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Aug 20, 2023
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Words borrowed from Yiddish

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AWADmail Issue 1103

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

Sponsor;s Message: “Steal this!” One Up! is the wickedest word game in the world. And now it’s absolutely FREE. Instant download.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

AI Could Make it Less Necessary to Learn Foreign Languages
The Economist

Do Languages Become Less Complex With More New Adult Speakers? Research Shows It’s Not That Simple
The Conversation

The Dream Was Universal Access to Knowledge. The Result Was a Fiasco.
The New York Times

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Words from Yiddish

It made us a little verklempt to see how much our readers cherished the week of words borrowed from Yiddish. Your shared memories -- like those of Yiddish-speaking aunts or grandparents playfully pinching cheeks while saying “shayne punim” -- truly brought the language to life. We were equally thrilled to discover terms from your stories, including phrases like “Tuchus afn tish” (Put up or shut up).

There was some kvetching as well, about the earliest documented use and pronunciations. For example, Julianne Hirsh of Brooklyn, New York (jajbhirsh1 optonline.net), wrote: “What do you mean by ‘Earliest documented use: 1965’? I’m 83 years old and I heard my mother use punim when I was a child.”

Your experience and memories are valid and deeply valued, but the keyword here is “documented”. Etymologists still have to go by the evidence currently on hand. As more resources, such as old books and recordings, become available digitally, we’ll be able to push the earliest documented use back in time. It’s essential to note here that when we mention the earliest documented use, we are referring to its use in English.

This brings us to the second point, about pronunciations, which brought a bunch of emails. Sandy Bogin of Old Saybrook, Connecticut (sbogin18 gmail.com), for example, wrote: “You need to get someone who knows how to pronounce Yiddish and Hebrew for the mishpocha series! Happy to volunteer!” Thank you for your generous offer. To clarify, we list the pronunciation as the word is used in English, not in the language it’s borrowed from. A lot happens as words travel across languages. For example, in English we enjoy champagne as (sham-PAYN), even though in French it is (shon-pahn-ye). And the challenge of conveying sounds in a written form, including nasal syllables, is another issue altogether.

Keep your comments and stories (and complaints) coming. It’s a joy and privilege to read them.

From: Frank Imhoff (frankimhoff netscape.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--schemozzle

Ha! I thought for “Usage” you were going to say:
Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!

Frank Imhoff, St. Charles, Illinois

From: Lucy Kashangaki (lkashangaki gmail.com)
Subject: punim

When I was a little girl, my Yiddish-speaking grandma used to say I had a shayne punim like the girl in your illustration, as she pinched my fat cheeks.

Lucy Kashangaki, Princeton, New Jersey

From: Bruce Floyd (brucefloyd bellsouth.net)
Subject: A thought for today

Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. -Russell Baker, columnist and author (14 Aug 1925-2019)

“Our species is prone to a flattering view of itself. Humans have regarded themselves as the pinnacle of creation, formed by and in the image of an omniscient and omnipotent God, and inhabiting a planet at the center of the universe -- a planet around which all others revolve. Science has done much to debunk some of these ideas. We now know that our planet is not at the center of the universe: the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. And we know -- or at least some of us do -- that we are Johnny-come-lately products of a long, blind evolutionary process.”
-David Benatar

“We have long since been denizens of the natural world. Everywhere around us are natural habitats, but within us is the shiver of startling and dreadful things. Simply put: We are not from here. If we vanished tomorrow, no organism on this planet would miss us. Nothing in nature needs us.”
-Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

“This is the main argument of my book, and in the following chapters I want to try to show exactly how this comes about, how man’s impossible hopes and desires have heaped evil in the world.”
-Last sentence in the introduction of Ernest Becker’s book Escape From Evil

“It saddens me,” said a friend of mine, “to think of what we’ve done to our planet and the creatures who share it with us.” He’s a deep pessimist, but one who is gregarious, blessed with a sense of humor. He no brooding misanthrope.

