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November 10, 2009 8:12 AM   Subscribe

The Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity reports on the results of an online survey of 25,179 American Jews and 4,874 American Gentiles. Non-Jews say "klutz" but not "schmutz." The more Orthodox you are, the more likely you are to say "Good Shabbos" instead of "Shabbat Shalom." And so much more you'll plotz.
posted by escabeche (87 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gentile here, and I say schmuck and putz. I hock people to china, too. I grew up across the street from not one but two Lubavitch rabbis (and families) and was introduced into the concept of shabbos goy at an early age.
posted by fixedgear at 8:33 AM on November 10, 2009


I laughed, I cried, I plotzed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:35 AM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Non-Jews say "klutz" but not "schmutz."

I say "schmutz" all the time. As well as "mischegas" and "beshert". In fact, on one of my first dates with one of my exes -- who was Jewish -- when I used "mischegas" in conversation, he almost dropped his drink. (I remarked on his reaction - "yeah, I know it must sound weird for a goy like me to say 'mischegas'" -- and he said "I wasn't just reacting to you using 'mischegas,' I was reacting to you using the word 'mischegas' properly.")

Then again, I've lived in New York for 20+ years -- most of them on the Lower East Side -- and it kind of sinks in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Another gentile, here to register my love for "schmutz."

Firefox has just registered to me it's utter confusion over the word, though.
posted by lekvar at 8:49 AM on November 10, 2009


I grew up in the NYC area and I was amazed at the number of these I use on a regular basis, who knew?
posted by tommasz at 8:56 AM on November 10, 2009


How do you tell somebody they have something on their face or shirt without using schmutz?
posted by uncleozzy at 8:57 AM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


YOU HAVE SOMETHING ON YOUR FACE OR SHIRT
posted by lalochezia at 9:00 AM on November 10, 2009 [14 favorites]


> Then again, I've lived in New York for 20+ years

All New Yorkers are ex officio Jewish, I thought everyone knew that.

Dammit, I meant to post this!
posted by languagehat at 9:00 AM on November 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm the, uh, secular humanist son of a Yeshiva boy (married to a shiksa, no less) so I say "Good Shabbos" to my family, but I don't even go to shul. I'm "the Jew" in most of my social circles, just because of the cultural and linguistic stuff ingrained in me. And yeah, maybe just a bissel of the schnozzle.
posted by jake at 9:01 AM on November 10, 2009


I live in Brooklyn and use most of these.

I speak Yiddish fluently
posted by mhz at 9:03 AM on November 10, 2009


OK, Gentile schmutz-sayers, but do you say "schmutzedik"?
posted by escabeche at 9:05 AM on November 10, 2009


I grew up in Brookline, MA, and use a ton of these. Not Jewish, btw.
posted by rtha at 9:05 AM on November 10, 2009


List of English words of Yiddish origin. It's fascinating how many of these words I use without knowing anything of their origin. Of course, I guess that's true for loan words of lots of languages.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:08 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whither schmuck?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:09 AM on November 10, 2009


Also, languagehat, I'm curious how much weight you place, if any, on an uncontrolled online survey like this one. Does this "count" as linguistic investigation?
posted by escabeche at 9:09 AM on November 10, 2009


my non-jewish new yorker girlfriend says "schmutz" all the time.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:26 AM on November 10, 2009


Upon reviewing the Wikipedia link posted above, I see that while I clearly knew how to USE the word "meschegas" properly, I didn't know how to SPELL it properly.

Hey. I'm not just a shikza, I was also raised Catholic in WASP NEW ENGLAND to boot. So I need some slack here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on November 10, 2009


Newsflash: Statistics Show Average MeFite Not Actually Average In Other Areas.
posted by hermitosis at 9:36 AM on November 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


> Does this "count" as linguistic investigation?

Sure, you just have to make allowances for the imperfections. But then, I've never been a perfectionist.

> I didn't know how to SPELL it properly.

One of the great things about Yiddish is that there is no one "proper" way to spell it in English!
posted by languagehat at 9:40 AM on November 10, 2009


FYI - The difference between what a schmuck is and what a schlemiel.

