Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Do you already say it in Yiddish: a brief glossary for Yiddish for Pirates:



Do you already say it in Yiddish?

Yiddish is the perfect pirate tongue. It plunders with panache and delights—often with delicious irony—in the rich swash of its own buckle. 

Below are some definitions of many of the Yiddish words that are used in Yiddish for Pirates. But maybe you’re a maven and already know them all, and not some poor shmuck who can’t make head or tail of this farkakteh list.

I didn't include a glossary in the book for a few reasons. I didn't want the reader to get hung up looking up words but rather I wanted to allow the sentences to flow over them and immerse the reader in the sensibility of the novel and its narrator. And for the most part, I cunningly included the corresponding English word or phrase along with the Yiddish in the sentence where it was used, because I'm no fool shlemiel. In any case, the meanings are usually clear given their context.

I love Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoOne thing that I especially love is that it is filled with idiomatic Dominican Spanish. For me, as a non-Dominican and non-Spanish speaker it made clear to me that this was a novel narrated by and about a worldview that was very different to mine, and I was an outsider, albeit one who was charmed, moved, entertained, and captivated by the voices and experiences of the novel. Of course, Dominicans would immediately get that it spoke directly to them and reflected something of (at least one part of their culture's) linguistic experience and worldview. I hoped that my novel could do the same thing with its Yiddish and Yiddishkeit, though my novel has its own very different, decolonializing project. I've found it very moving when I've read from Yiddish for Pirates that Yiddish speakers (usually older people) have expressed their appreciation of the Yiddish, often speaking to me in Yiddish and sharing Yiddish jokes, stories, and expressions. One nonagenarian told me that "Yiddish always provides you the words to say at a hospital bed."

There's something really energizing about an admixture of languages in one sentence. It's a vibrant polyphonic or polyrhythmic music. A lively dialogue. Or maybe it is a case of "you can't dance at two weddings with only one tuches."

And now you look at the words below and you say, “This, eppes, is a dictionary?” So, nu, not all of the subtle shades of meaning are included. That would take example stories, jokes, sayings, and …hand-gestures. Also, as Yiddish is normally written in Hebrew script, there is not really one standard way to render it in English letters…except for the wrong way. But, abi gezunt, what does it matter, really. As long as you’re healthy. (P.S. I'm planning on creating a comprehensive glossary of ALL the Yiddish in the novel for those who just need to know, but that's a bigger project for later.)

abi gezunt
as long as you’re healthy

a broch
an expletive, a curse 

brocheh
a blessing

alav ha’shalom
“May he rest in peace”

alter kaker
old fart

azoy
so (appears in many expressions and has many meanings); Azoy geyt es: That’s how it goes!)

balebosteh
impressive housewife (who often runs things)

balmelocheh
an expert (often used sarcastically)

bashert(er)
fated or predestined; often used about one’s soulmate

beytsim
testicles

bialy
a small baked roll

boychik
young boy, a kid (often as a term of endearment for any familiar male)

bubbeleh
like “darling,” a term of endearment

bupkes
nothing, worthless

cheder
elementary school; cheder-bocher: schoolboy

chutzpah
cheek, audacity, guts, temerity

dybbuk
evil possessing spirit

eppes
a little

farkakte, farkakteh
shitty, messed up

farklemt
overcome with emotion; also spelled verklempt

farmisht
mixed up, confused, crazy

feygeleh
lit. “little bird,” but also used pejoratively for homosexual

gevalt
“Oh my God!” “help!” or “good grief!”

gonif
a crook, a scoundrel 

keneynehoreh
Said to ward off the evil eye, a bit like “knock on wood”…but spookier

kishkas
intestines, guts

kvell
to beam with pride and pleasure

l’chaim
a toast, “to life!”

maidel, maideleh
girl, especially shaynah maidel, beautiful girl/young woman

mamaloshen
the mother tongue (i.e. Yiddish)

mamzer
bastard

matzoh
the traditional unleavened bread of Passover

macher
big shot

maven
expert (often used sarcastically)

mechayeh
a feeling of pleasure, delight or relief

megillah
a lengthy, involved story or explanation 

meshugas
craziness, nonsense

mishpocheh
family

nosh
snack

ongeshtopt
stuffed

punim
face

pupiklech
dish of chicken gizzards

sheyneh
beautiful

shikker(ed)
drunk

shlepp
v. to move laboriously; to lug
n. a long or arduous journey, or a slovenly person, a drag 

shlemiel
a fool, often clumsy

shloff
sleep

shlumper
a slob, an ineffectual loser

shmatte
rags, clothes

shmeckel
little penis

shmegegge 
a fool, buffoon, dawdler

shmendrick
a nerdy fool 

shmutzy
dirty

shnorrer
someone who is greedy

shnozz
nose, big nose 

shtarker
tough guy, a thug

shtikl
a small piece

shtup
to stuff; (vulgar slang) to have sex with

tchatchke
trinket, knickknack

tsitske(s)
nipple(s)

tuches
backside

zaftik
buxom


Images from the amazing YiddishWit.com