Would not an objective observer, an omniscient entity, having spent millennia studying us and our actions say, perhaps, that in our attempt to solve the human condition, fueled by the zeal of the ideologue, nothing we have done has profited the earth?

We kill ourselves with zest. We pillage and rapε and despoil. We pollute the once pristine waters, we poison the air, we butcher the land. Yes, I know: we are, some say, just a bit away from being angels, shaped in the image of God, somehow different from the other species that share the world with us. But can anyone honestly say that our kind has been a benefit and a blessing for the Earth and its other creatures?

With David Benatar and Thomas Ligotti, I sometimes think that the earth would be a better place were we not here. J. A. Baker’s book, “The Peregrine” shows the baleful effects of humans on nature, how intended good transmogrifies into bad. For example, the chemical DDT was supposed to kill insects that impeded agriculture, and killed the mosquitoes that caused malaria. It killed the insects, but it also led to the near eradication of some magnificent species of birds, such as eagles, by thinning the egg shells of their offspring. Thank God for Rachel Carson.

Baker discusses the disastrous effects of DDT on the peregrine population. We can recall many “things” that were supposed to be good but ended up being bad. Thalidomide comes to mind. Plastic comes to mind. The seas choke on it. Many people fear the maleficent effects of artificial intelligence. Some of my fellow veterans (I was an infantryman in the US Army from 1964-1967, during that dustup in Southeast Asia) suffer the sequelae of Agent Orange, the chemical which is supposed to help the soldier but ends up ravaging his health. In short, if a do-gooder shows up at your door, run.

The search for perfection, the obsession for doing the good, especially for the “unenlightened” others, often leads to the gates of Auschwitz.

Bruce Floyd, Florence, South Carolina

From: Steven A. Ludsin (ludsin gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ooftish

I have always liked the companion to ooftish. “Tuchus afn tish” means putting your posterior on the table, as in making a commitment and showing you’re serious. I guess ooftish is putting your money on the table to provide collateral but putting your tuchus down means you’re all in.

Steven A. Ludsin, East Hampton, New York

From: Joan Perrin (perrinjoan aol.com)
Subject: narrischkeit

When I was a child, I remember reading a humorous story called The Wise Men of Chelm. It was an old Yiddish folktale about a Polish town that was solely populated by village idiots. They would solve perplexing problems by the dumbest solution possible. The perfect example of the word narrischkeit.

Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York

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From: Ron Brawer (ronnierayb gmail.com)
Subject: Yidishkeit

When I was little and spending weekends with the grandparents, they spoke German when talking about stuff they didn’t want me to hear, until they realized I could understand enough German to get the drift. At which point they switched to Yiddish when talking about dark family secrets, relatives who didn’t survive the Holocaust, or Jews in the news accused of crime -- a ganze schande!

Of course Yiddish, being close enough to German, was an easy learn. They then switched to Polish. End of story: no way could I understand Polish.

Ron Brawer, New York, New York

From: Sandra Tessler (sandytessl gmail.com)
Subject: Yiddish words

My Mother was a first-generation American. Yiddish was her first language, so when a group of women who were writing a play in Yiddish couldn’t find the word for disappointed, they consulted her.

She, in turn, went to the source, and called her mother, my bubbe. In Yiddish she asked, “Ma, let’s say I told you that Louie and I were going to come to Cleveland (from Detroit) in time for dinner Friday night and you made brisket and chicken soup and kneidlach and coffee cake. Then I called Friday afternoon and said we couldn’t make it, how would you feel?” “Oy, Fraydel,” my bubbe despaired, “Ich bin zer disappointed.” Of all the descriptive words in Yiddish, that one didn’t exist.

Sandra Tessler, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

From: Rochelle Winer (rochelwiner gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--punim

Thanks for the lovely Yiddish words this week. I speak fluent Yiddish and we have a Zoom programme, all in Yiddish, every two weeks.

