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AWADmail Issue 762A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
Sponsor’s Message: What memories does “old school” evoke in you? “Thank you” instead of “No problem”? Saddle shoes. White handkerchiefs and white gloves. A hand-written note. Hitchhiking. Let us know -- we’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Peggy Issenman (see below), as well as all you traditionistas out there a yuge chance to tell us what you miss most about the world we are losing or have already lost. You may even win some of our authentic ludic loot, to boot. ENTER The Old’s Cool Contest NOW.
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Jesse Adams-Doolittle (jdoolittle jm-a.com)
Sorry about poor Mark Poore from Santa Ana. People can always make the world a sad place but it seems to be even sadder lately with even the most mild-mannered of our fellow citizens feeling emboldened to give voice to their darkest tendencies. I take solace (and I hope you do too) from the fact that so many of your fellow Americans, and citizens of nations around the world, relish the warmth of your daily diction and your weekly wit.
My biggest regret about Wordsmith is that I don’t get to spend more time reading Wordsmith. I have bestowed countless free AWAD subscriptions upon friends, family, and foes alike! Thanks for everything; I only hope that if we keep leaning, eventually the world will lean with us!
Jesse Adams-Doolittle, Somerville, Massachusetts
Many thanks for your note. We received heartfelt words of support from readers in the US and around the world. We appreciate it -- please know that it makes a difference, even if you sent just a line. A reader sent this video (3 min.) that’s worth passing on.
We also received a few emails, such as the one below. I realize that you can’t reach everyone no matter how sincerely you try. The good thing is this country is big enough for all of us.
From: Louise Laugenour (weezer410 gmail.com)
Mark Poore says it all for so many of us. Get over it, looser.
Louise Laugenour, Albion, California
Any chance, you meant “loser”? But I could be wrong -- English is my second language.
From: Katy Capella (kl.capella gmail.com)
I’m sure you knew of the existence of this Saturday Night Live skit -- Coffee Talk with Linda Richman (24 sec.).
Nothing beats a comedian willing to poke fun at his own mother!?
Katy Capella, Asbury Park, New Jersey
From: Shirley Bershad (shirleykbershad gmail.com)
I am almost verklempt at the gift of having Yiddish words defined for me. I have heard many Yiddish words in my marriage (including verklempt). But until now I have lacked precise definitions.
Shirley Bershad, Flemington, New Jersey
From: Grant Agnew (ggttwwaa gmail.com)
How ironic that the example of usage for today’s word, potch, comes from a book called Polishing Diamonds: Bringing out the Sparkle in our Children!
In Australia, Yiddish has much less influence on English than in the USA. Here, “potch” is a word of unknown etymology and means a sort of half-formed opal. Potch may have some colour, but it lacks the fine colour play of gem-quality stones -- yet it is commonly the matrix in which precious opals are found (paraphrase of the Macquarie Dictionary).
Grant Agnew, Brisbane, Australia
From: Jane Rubinsky (jar360 verizon.net)
I grew up in a Jewish family that constantly used this term affectionately and almost mischievously. My dad would say, “I’m going to give you a potch!” when one of us kids made him laugh. To this very day (I’m 64), I give my cats a series of quick, enthusiastic pats on the rump, uttering “Potch-potch-potch-potch-potch” with each contact. (I can barely remember it, but this must have been what my dad did with our dog.) Thanks for the memory!
Jane Rubinsky, New York, New York
From: Mary Postellon (mpostellon hotmail.com)
I learned “potch” in the name of a folk dance: Potch Tanz, which involved clapping. My son learned it the hard way.
He was still of an age and size to use a highchair, and was being babysat by a friend who probably didn’t even realize she was speaking Yiddish. Finished with his lunch, he tried to climb down from the chair, but his sitter, who was busy with something else, was afraid he’d fall and ordered him to stay put or else: “Do you want a potch on the tochas?”
He didn’t know what she meant but figured if she was promising him something, he’d go for it. Wrong guess! He found out his tochas was located where he sat. (And she never babysat for me again.)
