No More Doubt

1 comment September 29th, 2005at 05:41pm Posted by Eli

Well, if there was any question in my mind about whether I’m authentically Jewish, I think this pretty much puts it to rest:

Yiddish is the language par excellence of complaint. How could it be otherwise? It took root among Jews scattered across Western Europe during the Middle Ages and evolved over centuries of persecution and transience. It is, Mr. Wex writes, “the national language of nowhere,” the medium of expression for a people without a home. “Judaism is defined by exile, and exile without complaint is tourism,” as Mr. Wex neatly puts it.

To be Jewish, in other words, is to kvetch. If the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” had been translated into Yiddish, Mr. Wex writes, “it would have been called ‘(I Love to Keep Telling You That I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Because Telling You That I’m Not Satisfied Is All That Can Satisfy Me).’ “

Okay, that last bit was maybe a little too tortured…

Yiddish thrives on argument, hairsplitting and arcane points of law and proper behavior. Half the time, Yiddish itself is the object of dispute, a language, Mr. Wex writes, “in which you can’t open your mouth without finding out that, no matter what you’re saying, you’re saying it wrong.”

When you get it right, it can be a beautiful thing. Or a lethal weapon. Yiddish excels at the fine art of the insult and the curse, or klole, which Mr. Wex, in a chapter titled “You Should Grow Like an Onion,” calls “the kvetch-militant.” Americans generally stick to short, efficient four-letter words when doling out abuse. Yiddish has lots of those, too, and it abounds in terse put-downs like “shtik fleysh mit oygn.” Applied to a stupid person, it means “a piece of meat with eyes.” More often, though, Yiddish speakers, like the Elizabethans, like to exploit the full resources of the language when the occasion requires.

(snip)

A simple, American-style “drop dead” might be rendered as “a dismal animal death on you” (“a viste pgire af dir”), which, Mr. Wex, notes, carries the suggestion that “you should spend the rest of your tiny life in a Colorado feedlot, then be herded off to some nonunion slaughterhouse to be turned, painfully, into fast-food burgers for one of the less prominent chains.”

I can’t fathom how it is that I don’t just know Yiddish, like, instinctively. I think I’m going to have to add “piece of meat with eyes” to my repertoire, along with “wee tiny of a man” (big hat tip to Spear And Magic for that one).

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Weirdness

1 Comment

  • 1. The Kenosha Kid  |  September 29th, 2005 at 9:20 pm

    Gei schluffen, bubbeleh.


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