Rochelle Winer, Durban, South Africa

From: Johnson Flucker (johnson.flucker yale.edu)
Subject: Yiddish Words

My favorite Yiddish words -- made known to me from Ed Begley Jr’s brief but impactful panegyric in A Mighty Wind -- include nachas, mishpocha, geschrei, vilde chaya, spilkes, mitzvah, and kinehora. Hear the entire catalogue of these all-too-neglected loan-words here (video, 1 min).

Johnson Flucker, Trumbull, Connecticut

Generation Gap
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Ooftish and Narrischkeit

Since the early 20th century, American Jews have maintained the Hanukkah tradition of giving chocolate gelt, or ooftish, to young children. Usually packaged in a string-mesh bag, each coin consists of a disc of chocolate wrapped in shiny gold (sometimes silver) foil, with either an embossed menorah or Star of David. In the 1920s, the venerable Loft Candies, Inc. of NYC was the first chocolate gelt manufacturer in the US.

Trump Doubles Down on the Big Lie
As the most likely 2024 GOP presidential nominee, Trump continues to perpetuate his Big Lie, an amalgam of a litany of smaller lies. Excluding his diehard base of delusional believers, who take as gospel whatever poppycock Trump preaches, the majority of American voters regard his constant stream of lies as pure balderdash.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


This week’s theme: Words borrowed from Yiddish
1. Schemozzle
2. Punim
3. Mishpocha
4. Ooftish
5. Narrischkeit
= 1. Commit craziest deeds, mishmosh
2. Phiz
3. Which is Hebrew for kinsmen or trustier folk
4. Dosh, wad
5. Phooey
= 1. Heck! Disorder, chaos
2. Hmm... her face
3. Mom’s tribe
4. Money with ritz
5. No whiz-kid
   PS: Worse, he’s foolish, stupid
-Julian Lofts, Auckland, New Zealand (jalofts xtra.co.nz) -Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)
This week’s theme: Words borrowed from Yiddish
1. Schemozzle
2. Punim
3. Mishpocha
4. Ooftish
5. Narrischkeit
= 1. Whirlwind of doom
2. The head
3. The cousins from my mom’s side
4. Prize checks to shop with
5. Bizarre shrieks
= 1. Disorder, skirmish (in whizz mode?)
2. Portrait which shows best face
3. Mum’s herd
4. Pocket money
5. Foolish, eh?
-Josiah Winslow, Franklin, Wisconsin (winslowjosiah gmail.com) -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)

Make your own anagrams and animations.



Poor Irving was such a schlimazel,
He caused quite a needless schemozzle.
When a crowd gathered by,
He cried to the sky,
“Oh, why don’t I have any mazel!”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Like the spray from a fire hose nozzle,
I spout lies to create a schemozzle,”
Says Donald. “Most Jews
Say, ‘Oy vey! It’s fake news!’
Netanyahu, though, wishes me mazel.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


If your face was your fortune, I’d guess
That’s a punim with much to confess.
Things went wrong down the line --
Was it women and wine?
That would do it, if done to excess.
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

“A shayne punim!” is what’s said,
With a smile and tilt of the head,
By your grandma or gramps
Who pinch cheeks -- boy, they’re champs!
And will do that until they are dead!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

His beautiful punim she’d squeeze.
He’d say to her. “Stop, Granny, please!
Oh, pinch me no more,
For I’m now twenty four,
And you’re making me feel ill at ease.”
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

You dress up in costumes on Purim.
When Haman you see, you just boo him.
When Esther appears,
You hear praise and loud cheers,
For she has a sweet shayne punim.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“When judges say ‘Trump, shut your punim,’
I pull down my shorts and I moon ‘em,”
Says Donald. “Kapow!
That’s called free speech, and how!
Like a comic book hero, I’m zoomin’!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


