In Other Words

| January 3, 2016 | 0 Comments

I made a vow to myself. I vowed I would not discuss politics in this column. I know my personal beliefs and I don’t have the need to share them or convince others to agree. But that was until a certain candidate decided to borrow a colorful word from my favorite language, Yiddish. That nameless candidate just didn’t get it. Yiddish is a wonderful language in that it allows one word to convey an entire sentence, an entire feeling, an entire mental picture. But if you use it, use it right. Don’t be a shmegege, a petty, untalented person.

If you are describing a person who kills both his parents and asks the judge for mercy because he is an orphan, just say he has chutzpah. Describe the friend who is informal, friendly and someone you can always feel comfortable with, as Hamish. When you beam with pride and pleasure over your child or grandchild’s achievements, you are just kvelling, and of course mazel tov is said by Jew and Christian alike to congratulate the bride and groom at a Jewish wedding.

The aforementioned candidate just did not have it right. He used a Yiddish word for a part of a male’s anatomy and he used it in the past tense, to refer to his opponent as getting beaten in the race. Hmm…it just doesn’t make sense to me. Substitute a popular English slang word for that anatomy part, use it in the same sentence and see if it works.

I grew up with grandparents who were born in Eastern Europe and although they spoke English at home, it was often peppered with many colorful Yiddish words and phrases. I loved when they thought by lapsing into Yiddish they could hide something from us. But all of us grandkids got the picture very young. When they said, “shush the kinder,” we knew that meant “be quiet the kids can hear” and we lingered around pretending we did not understand. When we were told to stop eating such chazerei, we knew to quit eating so much junk food, at least in front of them.

I love that my Christian sister in law referred to herself as the family shiksa and my Irish Catholic husband looked incredulous when he exclaimed how much he looked like a goy in a family picture with all the Jewish relatives. Of course this particular candidate does not linger long on choosing the right words or the right commentary before he opens his mouth. Is it really appropriate to refer to a certain woman’s bathroom break as “disgusting”? The least he could have said to her was gay ga zinta hayt which just means go in good health. That would have, at least, given him the appearance of a man of subtle humor.

But this man, who uses words in such a cavalier way, has given us a whole new meaning to many English words as well. Words like immigrant, words like radical and disability and weak; words that say “we” and “them.” These words are meant to convey that he is the ultimate maven (expert) on everything.

I love that our country promotes honest discourse. I love that candidates get the opportunity to debate. I love that it is okay to throw out some Yiddish phrases when appropriate. In fact, many Yiddish words have made their way into English speaking conversations and are recognized by those who are not familiar with Yiddish. We hear kibbitz for unwanted comments, especially in a card game, nosh to snack on something, schlep to drag around something heavy and oy vey as a comment on oh, so many things. And so I say, “OY VEY,” Mr. Candidate, you sure are ferdrayt (very mixed up) when you throw your Yiddish words around…fershtay?


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