Mary Postellon, Grand Rapids, Michigan
From: Jascha Kessler (jkessler g.ucla.edu)
And, to potchka/potchke is to mess around with people or things, tasks or fact, idly or deliberately humorous, as legislators too often do with their time.
Jascha Kessler, Emeritus Professor of Modern English & American Literature, UCLA, Santa Monica, California
From: David Close (davidclosejr hotmail.com)
I first read the word “futz” in the works of Larry Niven in the 1970s. He may have started using it earlier than that. I assumed he made it up as a means to get past censorship and avoid offending the sensibilities of the time. The fact that the usage examples you cite date solely from this century doesn’t disabuse me of that notion. It’s a common tactic in science fiction; viz, the series Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, both of which had whole vocabularies of “swear words” that resembled English vulgarities, notably “frak” in Battlestar and “frel” in Farscape. I always admired these circumlocutions as elegant examples of word choices that harness the power of stark vulgarity without offending the sensibilities of the delicate.
David Close, Liaoyang, China
From: Steve Kirkpatrick (stevekirkp comcast.net)
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
We have come to a point where it is loyalty to resist, and treason to submit. -Carl Schurz, revolutionary, statesman, and reformer (1829-1906)
I am familiar with Carl Schurz’s reputation. As I was finishing dental school, I joined the US Public Health Service - Indian Health Service. I lived and worked two years in Schurz, Nevada, on the Walker River Indian Reservation, seeing members of the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes. At the time, I knew that Carl Schurz had been a public official, but I didn’t realize how much he had accomplished.
He had participated in Germany’s failed revolution of 1848, which pushed for democratic reform. The Kaiser quashed that. After Carl came to America, he met and married Margarethe Meyer Schurz, who later opened the first kindergarten in America (Watertown, Wisconsin; 1854). Carl got involved in politics, and became the first German-American elected to the US Senate. In 1876, he was appointed Secretary of the Interior, a position he held for four or five years. The Battle of the Little Big Horn had occurred a few months before his appointment, so national sentiment was running fervently against Native Americans. There was a strong push to put the Office of Indian Affairs under the War Department. As Secretary of Interior, and as a human rights activist, he knew that was wrong, and successfully blocked that. Imagine how poorly the Native Americans would have fared under the “care” of the War Department!
BTW, in John Ford’s final Western film, Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Edward G. Robinson had a small role as Carl Schurz.
Steve Kirkpatrick, Olympia, Washington
From: Gita Pearl (gitagerry sympatico.ca)
Sometime before 1970, at a Club Mediterranée in France, I was talking to a “gentil membre” and when I mentioned that I was a “dermatologue” [dermatologist] he said that he was a “schmattalogue”.
Gita Pearl, Montreal, Canada
From: Daniel B. Martin (danielbmartin earthlink.net)
Consider the lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ song Shattered.
All this chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter,
chitter-chatter ‘bout shmatta, shmatta, shmatta,
I can’t give it away on 7th Avenue
This town’s been wearing tatters ...
“7th Avenue” is a reference to the Garment District in New York City’s borough of Manhattan.
Daniel B. Martin, Apex, North Carolina
From: David Silverman (silverman.david.m gmail.com)
You stated that the first documented use of “schmatte” was in 1970. I graduated high school in 1956 in Albany, NY. At that time the term “schmatte business” was already widely used. Since I never learned to speak Yiddish I’m certain it was already spoken outside the Jewish community.
Dave Silverman, Antalya, Turkey
Please note that we list the first documented (written, audio, film, etc.) use of the word in the English language (sourced from the OED). Many readers shared similar instances of growing up while hearing parents or grandparents talking using the word schmatte. Often a word is used orally much before the documented date we list. With digitization of texts, more and more words are being antedated. See the next message.