She met his mishpocha, and oy!
That meeting she didn’t enjoy.
His folks were abrasive
With questions invasive,
Like “What have you done to our boy?”
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

My mishpocha, they really are sweet,
And so often we go there to eat.
They make Christmas dinner.
My seder’s a winner.
But a grandchild would make it complete.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

On a mushroom, alone, no mishpocha,
Sat an arthropod gent with a hookah.
To a girl, her face long,
He inquired, “What’s wrong?”
“There’s no smoking,” she answered, or shoulda.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


I buy ev’rythin’ cash on the nail.
And with ooftish, you get the best sale.
Never go into debt!
There’s a much safer bet.
Buy it cheap, sell it quick -- it can’t fail!
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

To lawyers some ooftish Trump owes --
Attorneys one pays through the nose!
But when Trump is indicted,
His base gets excited --
Their cash to his legal fund goes.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Said the beggar, “Sir, have you some ooftish?
I needn’t buy steak, just a soup dish.”
“But you’ll spend it on pοrn,”
Said Mike Pence. “I’m reborn
In the church; Jesus tells us, ‘Be prudish.’”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


“It’s all narrischkeit -- surely you see‽”
“How’d you plead, then, on each of the three?”
“I’m not guilty of fraud,
Nor of bribing that broad.”
“And the tampering?” “That wasn’t me.”
-Tony Holmes, Launceston, UK (tony_holmes54 outlook.com)

I told you I loved you last night?
And that marriage was clearly in sight?
Well, you know I was drunk
And deep down I’m a skunk.
What I said was complete narrischkeit.
-Rudy Landesman, New York, New York (ydur36 hotmail.com)

No nonsense would Father allow.
We’d sing until he’d have a cow.
“That damn beer on the wall
Isn’t funny at all --
Please knock off the narrischkeit now!”
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Trump as President? That’s narrischkeit!
Prosecution he surely will fight,
But will end behind bars!
And no leader of ours
Has a house that’s a jail, ‘stead of white!
-Bindy Bitterman, Chicago, Illinois (bindy eurekaevanston.com)

“Och aye, I’ll be no Jacobite;
For trouble I’ve no appetite.
We Macallans, Prince Charlie,
Make whisky from barley;
Rebellion, you say? Narrischkeit!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


The postman feared Sparky, and insisted to the owner that shemozzle her dog before he’d deliver her mail.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“Guys, Yahweh’s really pιssed about this golden calf thing,” said Moses. “Maybe saying a bunch of schemozzle calm Him down,” offered Aaron.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

She looked at the sky thinking,”Oh, punim-bus clouds might mean it will rain today.”
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrin Joan aol.com)

“My followers can’t swallow my snake oil fast enough. What lies’ll we s-punim today?” Donald asked his fundraising chief.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“I mishpucha-lot,” said Oberon after a few drinks. “Where’d he go after that hilarious business with the love potion?”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“If you win your case, Trump’s whole empire will go p-ooftish,” said the New York State Attorney General’s advisor.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“It’s no sp-ooftisch School of the Arts NYU sent you an acceptance letter!” she told her incredulous daughter.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

“We narrischkeit-s wit’ rodents ‘n’ lizuhds,” explained the Boston Aviary dietitian.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Keeping it Kosher
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Keeping it Kosher

Gefilte fish (aka “the pescaterian meatloaf”) is an Ashkenazi Jewish staple enjoyed at the weekly Shabbat meal and most major Jewish holy days, consisting of ground fish (usually whitefish, carp, or pike), matzo meal, chopped onions and eggs. After being poached in a seasoned broth, the log-shaped roll is sliced into individual patties, each garnished with a nub of carrot and a sprig of parsley. Observant Jews follow kosher dietary laws. So curiously, on holidays and Shabbat it’s forbidden to debone fish. Who knew? Thus, the prior preparation of the fish, chopped into small, boneless bits.
Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed, and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon. -George D. Aiken, US senator (20 Aug 1892-1984)

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