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AWADmail Issue 79

May 10, 2002

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Gita Pearl (gitagerryATsympatico.ca)
Subject: Yiddish

Isaac Bashevis Singer was once asked why he continued to write in Yiddish, a dying language. Singer answered, yes Yiddish may be a dying language, but in the Yiddish tradition, from dying to dead is a long long way.

From: A. Arun (arumugham_arunATacer.co.in)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chutzpah

The word Chutzpah is forever entrenched in my mind, as at a school quiz, the meaning of the word was illustrated thus - "Can be used to describe a person who kills both his parents and claims sympathy on the grounds of being an orphan" Gory, but brings out the meaning.

From: Julio Costa (costajulioATyahoo.com)
Subject: chutzpah

The Reader's Digest recently had a list of new, alternative meanings for existant words, and one that tickled me was:

Oyster- One who intersperses his speech with Yiddish expressions.

From: Wilhelm Maurer (wilhelm_maurerATmentorg.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chutzpah

I think, the meaning of Chuzpe (as it is spelled in German) implies also topping an already bad / shameless / impudent / ... behaviour. One well-known definition of chuzpe in Austria is: Chuzpe has somebody who goes into the opera house wearing just a bathing suit, and deposits it at the wardrobe.

From: Jacob Gammelgaard (j-b-gammelgaardATos.dk)
Subject: Chutzpah

Several years ago, I heard a delightful story about Isaac B. Singer's explanation of the word chutzpa, allegedly on the occasion of his receiving the Nobel prize. The veracity I cannot vouch for, but it doesn't detract from the story: Singer was telling an audience about the difficulties of rendering Yiddish into any other language, and that some words were in fact untranslatable. As an example Singer picked the word chutzpa, saying that being an untranslatable word he was unfortunately not in a position to explain what it meant, but he could offer a story as an illustration. Singer went on to tell that during his childhood, his parents would often take him on housevisits, a frequent destination being the home of one Jewish writer by name of Joseph Kowalski. In this house the young Singer came across a Yiddish-language book with the following title: "Hamlet - by William Shakespeare. Edited, Enlarged and Improved by Joseph Kowalski." This, Singer told his audience, is chutzpah.

    It's easy to confirm that he didn't tell the story but it's a great story nonetheless. Here's the text of his speech. -Anu

From: Chris Strolin (haveaknifedayATyahoo.com)
Subject: Chutzpah

No definition of the wonderful word "chutzpah" is complete without a retelling of the classic story of the woman walking on a beach with her young son one winter's day. Without her noticing, a wave sweeps the child into the icy waters. A very old man does see this but, unable to attract her attention, runs several hundred yards to the water's edge, dives into the icy water, and swims furiously against the tide to finally reach and rescue the now semi-conscious toddler. Returning to the beach and near death himself, he drops to the sand exhausted as the child begins to breathe weakly on his own. In the meantime, the mother has noticed her child missing and has returned to retrieve him. Looking down at the old man, she snarls "He HAD a hat!" That's chutzpah, at least in the original sense of the word.

From: Jon Siegel (siegelATomg.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chutzpah

One Jewish wag (possibly the humorist Sam Levenson, well-known in the 60s and 70s) defined Chutzpah as "Enough gall to be divided into three parts".

From: Michael Klossner (mklossneATuno.asl.lib.ar.us)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mensch

In 1991 Bill Clinton was in New York doing radio talk shows, trying to convince New York voters that in spite of being from Arkansas he was not an ignorant backwoodsman. One of his tactics was a joke in which the talk show host asked him "What does 'bubba' mean?" and he answered "It's Southern for 'mensch'", thus proving he was au courant with New York talk.

From: Danielle Kichler (dkichlerATvmsinfo.com)
Subject: kvetch

An alternative definition for kvetch is someone who, when asked "How are you?" tells you, usually at great length and in full detail.

From: Isola Gernot (gufiATchello.at)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--kvetch

In Austrian vernacular we also have the noun "Quetschn" for accordion, of course referring both to the squeezing movement when playing it and the whinging sound it makes.

From: Joel Glaser (jsglaserATpol.net)
Subject: kvetch

According to no less an authority than my 'bubbe' from Minsk, 'kvetch' also refers to a sob or catch of breath, not so much whining but tearful and sad. Master Gypsy and Eastern European violinists incorporate such 'gasps' as musical expressions of pain.

From: Tonia Grundy (tonia.grundyATdpi.qld.gov.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--schlep

In the book, "Reaper Man" by comic fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, there is a character called Schleppel, who's a bogeyman. Unfortunately he's agoraphobic and frightened of coming out of the closet - if I remember correctly, he ends up carrying a door around with him to hide behind.

From: Paul R. Hughes (phughesATspeakeasy.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--schlep

I discovered a few months ago that some Germans--ever the expert word combiners--occasionally refer to laptop computers as "schleptops".

