Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No need to noodge (nag)! A little Yiddish couldn't hurt!

Maureen Dowd's column in today's Times brings up one of our favorite topics: Yiddish.

Wrote Dowd: "The One, as McCain aides sardonically call Obama, glided through Afghanistan, Iraq and Jordan, girding his messianic loins for the inevitable kvetching he would face in Israel as skeptical Jews 'try to get a better sense of what’s in Obama’s kishkes.' So said Nathan Diament of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in The Daily News, defining “kishkes” as Yiddish for gut."

Kvetch (complain) goes right along with wonderful "k-" Yiddishisms like kvell (swell with pride) and kibitz (offer unwanted advice, notably during chess games).

A headline earlier this year from The Washington Post read: "The Audacity of Chutzpah"
"It took a bit of chutzpah [for Princeton professor Dan Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel] to play the anti-Semite for Obama -- but these are tense times for the senator from Audacity."

Please forgive such chutzpah (nerve, gall, supreme self-confidence) from a goy (gentile) like me, but here are some more Yiddish words that are pretty much a part of the English language -- we should be so lucky!

schlub (shlub) noun (also spelled as zhlub or zhlob) A clumsy oaf. [From Polish zhlob (blockhead, trough, manger).]
"This is ... the comedy of the schlub on the barstool who wonders when it all went wrong." Allan Brown; The Joke's Wearing a Bit Thin; The Sunday Times (London, UK) Jun 18, 2006.

All this schmagoogle (big to do) over Yiddish reminds us of the difference between a schlemiel (an unlucky bungler) and a shlemazl (an even more unlucky bungler). A schlemiel jumps out a window. He lands on the shlemazl.

Other Yiddishisms in the "sch" part of the dictionary: A schmo is a fool or a jerk, as is a schmuck. (Both actually refer to a certain body part.)

Schlock is low-quality merchandise, which some poor schnook (a stupid or unimportant person) has to schlepp (drag or haul) because some schnorrer (a beggar, or someone who wheedles others into supplying his wants) got him to do it. A comedian does his shtick (entertainment routine). A salesmen has his spiel. A shiksa (a non-Jewish girl) might be referred to as "a stick with eyes" in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story.

Albert Einstein sailed a small boat on the north shore of Long Island called Tinif, which is Yiddish for "junk." (He often got hit on the head by the boom when he came about.)

Enough already! This mishigas (craziness) is giving me shpilkes (nervous energy) and may turn me into a meshugine (a crazy person).

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