Eastern Europe, food, Jewish, Jewish Culture and Traditions, language, Mandy Patinkin, Sholom Aleichem, Yiddish
MAX GOLANSKI here, and like the gifted Mandy Patinkin pictured on the left, I wanted to share with you some information about Yiddish, my mamaloschen, or “mother tongue.” In Poland I read, spoke and experienced the world through its richness.
Yiddish almost became a dead language after World War II, but for centuries it was spoken by 12 million people. Yiddish helped us maintain our cultural identity and communicate with other Jewish people throughout the world. As borders changed so often in Eastern Europe, we had a native tongue despite not having a nation. Born in Europe, Yiddish is 70% German with a mixture of Hebrew, Slavic, and Romance languages thrown in. As Yiddish spread between countries and regions, it absorbed their languages and regional slang expressions, but basics stayed the same. Yiddish is the Jewish way to make sense of the world.
To me Yiddish is like a clear chicken broth to which leftovers are added every night until Shabbos (Sabbath). Each night’s soup is stronger than the night before until it’s like a nice, thick stew for the Sabbath meal — then the process starts all over again. Why all this talk about food? I see both food and Yiddish as delicacies. Speaking Yiddish, we relish every bite, eating our words with gusto and enjoying the aftertaste so as not to miss the true flavor, or essence of a conversation. So, would you like a taste? A little sampler plate of Yiddish expressions? So many Yiddish words are now part of everyday life, I’m sure you’ve heard:
BUBKES (trivial, worthless, useless)
GLITCH (minor problem or error)
MAVEN (expert – often sarcastic)
OY GEVALT and OY VEY (Oh pain! Yikes!)
SHLOCK (cheap, shoddy item)
SHMALTZY (excessively gushing)
SHMOOZE (chat, small talk)
SHTICK (gimmick, actor’s bit)
SPIEL (involved sales pitch)
TUCHIS (rear-end, buttocks, tush)
YENTE (female busy-body)
However, unless you’re a lansman (“Member of the Tribe,” or Jewish) and only then if you speak Yiddish, you might be unfamiliar with its descriptive color. So, how about I start with my very favorite, as it explains the story of my life?
DER MANN TRAOCHT UN GOTT LACHT.
(“MAN PLANS AND GOD LAUGHS.”)
HERE ARE A FEW OTHER WORDS AND PHRASES I LIKE:
A SHAYNE DANK DIR IM PUPIK — Many thanks in your belly button (“Thanks for nothing.”)
A BI GEZUNT – Don’t worry about problems. (“You’ve still got your health.”)
BIZ HUNDERT UN TSVANTSIK – You should live to be 120.
FERBLUNJIT — Lost, mixed up.
GAY GA ZINTA HATE — Go in good health. (“Fine, don’t listen to me. See if I care.”)
HOK A CHAINIK – Bang the kettle, OR give someone a headache with complaining.
KVELL — To beam with pride and pleasure. (Jewish parents are prone to kvell over their children’s achievements.)
ME OIS VAXEN SVI A TSIBELE MITEN CUP IN VANT – You should grow like an onion with your head in the ground.
SHLIMAZL — A chronically unlucky person, a born loser. (When a shlimazl sells his umbrella the sun comes out.)
YENTE TELEBENTE – “Mrs. National Enquirer”
ZAYN MAZL ZOL IM LAYCHTN VI DI LEVONE IN SOF KHOYDESH — His luck should be as bright as a new moon.
OY . . . I didn’t mean to go on so! If you have any personal favorites though, let Sue know. She’s thinking of setting up a page just for Yiddish words and expressions. But, only if you’d enjoy. Nu? What do you think?
P.S. Sue wanted me to tell you that there are many books and websites on Yiddish and she’ll try to add some to her links. You may want to read Leo Rosten’s THE JOYS OF YIDDISH. Or check online.
Philip Witriol said:
Hi Sue – thanks for your reply. Unfortunately I am taking so long to copy edit it myself that I don’t want to delay it more by submitting to another edit! My dad used his own transcription which, as I say in the intro, may seem strange to most but I would not want to change. Equally, I’m happy to publish “warts and all” and receive comments, clarifications etc after. I’m also likely to – reluctantly – leave out his glossaries and index, partly because of the labour, partly their limited use given the unusual transcription. Anyway, I look forward to seeing your glossary and other posts.
Philip Witriol said:
Lovely post – eventually i hope to put up my late father’s unpublished work, Mumme Loohshen (as he transcribed it). Please visit my blog for more about my father and his Yiddish book.
Philip, first, thanks for the kind words. I zipped right over to “take a look” (as Max Golanski would say) at your blog – eager to learn more about your father’s work (and your own). What an amazing undertaking! I am greatly impressed and pleased to know that others are striving to keep alive this most amazingly descriptive, colorful, and personal language. I will add a link to my blog to connect readers to your own. Let me know when you are moving closer to publication. If you can possibly find a copyeditor who has an Easter European cultural background – perhaps knowledge of Yiddish – before you publish (whether through traditional channels or independently), I would highly recommend it. GOLANSKIS TREASURES is peppered with Yiddish as to avoid doing so would be to miss the full fragrance of the times and the lingering touch of musicality and viewpoint in expression of several characters. Even though not nearly as inclusive as the work you are doing, I will be adding a glossary of terms (Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German) to the book so as not to overly interrupt the flow of dialogue that necessarily includes other languages. I am following your blog – hope you will do the same here! The glossary from the book will become a full page on the blog in the not too distant future. T