01 July 2007

Yiddish, Shmiddish: Why do we say that?

A reader from Iran (yes, Tracing the Tribe has readers there!) connected via an article about Yiddish, which also mentions other Jewish languages.

Yiddish is only one of the many vernacular languages fashioned by Jews throughout the ages. You can still find Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Persian, Farsi-Tar used by Jews in the Caucasus Mountains, and Ladino used by Jews in the south of Europe. But Yiddish is the language that was the most widespread, adapted most vigorously, and has flourished best. At one time (1920s), about two-thirds of world Jewry spoke Yiddish; the Holocaust, of course, ended that.

Learn about the language's history, and read a delightful section from Leo Rosten's The Joy of Yiddish:

Rosten cites the following wonderful array of insult and innuendo, adapted into English from Yiddish. The problem is whether to attend a concert being given by a niece. The same sentence is put through the following paces, depending on emphasis:

I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning:, "After what she did to me?"
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning: "What, you're giving me a lesson in ethics?"
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning: I wouldn't go even if she were giving out free passes!
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning: I'm having enough trouble deciding whether it's worth one.
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - She should be giving out free passes, or the hall will be empty.
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - Did she buy tickets to our daughter's recital?
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - You mean, they call what she does a "concert"?

In addition, Rosten cites the following examples of linguistic devices in English, that are Yiddish in origin, to "convey nuances of affection, compassion, displeasure, emphasis, disbelief, skepticism, ridicule, sarcasm, and scorn."

Mordant syntax: "Smart, he isn't."
Sarcasm through innocuous diction: "He only tried to shoot himself."
Scorn through reversed word order: "Already you're discouraged?"
Contempt through affirmation: "My partner, he wants to be."
Fearful curses sanctioned by nominal cancellation: "May all your teeth fall out except one, so that you can have a toothache, God forbid."
Derisive dismissal disguised an innocent interrogation: "I should pay him for such devoted service?"

So enjoy already the rest of the article!

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