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When Yiddish Rises To Descriptive Heights
A memoir by Gerard Meister
Why, because it has to! In Yiddish, dear friends, there are no scatological, sexual or familial epithets, so Jews have a rather limited vocabulary when they are trying to tell someone what they really think of them. For instance, what is the gamut of the most horrific names you can call someone:
- Oysvorf, a scoundrel
- Paskudnyack, a louse
- Momser, an illegitimate offspring
- A shmendrick, the forerunner of today's Geek
But it's with cursing that the mamalushen rises to Shakespearean heights. Take the time I overheard my mother and her friends haul over the coals a burglar who stole into our apartment in Brooklyn in 1937 and ran off with my father's only suit and overcoat; "Zoll er gehen tief tyer in d'rerd (he should get the ground that's coming to him)," Mama lamented bitterly to her friends sitting around our kitchen table discussing the crime.
"Tser plotzed zoll er veren (he should only burst)," chimed in Mrs. Levitsky who was our neighbor and had the only telephone on the block.
"Zoll er geharget veren aichit (he should also get killed)," added Mrs.Daneloff. who used to baby sit for me when Mama had to go visit her sick sister three subway stops away. (That's ten cents up and back not a trifling matter.)
"Zoll er nit huben vasser tsu machen kasha (he shouldn't have water to make kasha)," proclaimed Mrs. Steinberg who lived upstairs, but was running out of epithets.
But when Papa came home and learned that his entire fahrmeggen (fortune) was gone with the wind, he saw the crime in a different, more practical light: "The High Holidays are coming up, maybe that goniff (crook) had nothing to wear to shul (synagogue), so he helped himself to my outfit. I'll speak to the rabbi, maybe that can be my tzedaka (charity) for the year."
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from the January 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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