vague. After he and Tom Hidley founded TTG, at 1441 N. McCadden Place in Los Angeles—a stone’s throw from Hollywood High School—they recorded many of the era’s prominent rock musicians: the Doors, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Jimi Hendrix, the Monkees, Linda Ronstadt.

Hadani died in 2014; I was unable to find an obituary, or a birth date, but I did find a short tribute that audiophile and music-restoration specialist Steve Hoffman published in one of his music forums. The tribute misspells Hadani’s first name and gives the wrong location for TTG Studios, but it includes this bit of information:

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For those of you who remember TTG Studios, TTG stood for Tilhas Teezee Gesheften a name of a group of Jewish Brigade members formed immediately following WWII. Under the guise of British military activity, this group engaged in the assassination of Nazis and SS conspirators, facilitated the illegal emigration of Holocaust survivors to Israel, and smuggled weaponry for the Haganah.

The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization during the British Mandate of Palestine; after Israeli independence in 1948, it became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Israeli TTG:

The three words that make up the phrase are Arabic [تِلحسْ طِيزي, “tilhas tizi”, “lick my ass”] and Yiddish [געשעפטן, “gesheften”,”business”], combined to form a modern Hebrew slang expression, meaning “You-lick-my-ass business.”[1] It has been more colloquially translated as “up your ass/götveren”,[2] whereas [sic] “götveren” is a vulgar Turkish slang term for “queer/fag/faggot”.

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The footnotes reference Howard Blum’s 2009 book The Brigade: An Epic Story of Vengeance, Salvataion, and World War II. “The Brigade” was the Jewish Brigade, which was formed in 1944 as a unit of the British Army and continued its activities after the war. According to a Wikipedia entry, “Under the guise of British military activity, this group engaged in the assassination of Nazis, facilitated the illegal immigration of Holocaust survivors to Mandatory Palestine, and smuggled weaponry to the Haganah.” One of the Brigade’s members, Israel Carmi, “realized that it would require an army” to move refugees out of Europe, writes Blum:

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So he invented one. And he did it with just three letters: TTG.

TTG had the short, crisp punch of a military acronym. It sounded like the name of an army unit. But Carmi had chosen the letters from a phrase in a contrived, nonsensical portmanteau language, part Yiddish, part Arabic. The words were “tilhas tizig gesheften.” Roughly – and it was meant to be rough – translated, it sneered, “Up your ass.” But only the Jews from Palestine knew that.

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According to some sleuthing done by Yuval Pinter, who writes the bilingual Hebrew–English linguistics blog Blazing Hyphens, Hadani not only was living in Palestine during this period, he served in the Brigade himself—and so would have been intimately acquainted with the acronym.

Modern spoken Hebrew is a young language; the first child raised to speak only Hebrew was born in 1882. That child’s father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, compiles the first modern Hebrew dictionary, for which he coined hundreds of new words. (“Ben-Yehuda” is to modern Hebrew lexicography what “Webster” is to American.) But there were no swear words in the lexicon: with the exception, say, prostitute and bastard, off-color words were absent from the Hebrew Bible or its commentaries, and the high-minded Ben-Yehuda and his protégés had no place for them.

Still, swearers gotta swear, and so modern Israelis turned to their Arabic- and Turkish-speaking neighbors (and not infrequently to English, Russian, and Yiddish) for linguistic relief.

I’m still searching for the definitive lexicon of Hebrew swears. In the meantime, I can point you to this glossary of swears used by Israeli soldiers, in which Arabic shows up a lot; and to this video tutorial from Swearport, which is disappointingly mild but at least provides a Sabra (native) pronunciation.