A schmuck is the guy that spills the bowl of soup. A schlemiel is the guy the schmuck spilled the soup on.
posted by otto42 at 9:45 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


otto42, you're describing the difference between a shlemiel and a schlamaze. A schmuck is just a dick.
posted by piratebowling at 9:52 AM on November 10, 2009


I've heard that as "the difference between a schlemiel and a schlemozzle." A "schmuck" is technically the bit of foreskin that gets cut off during circumcision.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on November 10, 2009


Unless, of course, the schmuck did it on purpose.
posted by mhz at 9:53 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


schlamazel, not schlamaze.
posted by piratebowling at 9:57 AM on November 10, 2009


And so much more you'll plotz.

Against the government?
posted by ODiV at 9:58 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the joys of New York: a Chinese graduate student friend of mine talking about a putting a schmear on his bagel. Not to mention his sighs of "Oy vey" when the server is down again.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2009


A "schmuck" is technically the bit of foreskin that gets cut off during circumcision.

Really? I heard that it ment either a penis or a condom, but never heard this variant.

I wonder if "schmuck" is etymologically related to the English word "smock".
posted by acb at 10:09 AM on November 10, 2009


A "schmuck" is technically the bit of foreskin that gets cut off during circumcision.

It's really not. It's the whole shebang. The Schlong. It's just a penis.

schmuck
Pronunciation: \ˈshmək\
Function: noun
Etymology: Yiddish shmok, literally, penis
Date: 1892

slang : jerk 4b

Further Etymology
posted by piratebowling at 10:12 AM on November 10, 2009


Wait, now I'm hearing one of the meaning o schmuck being floated around is condom, as well? Where the hell are people hearing these things? You Goyim just have to misconstrue and complicate everything.
posted by piratebowling at 10:14 AM on November 10, 2009


My grandma's first langugage was Yiddish, but when she was older she never spoke it except with her sisters. A common enough story, I guess.
posted by killdevil at 10:15 AM on November 10, 2009


Oo, thanks, piratebowling. I had always assumed it was from "Schmucken" along the same lines as "family jewels" in English.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:17 AM on November 10, 2009


I also say schmutz. I am not even remotely Jewish, but interestingly, my Mom grew up in Brookline and Newton, MA. So it may have been inherited by me after being absorbed from the environment by her.
posted by rusty at 10:17 AM on November 10, 2009


One of the great things about Yiddish is that there is no one "proper" way to spell it in English!

ITYM "in the Roman alphabet" here, yes?

omg I'm picking linguistic nits with The Hat lightning may strike me now
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:18 AM on November 10, 2009


Sidhedevil, I thought the same thing for a long time, but apparently something about the vowel shift between German and Yiddish makes it unlikely.
posted by piratebowling at 10:19 AM on November 10, 2009


OK, Gentile schmutz-sayers, but do you say "schmutzedik"?

"Schmutzig" because that's what my in-laws say. German Jews vs. Eastern European Jews?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:19 AM on November 10, 2009


I use 'schmutz' and so does my boyfriend. Montreal anglos, non-Jewish, though he went to a school that was almost entirely Jewish as a kid and my family keeps interbreeding/marrying.
posted by Phalene at 10:21 AM on November 10, 2009


And Jews are somewhat more likely than non-Jews to report that they have been told that they interrupt too much

As a member of the tribe, with a family that can never let anyone complete a sentence, I especially love this finding.

Upon reviewing the Wikipedia link posted above, I see that while I clearly knew how to USE the word "meschegas" properly, I didn't know how to SPELL it properly

Glad to let you know that in Yiddish, there is generally speaking no such thing as correct spelling. Truth. There are some stylistic conventions developing by overly anal people.
posted by bearwife at 10:27 AM on November 10, 2009


Scuse me, meant to say developed by people more anal than me . . .
posted by bearwife at 10:29 AM on November 10, 2009


I say "schmutz" but I got it from hanging around with old German Lutherans as a kid. When I found out it was the same word in Yiddish it was one of those awesome moments of understanding how languages intersect.

I also say "schmatte", but I got that from a Jewish friend. I just liked the way it sounded when he said it once, and it stuck with me.
posted by padraigin at 10:48 AM on November 10, 2009


I took this survey!
posted by joannemerriam at 11:16 AM on November 10, 2009


My great-grandmothers spoke Yiddish as their native language, so my grandparents and my parents also speak it, with varying degrees of fluency. Natually my sister and I have picked up a fair amount as well. To me there is something so perfect about yiddish words, so precise, that any other language would just be a fair approximation.