From: Dr. Richard Gorman (rfgormanATsympatico.ca)
Subject: shlep

There is another connotation to "shlep": to have influence, e.g. "He got his kid into the programme because he has shlep with the Board."

From: Frederic W. Gleach (fwg1ATcornell.edu)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--schlep

Several weeks ago, in a week of words from Russian, the AWAD entry was 'troika.' During the Second World War the Nazis experimented with military gliders (as did several other nations), and one model developed was an enormous transport, intended to deliver troops or equipment silently to a battlefield. The sticking point with gliders, of course, is how to get them into the air, and the usual solution is for a tow-plane to pull them aloft. There apparently was no plane adequate to tow this monstrous glider, however, so they developed a very dangerous technique using three planes harnessed to one glider. Given the source, I always found it amusing that the term for this arrangement was a 'troika-schlep'!

From: Jonathan Steiger (jmsteigerATftc.gov)
Subject: Yiddish words

I know the AWAD community is a "cut above," but I will be very curious to see the reaction to your choice of a Yiddish theme, given the hate mail that NPR received for its Yiddish series. The media reports on that reaction were very interesting, as one would assume that NPR listeners are pretty well-educated. I hope, when you prepare your newsletter, that you share whether you experienced similar backlash. It would be heartening to learn that there are international communities that can still stand to hear something related to Judaism. But it would be equally important to learn that such is not the case.

    I did receive a few messages of protest. A couple of subscribers even signed off. But as stories in this issue illustrate, most enjoyed it. It shows that like fingers on a hand, it takes all kinds to make menschkind. -Anu

From: Edythe Preet (epreetATcox.net)
Subject: Yiddishisms

Yiddish has crept into English but it's American English rather than the Queen's own that has been enriched. I spent three years Down Under and was continually translating those you've included as well as Kosher, mavin, ganiff, and my fave Yiddishism of all - schlep. Bagels and biallys have not grabbed a slice of food fame there either and though there were croissants aplenty not one knish could be found in all of Sydney. Oi-oi-oi.

From: Tom Carter (tcarterATroundcorners.com)
Subject: Re: Yiddish words

Many words have been borrowed by the English from other languages. In the same way the British Empire "borrowed" countries, will we one day be forced to return these words to their rightful owners in a process reminiscent of Hong Kong and India?

Surely this should be established before use of these words becomes too prolific.

    The borrowed words are not returned but it works in-kind. There is hardly any language English hasn't borrowed from, and also almost all living languages have at least a few terms derived from English. -Anu

From: Hershl Hartman (hershlATearthlink.net)
Subject: I.B. singer's error (Re: chutzpah)

Your Word-A-Day introduction to Yiddish included a quote from I.B. Singer's Nobel address that was grievously in error.

In the fourteen years since I.B. Singer's Nobel Prize speech, I've been trying to correct his egregiously erroneous statement that Yiddish "possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics ..."

Linguistically, Singer's assertion implies that Yiddish is an archaic language, possessing no vocabulary for "modern" concepts while the truth is that Yiddish developed neologisms for every branch of science and technology and, more recently, for every aspect of computer and Internet technology. (I'm sending this message via _blitspost_ - lit., lightning mail.)

In an historical/ideological sense, Singer tried to indicate that Yiddish speakers were/are incapable of military action. The many hundreds of Yiddish-speaking volunteers in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and the thousands of resistance fighters and partisans in WWII give the lie to that calumny.

Nahum Stuchkoff's magisterial Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language (oytser fun der yidisher shprakh) has more than two columns of words in the category "Weapons" (vofn) and almost SIX columns of words in the category "War" (milkhome). By contrast, Roget's "Super Thesaurus" (Writer's Digest Books, 1998) has mere handfuls of entries in each of those categories, while "The New Roget's Thesaurus" (Putnam's, 1978) has only two-thirds of a column under "Arms."

So, here are the words that Singer claimed Yiddish doesn't possess. They include words from the major sources of Yiddish lexicography: Hebraic, Germanic, Slavic, and Romance (esp., French-origin words that became "international"). Note that most had equivalents in the 18th-19th centuries, now considered obsolete.

Weapons - gever, kley-zayin, vofn
Ammunition - amunitsye (obs.: voyener zapas)
Military exercises - militerishe ibungen, genitungen; (obs.:soldatn mushtir)
War tactics - milkhome taktik (obs.: krigs-listikeyt)

Hershl Hartman
Education Director
The Sholem Community

From: Ann Krueger (aekruegerATmail.meer.net)
Subject: Thank you

Thank you for your word-a-day, and quotes. I teach creative writing at a maximum security prison in West Virginia and I have been sharing the words and quotes with the members of my group. They are not permitted access to the Internet. They are most enthusiastic about your service. In fact they are using the words and quotes in the in-house prison paper. Thank you again from the inmates and myself.

A language is a dialect that has an army and a navy. -Max Weinreich, linguist and author (1894-1969)

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