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July 23, 2008 8:21 PM   Subscribe

A linguist and a sociologist at Hebrew Union College have teamed up to track the inroads made into American English by words and idioms from traditionally Jewish languages, including Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), and Hebrew. They've created an online survey and are looking for people from all religious and ethnic backgrounds to answer a few questions about their word choices, phrasing, and pronunciation. They're also trying to determine whether certain linguistic quirks usually attributed to Yiddish's influence are actually carried over from Jewish ancestors' speech patterns and accents, or whether they're merely an artifact from growing up in or near New York City. [via]
posted by Asparagirl (65 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did the survey. They totally ignore whether yiddish speech patters are picked up from watching catskills comedians & marx bros. movies on TV.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:37 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or MAD magazine. Many/most of the Yiddish words I know I first learned from MAD, and I still occasionally refer to someone as a "schmuck" or say someone has "chutzpah". Although I also lived in the NYC area as a young child, but moved to Texas at age 5.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:43 PM on July 23, 2008


DecemberBoy: TOTALLY.

(from memory:)
Sequels we'd like to see:
In Cold Blood
In Colder Blood
In Blood So Cold You Could Plotz

posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:47 PM on July 23, 2008


oi vey
posted by nightchrome at 8:55 PM on July 23, 2008


I encountered a lot of Yiddish words in MAD but I never knew what any of them meant.
posted by hattifattener at 8:57 PM on July 23, 2008


Also thought they could've asked about how many Jewish friends one had in college. I definitely picked up more Yiddishisms (and had a larger % of Jewish friends) while doing time in the SUNY system than in high school.

Or MAD magazine.

"What, Me Worry," even.

Q: Why didn’t you ask about shlep, tshatshke, goyim, shiksa, putz, shmuck, shtup, shmegege, lox, blintzes, etc.?
A: We didn’t think everyone would want to spend 2 hours taking a survey…


Heh heh heh. They said "putz."

Speaking of, the first time I realized how big a part of the NYC Metro language Yiddishisms are (and how invisible they are in "real America") was when I was up in Buffalo and went to see Spaceballs. Nothing will make you more self-conscious than being the only occupant of a crowded theater to laugh out loud when someone's admonished to "Go to the golf course and work on your putts."
posted by Opposite George at 9:00 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hoch mir nit kayn tchinik.
posted by grobstein at 9:02 PM on July 23, 2008


Bingo on the MAD magazine thing... I realize that all my "Yiddish" was absorbed from MAD. Harvey Kurtzman infected a LOT of midwestern white kids with "mock Yiddish", I think...
posted by orbis23 at 9:04 PM on July 23, 2008


Nu?
posted by Bromius at 9:05 PM on July 23, 2008


I didn't understand half the yiddish words in Mad Magazine either. I just thought they looked funny. And sounded funny when I later heard them in Mel Brooks movies. But then again, I didn't understand half the jokes in Mad when I was kid.
posted by Hugonaut at 9:14 PM on July 23, 2008


I noted that for me and my family, the 'Yiddish slang' we picked up was most likely from Mel Brooks movies. They had the "other' area for adding commentary. I wonder how many people are likely to note him as a source?
posted by FritoKAL at 9:21 PM on July 23, 2008


I'm hoping they've read some Ellen Prince.
posted by tractorfeed at 9:22 PM on July 23, 2008


Also, they don't distinguish between Yiddish you use because it's Yiddish you use, and Yiddish you use because you are making fun of old Jews.

Schmuck is in the former.

Feh! It's a shandeh to the goyyim! Is in the latter.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:24 PM on July 23, 2008


I use shanda to the goyim and such because I miss old Jews. The little Yiddish I know is weighted heavily with nostalgia for my grandparents, who spoke it fluently.

I took the survey and told them they need to make the "it's complicated" field a lot larger for the "Do you consider yourself Jewish?" question. You would think anyone who has ever talked to a secular Jew would know that instinctively.
posted by melissa may at 9:39 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


All right, but there is no way to use shikker iz a goy unironically if you've known as many drunken Jews I have known and been.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:47 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll take your word for it since I had to look up that phrase to learn what it meant. (I really do know very little Yiddish, alas.) However, my grandparents definitely expressed the notion that goys drank to excess while Jews remained sober and upright, so I am familiar with the stereotype, if not the phrase. (Apologies for the slander; they were actually very nice people with some drunk goy nervousness issues left over from Europe.)
posted by melissa may at 10:14 PM on July 23, 2008


I think my favorite Yiddish word -- which I only know of because one of my SO's Jewish co-workers uses it -- is shpilkies. As in, when agitated or restless, "I've got shpilkies!"