My favorites are:

Gevalt
schmatte
mishegoss
megillah
Hunyak (probably not yiddish, but equally as descriptive.)
ess and fress

My husband, who speaks fluent German enjoys my little expressions and he seems really eager to learn them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:17 AM on November 10, 2009


So this is some groyse metzieh?
posted by AngerBoy at 11:21 AM on November 10, 2009


Not to mention his sighs of "Oy vey" when the server is down again.

This Chinese Texan says "oy vey" all the time.
posted by kmz at 11:29 AM on November 10, 2009


Hunyak (probably not yiddish, but equally as descriptive.)

?

Is there some meaning of "hunyack" other than the somewhat-disparaging 19th and 20th century US term for "a person who is an Eastern European immigrant, probably either a Hungarian (hunky) or Pole (polack) but I can't be bothered to find out which"?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:36 AM on November 10, 2009


Alas, this poor ol' Southern boy is alien to most of these words. I still praise the invention of bagels, though. NOM NOM.
posted by Atreides at 11:38 AM on November 10, 2009


> This Chinese Texan says "oy vey" all the time.

This Chinese Californian does the same. Sometimes I'll switch it up a little with a "vey iz mir!" to boot.
posted by cobwebberies at 11:40 AM on November 10, 2009


Hunyak

I'm thinking Chanyuk, which is like bah, or monyak, which is basically maniac/psycho.
posted by mhz at 11:42 AM on November 10, 2009


The day I meet a non-Jew who says "feh" is the day I pass out and die. Also, you know a Jew because when you say "Shekey b'vakasha," they clap.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:59 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


SHEKET, rather.

In Yiddish: SHA or SHTIL or MAKHT NISH KAYN GERIDER.

Some Jews will start dancing when I say those things altogether.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:00 PM on November 10, 2009


My kitties each have a shayna punim, when we're tired we go schluffy, schluffs, schluffen, schluffy schluffy baby, gut yuntef on Saturday, and sometimes things are fercockt. A stove is a pripitchik but also me, because it sounds cute to my grandma who associated all things cute with the tremendous adorableness that is me.

And Michael Chabon overuses "Nu?"
posted by birdie birdington at 12:09 PM on November 10, 2009


In Chabon's defense, I think the heavy usage of 'Nu' is supposed to be Sitka idiom.

In my high school in upstate NY (near Schenectady, so really upstate, I knew exactly two Jews as a child, one from the Island), "oy gevalt" and "schmuck" became very popular. "Schmuck" became especially popular after I told people what it meant.

... which I learned by watching Isaac Bashevis Singer on Dick Cavett. Cavett started asking him about Yiddish words, and got to "schmuck." Singer's eyes got a little wide and Cavett said 'what, what did I say? Schmuck?'

To which Singer replies, a little mischievously, "You know you really shouldn't say that word on TV."
posted by lodurr at 12:39 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think I was actually a participant in this survey. Or, at least, I started out as one but may not have finished it because it was tl;

I wonder if these surveys correct for the fact that a larger percentage of participants than would be dictated by chance are people who are doing someone a favor.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:47 PM on November 10, 2009


The day I meet a non-Jew who says "feh" is the day I pass out and die.

Oh no! I can never meet Astro Zombie!

"Feh" I picked up from my mom, and her mom. My mom's side of the family is Czech, and (allegedly) Catholic, but "feh" and "oy vey (iz mir)" are phrases I heard them use long before we moved to Brookline.
posted by rtha at 12:48 PM on November 10, 2009


I never realized 'feh' was a yiddishism. I've been hearing that one most of my life. As I think about it, I realize always assumed it was somehow related to "fie" (as in "fie on thee!").
posted by lodurr at 12:51 PM on November 10, 2009


The day I meet a non-Jew who says "feh" is the day I pass out and die.

dude, I say this all the time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on November 10, 2009


An interesting finding relates to sexual orientation. Non-Jewish men and women who consider themselves gay or bisexual are more likely to use certain Yiddish-origin words and phrases than non-Jews who consider themselves heterosexual, including “kvetch,” “shmutz,” “shpiel,” “money, shmoney,” and “chutzpah.”

