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Apr 29, 2002
This week's theme
Words borrowed from Yiddish

This week's words
chutzpah
mensch
zaftig
kvetch
schlep
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

A language is the soul of its people. This is nowhere illustrated more profoundly than in the Yiddish language, the language of Jews of eastern and central Europe and their descendants. A tongue full of wit and charm, Yiddish embodies deep appreciation of human behavior in all its colorful manifestations. The word Yiddish comes from German Judisch meaning Jewish. But it is not the same as Hebrew, even though it is written in Hebrew script.

Here's what Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer had to say about the language in his 1978 Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

"Yiddish language - a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics ... There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love. The Yiddish mentality is not haughty. It does not take victory for granted. It does not demand and command but it muddles through, sneaks by, smuggles itself amidst the powers of destruction, knowing somewhere that God's plan for Creation is still at the very beginning ... In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of frightened and hopeful Humanity."

Many of the everyday English language words such as bagel, klutz, and kibitz are terms from Yiddish. This week we'll look at a few other Yiddishisms that have enriched the English language.

chutzpah

Pronunciation RealAudio

chutzpah or chutzpa (KHOOT-spuh, HOOT-)

noun: Shameless impudence, brazen nerve, gall, effrontery.

[From Yiddish khutspe, from Late Hebrew huspa.]

"Bill Gates, the company's chairman, even had the chutzpah to say that this week's ruling was a challenge to 'healthy competition in the software industry'."
Breaking Up Microsoft; The Economist (London); Jun 10, 2000.

X-Bonus

I look for what needs to be done. ... After all, that's how the universe designs itself. -R. Buckminster Fuller, engineer, designer, and architect (1895-1983)

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