Of course, I know almost no Yiddish whatsoever, and can't really say I'm sure that shpilkies is a real Yiddish word and not just something my SO's coworkers made up. But, if they did just make it up, good for them. It's an awesome word.
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:15 PM on July 23, 2008


I've done my part to further the protocols
posted by b1tr0t at 10:23 PM on July 23, 2008


Ms. Saint, as I understand it, 'shplikes' are pins hence, 'sitting on shplikes' (which is the phrase I use and have heard used) indicates that restlessness or agitation.

(and I'm quite positive my spelling is not quite right)
posted by prettypretty at 10:41 PM on July 23, 2008


I miss Long Island.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:42 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I took the survey and told them they need to make the "it's complicated" field a lot larger for the "Do you consider yourself Jewish?" question. You would think anyone who has ever talked to a secular Jew would know that instinctively.

Thankfully, the textbox, despite its tininess, does not appear to have a length limit. Or at least it let me type in my extended answer, plus context-providing mini-biographies of each of my parents and grandparents, before cutting me off.
posted by decagon at 10:47 PM on July 23, 2008


Also, I didn't even realize "you want I should" was Yiddish in origin until fairly recently. But in retrospect, the only people I've ever heard use it are me, certain relatives, and Jewish (or otherwise "ethnic") fictional characters.

Or am I just selectively remembering? Is it actually as widespread as I used to imagine it was?
posted by decagon at 10:57 PM on July 23, 2008


Hopefully, lots of non-Ashkenazim will take the survey too, since that would really help the researchers track Yiddish-passed-by-family-usage vs. Yiddish-passed-by-cultural-osmosis. I know I always do a double-take when I hear my Sephardic mother-in-law (California-born to Ladino-speaking parents) use a hard core Yiddishism in conversation.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:15 PM on July 23, 2008


I'm not American (or Jewish) but I use a lot of these words. Probably because of my East End London background.
posted by tellurian at 11:28 PM on July 23, 2008


Took the survey. I'm sephardic (or more accurately, mizrahi) and thus Yiddish was never used in my family. Still know must of the words though, as a result of going to a Jewish school as a kid and I suppose from growing up in the NY area.

I'm curious about the word "yalla" that was on the first survey page. The only time I've heard it in use has been in Israel, and was told it's Arabic.
posted by lullaby at 11:40 PM on July 23, 2008


I know I always do a double-take when I hear my Sephardic mother-in-law (California-born to Ladino-speaking parents) use a hard core Yiddishism in conversation.

My grandmother's Sephardic parents reportedly conversed in a code-switching hybrid of English, Ladino, Castilian, Yiddish, and Turkish. My mother is always slightly in awe when she talks about it.
posted by decagon at 11:48 PM on July 23, 2008


I think there were about two Jews in our school (and not many more in our entire county) and you wouldn't have known it from the way they spoke. The only Yiddishisms I heard or read as a child were in Mad or maybe when Johnny Carson had a Borscht Belt comedian on.
posted by pracowity at 11:56 PM on July 23, 2008


That'd be from Ya Allah - Oh God - but used for all kinds of stuff including "hurry up, get moving". Yalla yalla, come on, we're late!
posted by BinGregory at 12:01 AM on July 24, 2008


The one below yalla is funny too - ahalan. I've never heard it from the jewish side of my family, but it sounds a lot like "ahlan" in Arabic which is short for "ahlan wa sahlan" meaning "welcome". Is that what this word means in Yiddish too?
posted by BinGregory at 12:04 AM on July 24, 2008


I am not Jewish, and there were no Jews in my high school. However, I recognised (and use!) quite a few words and phrases from the survey -- I learned them mostly from my mother's extended family, who are almost all from either Massachusetts or Michigan. Interesting, though. (wonder if the russian & ukranian grandparents (whom I never knew) will weird out my responses.)
posted by jlkr at 12:10 AM on July 24, 2008


BinGregory-

Ahalan, just like yalla (as well as sababa and achlah, which both mean 'cool' or 'great', more or less, among others) are words that are pretty common in Israeli slang. They come from Arabic, but are now absorbed into modern Israeli Hebrew. It seems likely to me that people from the Jewish side of your family have spent some time in Israel, and picked them up there.
posted by Bun at 1:06 AM on July 24, 2008


Strike that comment about your family, I missed the "never."
Anyway, the fact remains that these words are becoming part of the modern "Jewish lexicon," but have their roots in Israel rather than the Yiddish of the diaspora.
posted by Bun at 1:09 AM on July 24, 2008


I'm curious about the word "yalla" that was on the first survey page.

Yeah, that was one that I didn't pick up from Jewish osmosis but from my Greek grandmother; she, like many Greeks of her generation, lived for a while in Egypt.
posted by Opposite George at 2:06 AM on July 24, 2008


If your situation is complicated, please explain (optional)

This made me chuckle. I wrote, "isn't it always complicated to be Jewish?"
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:29 AM on July 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


If your situation is complicated, please explain (optional)

I stopped going to temple! No, I don't identify with any of those! No, I can't read Hebrew anymore! I married a non-Jew! GUILTY!!!
posted by poppo at 3:55 AM on July 24, 2008


They totally ignore whether yiddish speech patters are picked up from watching catskills comedians & marx bros. movies on TV.

