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AWADmail Issue 113February 15, 2004
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Jon Lasser (jonATlasser.org)
In the wise words of Wordsmith:
Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, is reported to have said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse." One wonders how he would have completed, "and Yiddish to..."To his mother-in-law, of course!
From: David W. Tamkin (dattierATpanix.com)
"... and Yiddish to my conscience," of course.
Whether that means he'd speak Yiddish to confess his true emotions or to defend his rationalizations is just the kind of ambiguity needed to finish that sentence.
From: Larry Goldman (lgoldmanATcsupomona.edu)
Oy Vay! Will you get comments this week! Like maybe definitions: Oyster--a person who uses a lot of Yiddish expressions (now, with your help).
Or maybe stories like the dyslexic rabbi out here in California who goes around saying "Yo!"
Okay, sorry for this bunch of schlock.
From: Andrew Pressburger(andrew.pressburgerATprimus.ca)
Celebrity boxing indeed is nothing new. There is, for example, the famous bout between Hemingway and his Canadian fellow pugilist and "lost generation" expat Morley Callaghan during That Summer in Paris (the title of one of Callaghan's books), celebrated in a TV mini-series a year ago by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
According to legend, the encounter was refereed by none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, all three of them participating in this more than serious prank as a publicity gimmick, presumed to result in increased sales of their books. Hemingway, it is said, never forgave Morley for flooring him with a left hook (or some such), and the two friends gradually grew apart from then on.
From: Dennis Carr (denniscATltdgi.com)
Phudnik: a nudnik with a PhD.
From: Teri Rosen (teri.rosenAThunter.cuny.edu)
Great choice of Yiddish words this week. As to "nudnick," I remember having learned its meaning, along with the meaning of two other, related Yiddish words, from the following explanation:
A "schlemiel" is the guy most likely to spill the wine at dinner.
From: Gloria Ginzach (ginzachATyahoo.com)
In Israel, "nudnik" is also the term used for the snooze button on the alarm clock.
From: Eleanor Tillman (nunnaATcharter.net)
I'm happy to know we are learning Yiddish words this week. My favorite town in all the world, Savannah, GA, is just a short distance from where I live. There is an old saying about Savannah: "The Irish run it, the Jews own it, and the Protestants enjoy it!" I have so many wonderful Jewish friends over there and I've always envied their keen sense of humor, their amazing capacity to view life with a "resigned acceptance", often with an amusing twist. Here's a poem you might like:
Eleven O'clock Mass
The storm is howling out of doors,
Don't you just love America?!?
From: Yosef Bar-On (jobaronATgalon.org.il)
Here's a little story for you, somewhat about Yiddishisms.
I immigrated to Israel over 50 years ago, in 1950 and settled on a kibbutz, a collective settlement. Israel then was a small struggling state with an extremely low standard of living, rationing of basic foods etc. I remember the first day at work on the kibbutz. I was assigned to help a building worker. The work was hard and when we took a break, he asked me where I came from and why I had come. Americans were rare there in those days. I explained that I believed in Socialism and in Zionism and I was rather proud of the fact that I was able to explain my rather involved political philosophy in Yiddish which was, after all, a second language for me. He looked at me, this veteran of the concentration camps and, shaking his head, asked me, " Hust shoyn ge'essen Lebeniah?"
That stopped me short. Lebeniah was a sort of low-grade yoghurt made from Lend-Lease skimmed milk originally for the Marshal Plan. The milch cows from which the stuff was made had probably been slaughtered at least ten years before. It tasted like chalk but was a major source of protein in those days. Awful stuff. What he was saying was, who cares a fig about politics or philosophy or ideology - Living is what matters.
From: Dan Brook (brookATcalifornia.com)
Truthfully, I've been kvelling all week. Us Jews are so few in number and my mamaluschen (family's language, literally mother tongue) is spoken by even fewer of us, yet Yiddish spices up the English language and even merits a week on the wonderful A Word A Day. Thanks for making this Yiddishe yingele (Jewish little boy) feel proud!
From: Robert (robsdadATexecpc.com)
In the community of those who draft for a living and hire such individuals, the term has been in common usage for several years. Some have substituted the word "draftsperson" for "draftsman", but most would rather use the shorter, equally descriptive word.
