This week's theme is Words from Yiddish. All credit here to Leo Rosten, our primary source.
We'll also introduce the concept of the $20 word and the $50 word. A $20 word adds zest to ordinary conversation: it's perhaps one not often spoken in conversation, but the hearer will understand it or pick it up from context. A $50 word is for writing-vocabulary, but might sound overly-erudite in conversation. The test, though arbitrary and subjective, will be informed by asking, "Does it generate more than 50,000 google-hits, or fewer?" (excluding names, foreign-language, etc
[This message was edited by wordcrafter on Mon Jul 29th, 2002 at 8:01.]
golum or goylum: a $50 word from Hebrew "matter without shape", or "a yet unformed thing". [Psalm 139.16]1. a robot 2. a simpleton; fool 3. a clumsy person; a clod; someone who is all thumbs 4. a gracceless, tactless type 5. someone who is subnormal. Examples: "He looks like a golem." "He is as slow-witted as a golum."
Mary Shelly, in authoring Frankenstein, may have gotten the idea from the golem legends.
When the scientists at the great Weizmann Institute in Israel built their first large electronic computer, they dubbed it Golem I.
The word golem originally meant lump and derived from the word glam meaning to wrap up. The term, golem, was used in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) to mean a developing or unfinished substance.
The most famous legend is that Rabbi Judah Loew (1525-1609), one of the great Kabbalistic philosphers, created a giant clay figure called Golem, and put the word "ameth" (truth) on it. To kill the golem the tablet had to be removed, and the first letter of "ameth" had to be erased to spell "meth," meaning death. The intention was to protect the Jewish people of Prague from the dangers of religious prosecution and the bloodshed of pogroms, which were carried out because many people believed that Jews made their Passover bread from flour, water and the blood of Christian children.
The Golem, who had a child-like innocence despite his size and ugly appearance, speechlessly warned the Jews not to eat poisoned matzoh on the eve of Passover and dragged wrongdoers to the police station. Eventually, his actions helped force the royal decree that made the blood libel against the Jews illegal.
Mary Shelley appropriated the legend, and reworked it to produce Frankenstein.
[This message was edited by arnie on Mon Jul 29th, 2002 at 23:11.]
Miss MacKenzie: a female who will "do it"; a young lady who is loved by all.
An obscure one here. This bit of Yiddish-American slang has long since fallen out of usage, but you'll enjoy the derivation.
Yiddish has a heavy component of German, and in German "machen sie", means do it or make it. The pronunciation is much like "MacKenzie". Hence young gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) had a code to privately discuss the interesting subject of whether a lady was of also "loose terms". To discuss the "lay of the land", if you will
PS: I'm no german-scholar. Any corrections would be cheerfully appreciated
chacham:a clever, wise or learned man or woman; but (sarcastically) a fool, a wise guy; one who tries to be clever but suffers a downfall. Similarly chachma: a wise or profound saying or action; but (derisively) a foolish move or performance. The negative meanings are by far the more common, and (says Rosten) "No word will more swiftly establish you as one who knows Yiddish." The ch sounds are the aggressive, reverberating Scottish kh.
Examples: --A proud young chachem told his grandmother that he was going to become a doctor of philosophy. The bubbe smiled proudly: "Wonderful. But what kind of disease is 'philosophy'?"
--Wife to husband at night: "Get up, Max. I'm freezing. Close the window; it's cold outside!" Sighed Max, "Chachem! And if I close the window, will it be warm outside?"
--Amid a frightful storm at sea, the captain asked one of the passengers, a professional magician, to distract the frightened passengers. The magician gave a dazzling performance, making cards disappear, turning scarves into flags, and for his gand finale presented a parrot who, he announced, "will now perform the greatest feet of magic in the history of prestidigitation." -------All eyes turned to the parrot; drums rolled; trumpets blew -- and suddenly a tremendous wave smashed the ship in two. The passengers found themselves thrashing in the water, clinging to bits of flotsam. As the parrot floated by, one man fixed a cold stare on him and said bitterly, "Nu? Was this chachma?"
>> "Miss MacKenzie: a female who will "do it"; a young lady who is loved by all."
Very interesting! There's a humorous poet I love who wrote in the first decade of the 1900's -- very obscure, because he made the great career-mistake of dying very young. I wonder whether, when he choose the name "MacKenzie" for a female in one of his poems (initial stanzas below), he had this bit of yiddish in mind. Probably so, judging by the line I highlighted.
quote:Matilda Maud Mackenzie / frankly hadn't any chin, Her hands were rough, her feet she / turned invariably in; Her general form was Geman, By which I mean that you Her waist could not determine To within a foot or two: And not only did she stammer, But she used the kind of grammar That is called, for sake of euphony, askew.
From what I say about her, / don't imagine I desire A prejudice against this / worthy creature to inspire. She was willing, she was active, She was sober, she was kind, But she never looked attractive And she hadn't any mind! I knew her more than slightly, And I treated her politely When I met her, but of course I wan't blind!
last night on Jeopardy! a college guy, for his anecdote, said he still has his baby blanket. and that it is intact. not just a square of cloth safety pinned inside his jacket. and he keeps it for a good luck charm. it is yellow. no doubt it is.
ladies, if i never was glad i'm not a college age girl anymore, i am now. you know where this kind of pablum comes from. this generation with their "time out", etc. if a guy had had a blankie in his dorm room when i was in college, he would have been....i want to say killed, but, really, everybody was so busy getting stoned, they probably would have just laughed themselves to death over blankie. then used it to wipe up spilt bong water.
quote:Shmate Old rag My son carried around a blanket everywhere he went. Naturally, it became old, torn, and dirty. We called it his shmate--quite a perfect name for it.
