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AWADmail Issue 593

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

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From: Jana Tomkova (tomkova sovva.sk)
Subject: Bupkis

You write that it is short for kozebubkes (goat droppings), from bub/bob (bean). In my language (Slovak), we use "kozie bobky" for the same -- goat droppings. Kozie is an adjective from "koza" -- goat, "bobky" means droppings.

Jana Tomkova, Stupava, Slovak Republic

Email of the Week (Introducing ONEUPMANSHIP -- It ain't beanbag, baby!)

From: Dan Hicks (danhicks ieee.org)
Subject: bupkis

I learned the word "bupkis" from the old Dick Van Dyke show (back when it was new, in the '60s). The plot line was that Dick heard a new novelty song on the radio titled "Bupkis" and recognized the lyrics as those he'd come up with while in the Army. The song had been produced by an old Army acquaintance, so Dick tracked him down to assure that he'd get his lyric writer's royalties for the song. In the end Dick collected something like $7 -- pretty much bupkis.

No doubt the word was quite familiar to the writers on the show, several of whom were, of course, Jewish.

Dan Hicks, Byron, Minnesota

From: Charlie Cockey (czechpointcharlie gmail.com)
Subject: Bupkis

Interesting (and rather typical of the language, or dialect, or patois, or ... what *is* a good name for Yiddish itself), that the source of bupkis is not simply Germanic but also Slavic, in fact, with only very slight variations, pretty much pan-Slavic - Kozel (koziel, fem: kaza, koza, although Croatian and Macedonian for billy-goat is different).

This is also typical of Yiddish: it is full of Slavic-based words, often as here mixed with Germanic.

Curious, that even that strange "other" language Hungarian isn't that far afield with their word for a nanny-goat: Kecske, although it's actually much closer to the Slavic word for cat than goat.

Charlie Cockey, Brno, Czech Republic

From: Steve Price (sdprice510 mac.com)
Subject: schnozzle

The actor-singer Jimmy Durante (1893-1980), possessed of a prominent proboscis, was known as "Schnoz" and "The Great Schnozzola".

Steve Price, New York, New York

From: Richard S. Russell (richardsrussell tds.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--schmo

Some years back, when Tommy Thompson was governor of Wisconsin, the state constitution permitted the governor to use a so-called "partial veto" to knock out not merely provisions of laws but individual sentences, even individual words, and in one memorable case a single digit from a 7-digit appropriation. This was by far the most versatile and powerful veto power of any governor in the US, and Thompson took full advantage of it, sometimes gleefully so. An article to that effect was headlined in the Green Bay Press-Gazette as "Thompson's pen is a sword". Whether intentionally or not (nobody would ever say), the paper printed the space between "pen" and "is" at half the normal width, leading to considerable ribaldry.

Richard S. Russell, Madison, Wisconsin

Unfortunately, we have to break some words to escape prudish email filters at many schools and corporations.
-Anu Garg

From: Kate Kairoff (kate.kairoff wwu.edu)
Subject: Schmo

If "schmo" is from "schmuck"... Schmuck is from the German for jewel, and has come to mean, ahem, the family jewels. When using swear words, my grandmother would not allow us to use the word "putz" when cursing some male, but, somehow, schmuck was OK.

Kate Kairoff, Bellingham, Washington

From: Ana Maria Botero (am_botero yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--schmo

In Hebrew too, schmo is used, as you say, for a John Doe. I hear a lot of phrases like: "What's-his-name was here" (maschmo haya po), "Give it to what's-his-name" (ten et ze le maschmo), etc.

Schem: name; Schma: her name; Schmi: my name.

Ana Maria Botero-Anug, Kfar Bilu, Israel

From: Mary Treder (mct919 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dreck

My mother used to use this word a lot relative to housekeeping, and it was some number of years before I heard a commercial and realized that the company that makes vacuum cleaners was ORECK and not DRECK. I still read their logo that way.

Mary Treder, Cedaredge, Colorado

From: Barbara Niederhoff (iamthewind juno.com)
Subject: pogrom

Pogrom has a very sensory etymology. It comes from a Russian phrase meaning "by thunder" (grom = thunder) and probably well describes the experience of being attacked by a large and thunderous group.

Barbara Niederhoff, Aurora, Colorado

From: Peretz Rodman (peretz alumni.brandeis.edu)
Subject: kvetch

The basic meaning of the word has to do with constriction. A cantor, at least in the Askhenazi tradition, sometimes constricts his throat to make sobbing noises as he chants a sad passage.

In American usage, the semantics of the verb moved from the plaintive sobbing to any lament and then, by association, to complaint. (We use the verb "whine" now to describe content and not actual tone, don't we?)

In over four decades listening to contemporary Israeli Hebrew (not as a native speaker), the only use I have heard for the Yiddish term is as a noun used by plumbers to describe a twist or turn in the direction of pipes. Such a "kvetch" in the pipes might cause some constriction of water flow, especially if it gets partially or completely blocked.

Rabbi Peretz Rodman, Jerusalem, Israel

From: Hilda Perlitsh (hperlitsh aol.com)
Subject: Yiddish

Yiddish should not be characterized as a language of complaints just because there us a recent book that argues that this is the case. Rather, Yiddish is a language of nuances, poetry, onomotopeia, rich metaphors, accepting of expressions from diverse languages, and asily connecting various emotions and attitudes other than complaints related to descriptions and concepts.

Hilda Perlitsh, Winchester, Massachusetts

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

Sat, Nov 9th was the 75th commemoration of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. It is a heart-breaking example of a pogrom. On that night the Nazis and their followers destroyed hundreds of Jewish synagogues and businesses. Thousands of Jewish men were rounded up and sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Historians single out the Kristallnacht Pogrom as the formal start of the Holocaust. Thank you for including the word pogrom in this weeks Yiddish words.

Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York

From: Michael Riisager (pmichaelriisager hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--measly

Thanks to all who sent corrections in response to my comment in AWADmail Issue 590. I've submitted an amended version that has been updated on the website.

Michael Riisager, Yarmouth, Maine

As far as I'm concerned, 'whom' is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler. -Calvin Trillin, writer (b. 1935)

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