In the spirit of the entire Wordsmith we should be readily embracing new meanings for old words, after all it is one of the ways that living languages keep alive.
From: Rip Green (ripATripg.net)
Here is the summary of answers received from the linguaphlies in response to my question in last week's AWADmail: What is stone wine in the well-known Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"?
Some sample emails:
Stone wine, stone soup: These two phrases probably refer to cold water
and hot water. Imagination makes them taste better.
Perhaps the reference is to Stone's Ginger Wine? There is a book with the
title "Stone's Ginger Wine: Fortunes of a Family Firm 1740-1990" by David
Wainwright that describes the history of the product.
Some wines from the ancient Franconian provinces of Germany, now parts
of the new Lands of Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Württemberg used to be
called "stone wines" after their original German name "Steinwein",
contained in the "Bocksbeutel" stoneware bottles they came in.
A long shot: Is it anything to do, perhaps, with wine stored in stone jars?
OED: "1928 Daily Express 5 June 4 There are few [objects] which exercise a
stronger fascination over collectors than old stone wine jugs known as
An online etymological dictionary says the following about "stone wine:"
This is kinda like Dwight Yoakam having pickles in his head. What you're
hearing as "stone wine" is actually "stone blind"...the earliest use of
"stone" as an intensifier that I can call to mind. Probably an Irish usage
since that was the song's origin.
Here in Australia we have a drink called "Stone's Green Ginger Wine", and I
understand it was originally made in stone jars. Perhaps "stone wine" is a
drink fermented in stone vessels, similar to whisky jugs. Incidentally,
Stone's Green Ginger Wine is lethal!!
I went to one of my sources, Mark Spivak, co-host of a radio wine show and
newsletter (uncorkedradio.com). He writes:
Prior to WW II I lived in a rural area in northern New Jersey on my
Grandfather"s "farm". We had an arbor on which we grew concord grapes. My
Grandfather employed an old German man as caretaker and he made a good
sweetish red wine every year, down in our musty cellar where he had an array
of three-gallon stone jugs where the fermentation process took place. We
called this stone wine. Wartime rationing ended this, of course, and old
Herman passed shortly after the war, ending our wonderful wine supply.
Wine good enough to get stoned on, perhaps?
-Alice James (alice.jamesATap.joneslanglasalle.com)
In John 2:1-11, Jesus miraculously turns the water in six stone jars
to wine. I always felt the Civil War musical reference was to the
miracle of Johnny coming home.
It could just be an illustration of the difficult time, that is, people
were so hard up that they had to make wine out of stone.
Stone wine is the same thing as "Adam's ale," water! Take it from someone
who lives in Milledgevile, the antebellum capital of Georgia.
Perhaps the words are just a mondegreen (still the best WordoftheDay!). I
didn't see them in the example song sheets given at the Library of Congress
These verses do not appear in the original form of that song, as written
by Patrick S. Gilmore. However, there is controversy over the origins of
that song, for there are two other Irish ballads with remarkably similar
melodies, from which Gilmore may have (perhaps unconsciously) borrowed
material. These are "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl" and "Johnny I hardly Knew
Ye." At least one of these, JFUTB, exists in published form prior to
Gilmore's "When Johnny Comes marching Home." Each verse of JFUTB ends
I don't know what "stone wine," is, but apparently "wine stone" is the tartar
that builds up in a wine barrel during the aging process. Or, it could be a
measurement of weight in Britain, equivalent to about 14 pounds. Fourteen
pounds of wine would probably have Johnny marching with a wee bit of a weave.
Is it possible that it refers to wine made from the stones (pits) of
peaches, cherries, or plums?
I'm just guessing, but I would like to think that "stone wine" is related
(in usage) to the term "stone soup". Everyone's heard the story of the
family so poor that they had to eat "stone soup"? Meaning, at the end of
each night's meal, another stone was added to the pot to keep the liquid
level higher, so it never ran out. Perhaps stone wine is the same thing--
some old sot got the idea to keep filling up his wine flask or bottle with
a stone or two to keep the level of wine ever-rising! Just a guess! No
etymological sleuthing here.
A language is a dialect that has an army and a navy. -Max Weinreich, linguist and author (1894-1969)