From: Ossie Bullock (osmundbullock aol.com)
The OED is not, it seems, an authority on the absorption of Yiddish words into English, especially in America! However, it has a separate entry (with the same etymology) under the commoner UK spelling of “s[c]hmutter”, with examples back to 1959; the “schmutter” entry cross-references to the “schmatte” one, but not vice versa, oddly.
I’ve now found an even earlier example from 1958, in the Jewish Chronicle.
Ossie Bullock, London, UK
From: Karen Bradley (nanipop119 gmail.com)
This for the conservative Christian... “Your righteousness is as filthy shmattes.” Isaiah 64:6
Karen Bradley, North Syracuse, New York
From: Zirel Handler (zirel fairpoint.net)
So much time and space, too many words wasted on POTUS-created chaos. Yiddish offers a one-word comment: putz.
Zirel Handler, Savannah, Georgia
From: Peggy Issenman (peggy peggyandco.ca)
As a Humanistic (& Culinary) Jew, I often sprinkle my conversations with Yiddish. Sometimes, I find that friends use Yiddish words in odd ways, i.e. “It is a schmucky day today.” I then go to explain what the word schmuck really means and it doesn’t pertain to the weather! But I am at fault too, and have only figured out that the jam company Smuckers isn’t pronounced Schmuckers! At least, I can blame it on my Montreal accent.
Peggy Issenman, Halifax, Canada
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Canadian-born-and-bred comedian Mike Myers often had circa 1989-95 Saturday Night Live in-studio audiences and millions in TV Land wrapped in stitches with his wiseacre Wayne Campbell character (Wayne’s World), his black-leather-clad, frenetic, dancing Teutonic lounge lizard, Dieter (Sprockets), and Dr. Evil, the bald-pated, malevolent schemer with his cloying hairless pet feline... and that annoying extended pinky finger.
But for me, his verklempt prone, chatty “Coffee Talk” host, Linda Richman, with her Brooklyn Jewish-inflected accent was my favorite of all Myers’s signature SNL regular sketch roles.
Here, in my illustration, Myers, in drag, as Linda Richman, is having a verklempt moment, while her bemused guest, Peanuts Charlie Brown, assumes a decidedly quizzical air.
Back in my early ’70s art school days at The Ontario College of Art, downtown Toronto, I was within short walking distance from both Chinatown, to the east, and what we fondly referenced as the Spadina Ave. “schmatte district” to the west, dominated by block-upon-block of mostly Jewish-owned clothing manufacturers and their requisite legion of expert tailors, designers, seamstresses, and the like.
So my drawing hopefully captures a typical old-school Jewish tailor at his schmatte craft, literally measuring up one of his regular customers.
Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
I expected he'd be a sore loser
It is hard not to get all verklempt
I returned from long travels unkempt
“On his taxes I’m sure he must yentz,”
My behavior always top-notch,
“If you think my appointees are nuts,”
A balagan of a week catching a plane.
The mother said, “Oy, what’s the matta?”
We Catskills busboys had a lotta
From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
“Gunsmoke” Deputy Chester Goode after verklempt to the Long Branch Saloon.
I was cheated at poker. Yentzforth I’m not playing.
When you slap a cephalopod and it spews ink and dies, that’s the potch killing the cuttle black.
The 7’ tall violinist with gastric distress was nicknamed “HighFutz”.
“Wearing those holey clothes to synagogue! What schmatte you?”
Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma
From: Lila Smith (lila_itf hotmail.com)
Knowing your steady stream of words was coming my way every day gave me hope and allowed me to relax into feeling/watching my brain create new neural pathways back to the language/words that were buried beneath the brain damage from an auto accident. Your words were the baby steps to finding words and being able to get them out of my mouth. The aphasia began to abate as I plugged your words -- some new and many previously held -- into my vocabulary.
Thank you so much for your perseverance. While I have accepted that my brain was forever altered in the accident, I give you great credit for a good measure of improvement that allowed me to return to high functioning. Thank you so much.
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:Poor is the power of the lead that becomes bullets compared to the power of the hot metal that becomes types. -Georg Brandes, critic and scholar (4 Feb 1842-1927)