Fascinating.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:17 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I assure you, non-Jews using "feh" is decidedly unusual in Minneapolis.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:18 PM on November 10, 2009


You know what would be a great music genre?

Nu? metal.
posted by escabeche at 1:21 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


would it be passages of industrial-grade thrash punctuated at superficially irregular (but idiomatically regular) caesuras of varying (but short) duration?
posted by lodurr at 1:31 PM on November 10, 2009


"Schmuck" can really be quite offensive, especially to Yiddish-speaking Jews born before WW2.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2009


"Klutz" is about the extent of my Yiddish.

And I'm an atheist who's only been to a synagogue once in memory.

I'm possibly the worst Jew ever.

// And yet I'm still "That Jewish Guy" to people who know me
posted by Target Practice at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2009


On the gay-Yiddish connection.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:49 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


My mother (who was born after WWII) doesn't like it when I refer to someone as a putz or a schmuck.

Here's my question: is Yeshiva University redundant?
posted by sciencegeek at 2:00 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


That depends on whether you say the Hamotzi or not.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:02 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


That's nice.
posted by nj_subgenius at 2:18 PM on November 10, 2009


> One of the great things about Yiddish is that there is no one "proper" way to spell it in English!

ITYM "in the Roman alphabet" here, yes?


No, although that's true as well (though there is a standard YIVO transcription which, of course, Yiddish-speakers continually argue about). I meant in English, i.e., in the context of English sentences, like we're using them here. I write Chanukka, you write Hanukkah, he writes Khanike...

> I took this survey!

Me too!

> The day I meet a non-Jew who says "feh" is the day I pass out and die.

Don't ever come to NYC, Zombele.

You all know the joke about the camel, right?
posted by languagehat at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2009


ITYM "in the Roman alphabet" here, yes?

No, although that's true as well (though there is a standard YIVO transcription which, of course, Yiddish-speakers continually argue about). I meant in English, i.e., in the context of English sentences, like we're using them here.


Light dawns on Marblehead.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:22 PM on November 10, 2009


"Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"
posted by kirkaracha at 3:25 PM on November 10, 2009


Hey, I know one of the authors ... let me see if I can scare her up with a Facebook message.
posted by palliser at 4:05 PM on November 10, 2009


Hey! We discussed this when the survey was first announced, remember? Check out the thread: "What's nu?" (July 23, 2008)

"Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"

...was co-produced and co-written by a nice Jewish boy from Queens.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2009


I just skipped to the end of the comments without reading them all because I participated in the survey! (That's why I didn't post this; it would have been self-linking.*)

And I just exchanged an email with one of the authors (Sarah Benor) and she sent me the link to the active, living lexicon so I could add words to it!

I was shocked at the absence of "todah rabah" and noted the omission of the definition of "Mazel tov", so she essentially said, perfectly in character for what we're talking about, "Nu? It's broken? Go fix it!"

Now I have to go see if "nu" is in there.

(*not really why I didn't post this.)
posted by yiftach at 4:23 PM on November 10, 2009


GAAAAH! Preview jinx.
posted by yiftach at 4:24 PM on November 10, 2009


OK, on scrolling up and reviewing even a small number of the later comments, I really should have read a bit more. But I am at work and just on a bissele ergonomic break... sue me.
posted by yiftach at 4:27 PM on November 10, 2009


On the gay-Yiddish connection.
Interesting. I wonder whether there's any connection to Polari (which was influenced, to some extent, by Yiddish).
posted by acb at 5:22 PM on November 10, 2009


I've always wondered how 'Tukhus' & 'Tush' became English words used by people who have never even seen a Jew.
posted by mike3k at 9:09 PM on November 10, 2009


sometimes things are fercockt.

Wow--I grew up hearing that word all the time (I use it occasionally), but I don't think I've ever seen it written down.

I grew up in Westchester country, NY, but my parents (both from Catholic, not Jewish backgrounds) grew up in working class neighborhoods in the Bronx and Manhattan, so I heard a really odd mix of German, Yiddish, & Italian words mixed in with regular English. My mom's vocabulary in particular is pretty weird--for a while her first-generation Italian Catholic mother managed a kosher deli and during that time my mom went to a mostly-Jewish populated day camp. As a result, sometimes my mom sounds like what you would get if you mixed Carmela Soprano with Linda Richman.