And Zoidberg. Also, what's the deal with this question: In your current job, how many of the people you work with on a regular basis would you say are Jewish?

How the hell should I know from Jewish? They should wear yellow stars on their shirts?
posted by DU at 4:24 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just took the study -- I noted that I was a little Catholic girl in Connecticut, who just always knew that I wanted to live in New York some day and so I picked up some words from the way people on TV talked.

I also pointed out that I thought they'd misspelled "Schmutz."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on July 24, 2008


This survey didn't include people who'd intermarried heavily two or so generations ago, and had well read Canadian mothers. :P
posted by Phalene at 5:09 AM on July 24, 2008


My girlfriend's mother was raised Jewish, and comes from a very Jewish (think Vaudeville) family. A few months ago I met a great-aunt whose Yiddish speech patterns were so pronounced as to be almost a caricature. She was telling a story about bialy and whitefish salad (apparently the bialy was too big and there was too much whitefish salad, but what a shame it would be to waste all that food, and so forth). She's a very funny lady, and although the story wasn't, her mannerisms made me laugh til I practically plotzed. Thankfully, she was the only one who didn't notice me biting my lip and going red in the face.

They should wear yellow stars on their shirts?

Well, some of the men might wear yarmulkes. Although I suppose you don't see much of that outside New York.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:57 AM on July 24, 2008


DU Well, my Jewish coworkers and I have discussed religion etc, that's how I know they're Jewish.
posted by sotonohito at 6:05 AM on July 24, 2008


Well, some of the men might wear yarmulkes.

This will tell you who is religious (or even highly religious) but not who is "merely" ethnic or casual.

Or maybe the point of the question is not how many of your coworkers are Jewish so much as how apparent Judaism is in your area. Even so there are major flaws here, as this demonstrates: my Jewish coworkers and I have discussed religion

A lot of people are uncomfortable, for various reasons, discussion religion in the workplace. Couple that with anti-semitism (i.e. people who think anyone thin with dark hair, or anyone in a position of authority, is a Jew) and you've got some seriously skewed data.
posted by DU at 6:11 AM on July 24, 2008


You're probably right, DU; never having lived outside the northeast US, I feel like my jewdar is pretty good. I'm probably wrong.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:35 AM on July 24, 2008


...I feel like my jewdar is pretty good.

This used to puzzle the heck out of me as a kid. From books, I knew that some people hated Jews and Catholics and of course it made no sense to me. But the really confusing thing was that I could never figure how they knew which people were Jews or Catholics.
posted by DU at 6:56 AM on July 24, 2008


I know yalla from Arabic. People think I'm Jewish about as often as they think I'm Muslim (I'm neither) because I tend to throw fits at work about being open on major non-Christian holidays and have no tolerance for Christian-centric bigotry.

Still, I'm not sure where I picked up all the Yiddish and Hebrew words I recognized (and use). I think I'm just a sucker for cool words that succinctly express useful concepts. Especially insults.
posted by QIbHom at 7:09 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jewdar is a standard feature that comes with anyone of Jewish ancestry or anyone born in Poland. Then, of course, there's Jewduction.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2008


Funny that they specifically asked about how you pronounce the word "horrible." I had a non-Jewish boyfriend when I lived in Ohio (I grew up in Jersey) who would ask me to repeat that word over and over. He loved the "Jewish-y" way that I said it. I had never realized I said it differently from anyone else.

When a close friend of mine from rural Maryland met my parents a while back, she said, "Your mom has such a Jewish accent!"
posted by amro at 7:15 AM on July 24, 2008


I'm pretty sure all my Yiddish comes from watching Seinfeld. I've lived most of my life in Milwaukee and Montana and except for the occasional friend, I've been pretty oblivious to whatever Jewish populations those places contain. I'm not likely to notice someone is Jewish until they directly tell me. My gaydar is much more finely honed.

That said, my fiancé's last name sounds Jewish, and since he has dark hair and eyes, people often assume he's Jewish (ironically, he spent 3 years at a Christian Bible college). I am taking his name when we marry so I'm curious if people's responses to me will be different.
posted by desjardins at 7:37 AM on July 24, 2008


Related anecdote: the first time my fiancé was going to meet my parents, my mother called in horror about an hour before dinner to tell me she'd unthinkingly made ham.
posted by desjardins at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know how many times I've had to explain to my mother that, while yes, my girlfriend's mother was, at one time, a Jew, and that while yes, as a result, orthodox Jews probably consider her a Jew, they are all, in fact, "practicing" UUs, and really, really love pork.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:52 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Funny that they specifically asked about how you pronounce the word "horrible."