My son, now 23, still has a baby blanket that was a gift from his aunt when she was in Korea. I had it at my house while he spent three years in the army, and after he would be home for a visit, I would find it neatly folded on the end of the guest bed. When he got out of the service, and got his own apartment, it was the first thing I boxed up! I haven't seen it since!
tsatske: a delicious word, pronounced to rhyme with "pots the". Diminutive form tsatskeleh. If you can't do the "ts" sound at the start, then change each of the ts's to a ch and say "chotchke".
1. A cheap plaything, trinket or geegaw, as "Give the baby a tsatske to keep it quiet." But the more important use, by extension: 2. A cute but inconsequential female; a sexy but brainless broad; a dumb blonde; the female equivalent of a "boy toy".
As the fur salesman was wrapping up the mink coat for a gentleman and his pretty young lady friend, the tsatske suddenly asked if the mink would be damaged if she were caught in the rain. "Lady", he replied, "did you ever see a mink carrying an umbrella?"
After yiddish words of negative connotation, it's time for the highest compliment yiddish has to offer.
mensh (rhymes with "bench"): 1. An upright, honorable, decent person. "Come on, act like a mensh!" 2. Someone of consequence; someone to admire and emulate; someone of noble character. "Now, there is a real mensh!"
The finest thing you can say about a man is that he is a mensh. Jewish children often hear the admonition: "Behave like a mensh!" The most withering comment one might make on on someone's character or conduct is, "He is not (or did not act like) a mensh!"
It has nothing to do with success, wealth, status. A judge can be a zhlob; a millionaire can be a momzer; a professor can be a shlemiel, a doctor a klutz, a lawyer a bulvon. The key to being "a real mensh" is nothing less than character: rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous. Many a poor man, many an ignorant man, is a mensh.
>> Jewish, but red-haired and freckled! Irish milkman, perhaps? _______________________________________________________________
Asa, your kidding may be close to the mark here. I recall hearing long ago that the the arab langauges of the middle east, the word for a "red-head" literally means throwback, one presuming that some crusader from the 1200's was one of the redhead's ancestors.
Lenny Bruce, when asked why he used so much Yiddish in his comedy, replied : "Yiddish is intrinsically hip. It's the only language in history never used by anyone in a position of power." What a hoot. Personally, I've always preferred Yiddish because all the words are onomatopoeic . After all, "schtupping" sounds like exactly what it IS...*ahem* TC. P.S. - Wonderful site. I've succeeded in wiling away most of an afternoon here.
quote:Originally posted by wordcrafter: tsatske: ... 1. A cheap plaything, trinket or geegaw, as "Give the baby a tsatske to keep it quiet." But the more important use, by extension: 2. A cute but inconsequential female; a sexy but brainless broad; a dumb blonde; the female equivalent of a "boy toy"."
World Wide Words (Quinion) gives a more extended discussion and a somewhat different meaning. Mr. Quinion denies the 2nd meaning given above. I recently exchanged e-mail with Mr. Quinion, and we concluded that that usage may be characteristic of an older generation only. I've heard it; his copy-editor, who is younger than I (sigh), had not.
Quinion, noting the first meaning of "a trinket, ornament, or souvenir," adds, "To non-Jews in America it has most commonly come to mean those promotional items that are handed out at trade shows."
quote:Originally posted by Asa Lovejoy: Even though I am Jewish, I am still called a "Shikse" because of my blonde hair and blue eyes.
Not to be a k'nocker here, Asa, but who's calling you a shikse, because here in Chicago, and elsewhere, it's a term used for a gentile woman. BTW, "shiksa", if my memory serves, literally means "undesirable".
On another note "tsatske" can also be pronounced with a long e sound at the end: sounds like "pots key" (with due respect to Mr. Roston)
On even another note I highly reccommend (read: kvell) "The Joys of Yiddish" by Leo Roston. I found it at a garage sale about 2 summers ago. I've read through it a few times and find it a great "library" read. If you catch my drift.
If posting off-topic stuff is bad behavior, I confess that in my attempt to learn something about Chicago neighborhoods I diverged from the "Yiddish Words" topic.
So I'll now tell my Yiddish Words story. When I lived in Buenos Aires I frequently bought cigarettes and other things from the old woman who ran the kiosko near where I worked. She and I always spoke in Spanish. One day I noticed that the newspaper she was reading was printed in Hebrew script. I said, "I used to know how to say thank you in Hebrew (to-dah ra-bah) but I've forgotten it. How is it said?" She said what sounded like "Danke schane." Then from another friend I learned that that newspaper was "Die Jiddische Tageblat," so for a while I spoke to that lady with my limited German. And then one day she said, "Usted habla muy bien el yidich," and I said, "Danke shane."
quote:Originally posted by palefox: The link was valid from my computer, but the address was wrong so I corrected that.
It worked that time. Thanks, palefox. My suggestion is for those so inclined to post maps of their neighborhoods. There's no need to post your address unless you wish to. Here's mine. And here's the aerial photo. Shoreline is north of 145th St.; Seattle is south.
The confusion over how to transliterate Hebrew letter ח cheth, so as not to confuse it with ה he or כ kaph, sans dagesh, or even ק qoph is a thorny problem. Even the צ tsdik is problematic. Some like tz and others tz. The Wikipedia article on the romanization of Hebrew gives a good overview (link).
The problem with using a ch in the transliteration for the word khutspah (how I'd transliterate it) is that many Anglophones think it's the same as the /tʃ/ in church.
The pronunciation of Hebrew cheth varies by region (and historically). It can be realized as a voiceless velar fricative [x] (similar to a Spanish j or g in certain environments link) or farther back in the vocal tract as a pharyngeal fricative [ħ] as with the Sephardi and Yemenite speech communities (link).