My favorite: oy madon' (oy from oy vey + madon' from madonna mia)

I wonder how that would fit in with their survey!

oh, and I also say feh and schmutz all the time
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:40 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok, so Westchester may be the suburbs, but it's not actually a separate country--oops!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:41 PM on November 10, 2009


Some of us yidn actually still speak Yiddish among ourselves. Some blog in Yiddish, even food blogs. Here you can listen to some Gems from the amazing Yiddish Radio Project that aired on NPR a few years back - my favorites are the advetisements that you can read in translation using the amazing Yid-o-matic (real player) translator! Boston still has Yiddish radio. And don't miss the amazing Michael Wex's book about the history of Yiddish "Born to Kvetch." If you really want to get deep into Yiddish linguistics, Prof. Dovid Katz' is working out of YIVO in Vilna and has it all on line for you.
posted by zaelic at 1:50 AM on November 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Are there many Yiddish speakers who are neither elderly nor ultra-orthodox? I was under the impression that Yiddish is dying out outside of ultra-Orthodox contexts (i.e., those who contend that one shouldn't use Hebrew until the Messiah comes or similar).
posted by acb at 2:21 AM on November 11, 2009


Not so many. I suspect the numbers are comparable to speakers of Esperanto. It's being supplanted by Modern Hebrew even among the ultra-Orthodox, although the process is slower where there's an ideological bias against it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:14 AM on November 11, 2009


There are still quite a lot of non-orthodox young Yiddish speakers. Go to New York and you can enroll your kids in Yiddish pre-schools. In Montreal and Mexico City there are still Yiddish language High Schools with a secular approach. In Paris the age profile for Yiddish speakers is probably even younger than New York - I remember walking past a street cafe near Place de Republique a few years ago and hearing two young women talking with broad, old fashioned Warsaw Yiddish drawls. I was in the Republic of Moldova last November and spoke Yiddish daily with people as young as twenty (OK, one was 20....)

The truth is that Yiddish is actually growing, but the demographic is growing among Hasidic families who tend towards having a lot of kids, and who do not generally interact with any non-religious Jews whether Yiddish is spoken or not. As Michael Wex wrote, in Brooklyn there are still thousands of children who dream in Yiddish every night. The Hasidim do not care for secular Yiddish literature or theater or even Klezmer music, but in New York alone there are still at least three Yiddish newspapers for the Orthodox alone, not counting the secular/socialist Forwards, which publishes in Yiddish, English, and now Russian. Of course, the Williamsburg way of Yiddish uses a lot of English mixed in. And until you have heard Lipa Schmeltzer, you simply haven't heard modern New York Hasidic Yiddish singing. [WARNING: Hasidic Jews dressed as dancing Leprechauns. NSFW.]

Add to this the thousands of young Jews (and non-Jews) who take up Yiddish as a second language. This is often the choice for for those who wish to have a Jewish linguistic identity that is not based on Israeli Hebrew and the attendant Zionist political/cultural baggage.
posted by zaelic at 7:04 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered how 'Tukhus' & 'Tush' became English words used by people who have never even seen a Jew.

Maybe they've seen ZZ Top.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:24 AM on November 11, 2009


I've always wondered how 'Tukhus' & 'Tush' became English words used by people who have never even seen a Jew.

I'll take "Movies and Television Shows" for $400, Alex!
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:26 AM on November 11, 2009


Not a single mention of "shvits" in the whole thread? feh
posted by jckll at 12:11 PM on November 11, 2009


Wow. All my high school friends here in Missouri—none of whom were Jewish, as far as I know—said feh at a certain point in the mid-'00s. I think it had something to do with anime/manga culture...a quick Google search reveals that the word gained currency via Matt Groening's "Life in Hell" strip and InuYasha. I definitely didn't know it was Yiddish!
posted by limeonaire at 7:05 PM on November 12, 2009


I had to learn these three early in life: meshugene vershikkert shiksa.

What, no "shayna punim" for my trouble, I ask you? A shonda.

My newest yiddish vocab, from A Serious Man, was "naches." And for a movie of such tsuris, it gave me such naches.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:16 PM on November 15, 2009


Metafilter: It's just a penis.
posted by poe at 7:19 PM on December 7, 2009


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