So much of the New York accent is derived from Yiddish. When I lived in Los Angeles, saying "horrible", "horror movies" and "dresser drawer" got a lot of chuckles from my friends.

Did I mention that I was Asian also?
posted by cazoo at 7:53 AM on July 24, 2008


desjardins: My wife's family have all asked her (in some cases, multiple times) whether I eat ham/pork/bacon (Sure, Lisa-some magical animal!). My Mother-in-Law told my Father-in-Law that I might be offended when he wanted to make a ham-and-cheese sandwich on the challah I had baked, and I think she was slightly surprised when I said I would have one, too.
posted by JMOZ at 8:40 AM on July 24, 2008


Whenever I read Yiddishisms, they sound in my head like they're being read by Jackie Mason.
posted by rocket88 at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'll bite - so how do Jewish people say "horror?"

I picked up some of these from random places - I picked up "yalla!" from an Egyptian boyfriend, and know quite a few of the phrases from Seinfeld. I'm still not sure how my midwestern small-town Catholic mom (Norwegian/German/Irish/French) picked up so many of the terms herself. Spiel (no sh but just an s), kvetch, klutz, shmooze, and chutzpah were all common words at our house. Maybe it's the German side?
posted by kanewai at 10:11 AM on July 24, 2008


I also got my first Yiddish from Mad (back in the '50s, when it was still funny).

Speaking of, the first time I realized how big a part of the NYC Metro language Yiddishisms are (and how invisible they are in "real America") was when I was up in Buffalo and went to see Spaceballs. Nothing will make you more self-conscious than being the only occupant of a crowded theater to laugh out loud when someone's admonished to "Go to the golf course and work on your putts."

I used to live with a Jewish woman who grew up in Batavia, NY, as goyisch a town as you'll find in the state. On a visit to her family, we all went to see Blazing Saddles (which had just come out) and had the same experience: we were the only ones laughing. When Brooks, as the Indian chief, started speaking Yiddish, we plotzed, and everyone else sat like lumps on a log—they probably thought he was speaking "Indian."
posted by languagehat at 10:11 AM on July 24, 2008


When did tush & tukkis (sp?) become English words?
posted by mike3k at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2008


Nosh.

I believe it means "looking for a blowjob".
posted by Kiwi at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2008


The survey made me feel strangely guilty for not ever having many jewish friends. I'm a half-jew, raised vaguely jewish, and I never fell in with the crowd of jewish kids. I quit going to Hebrew school because I felt awkward being in class with a whole bunch of kids who were all friends with each other, while my friends were in CCD at St. Rita's, across the street.

I hardly knew what any of the words were, despite the fact that my paternal grandparents spoke Yiddish.
posted by millipede at 10:51 AM on July 24, 2008


The old Mike Myers "Coffee Talk" sketch is worth a mention too. "I'm getting verklempt!" and "I've got shpilkes in my ganektagazoink" were widely-repeated catchphrases for a brief time.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:26 PM on July 24, 2008


It occurs to me that all my Yiddish comes from Weird Al and Spider-Man. I'm such a schmuck.
posted by bettafish at 2:00 PM on July 24, 2008


kanewai: "HA-ruh."

My first prolonged exposure to Yiddish was probably also Mad magazine, although I don't think it occurred to me that those were actual words that actual people might actually use until The Nanny started airing a couple years later.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:13 PM on July 24, 2008


"The naches I'm feeling right now.
Your dad was like mishpoche to me.
When I heard I got these tickets to
The Folksmen, I let out a geshreeyeh...
...and I'm running with
my friend Like a vilde chaye...
...right into the theater,
in the front row.
We've got the schpilkes
because we're sitting right there.
It's a mitzvah what your dad did,
and I want to try to give that back to you.
Okeinhoreh, I say, and God bless him."

Source.
posted by emf at 8:42 PM on July 24, 2008


kanewai: "HA-ruh."

You mean there's another pronunciation?

Okay, that's only a semi-serious question but -- how does the rest of the world say it?

/The more you know...
posted by Opposite George at 3:25 AM on July 25, 2008


"Rest of the world"? That'd take awhile.

Most of the rest of North America: "HOR-er." That, or, uh, "whore."
posted by Sys Rq at 8:18 AM on July 25, 2008


And the closer you get to Canada the more likely you are to slightly diphthongize that first O.
posted by kanewai at 10:35 AM on July 25, 2008


Most of the rest of North America: "HOR-er." That, or, uh, "whore."

No wonder, then, that C.C. Deville took such pains with his diction on everybody's favorite episode of "Behind the Music."
posted by Opposite George at 5:02 PM on July 25, 2008


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