I would like to preface this post by saying: I don’t speak Yiddish fluently. I am not Jewish. I don’t mean to offend anyone with this post. I’m just expressing my enjoyment of the Yiddish language.
My father is Jewish. A couple of years ago, on Christmas, a stand up comedy event was set up for Christmas Eve, because Jews obviously don’t celebrate Christmas. People from the local synagogues did their stand-up acts, which were very, very funny. (Jews are known for their great sense of humour, don’t you know?) An elderly couple from my dad’s synagogue stood up and told a story all in Yiddish. The man spoke Yiddish, and his wife translated. I don’t remember what the story was about. The two of them were funny all alone. His wife would interrupt him, or translate something wrong, and we were all doubled over laughing at how great they were. One thing about the Yiddish I do remember, however, was that I could understand a lot of it, just because I speak German fluently (Yiddish is a mixture of Hebrew and medieval German). I was raised speaking German from an early age and my first word was in German. I also studied German literature in university. So from then on, I was truly fascinated by it. I even bought my dad the magnetic poetry version of Yiddish.
Apparently, Yiddish was at one time the international language of Ashkenazic Jews, who were the Jews of central and eastern Europe and their ascendants. It is a mish-mash of different languages – about 2/3 of it is from German, and the rest is Hebrew and whatever language spoken where they were geographically. The alphabet is based on Hebrew. It was once known by 11 million of the world’s 18 million Jews, but now most Jews only know a few words here and there. Unfortunately, because of anti-Semitism, Jews began dropping Yiddish because it was seen as “barbaric.” Many Jews are trying to bring the language back.
When I think of Yiddish, I think of words like “verklempt,” “kvetch,” and “bubbe” (“overcome with emotion,” “complain,” and “grandmother,” respectively). The former word was made famous by Saturday Night Live’s skit “Coffee Talk” in which Mike Myers played Linda Richman. (It’s hilarious. Go find it on YouTube, now.) I scrolled through a list of common Yiddish words and have done a little more Google research, and found that Yiddish words are handy because they can be stuck in between words of another language. You can use a Yiddish word in place of an English word and have the rest of the sentence be English. The spelling is also very phonetic, so words borrowed from German are spelled differently than they would be in German. I’ve decided that while Yiddish words are great no matter which letter they start with, the letter K has some really good ones. Perfect for a “K” post.
Let’s start with “Kvetch.” It means “to gripe; to complain; to bemoan one’s fate.” An example would be, “They’re always kvetching about something.” I love the word mostly because when it is said out loud, it sounds like someone is literally throwing up. Normally throwing up doesn’t accompany complaining, but I could see how it could. I complain a lot when I’m throwing up, let me tell you. I also like that it sounds so similar to the German verb “zu kotzen” which actually does mean “to throw up.” Another example of kvetch: “You drive me crazy when you kvetch all the time.” Try saying it out loud: Kvetch. Isn’t it great?
Next, “Kvell.” It means “to gush with pride; swell with naches. Gloat or brag.” Used in a sentence: “Moms can kibitz and kvell about why their kids are such a great catch and what they’re looking for in a match.” This is another word that is similar to German, in fact, it literally comes from the German word “quellen,” to gush up. And I think it’s a great example of Yiddish being pronounced in the accent where you grew up. Many people who still speak Yiddish are in New York, so imagine a Linda Richman type character saying “Kvell.” (I realize not all Jews in New York sound like Linda Richman, but it is fun to imagine!)
“Krenk” is another word I listed in the title to this post. It means, “Illness, malaise, adj. sick.” It’s not a word typically heard mixed with English, so it’s hard to know how someone would use it, but here’s an example in Yiddish: “ikh bin nu krenk.” This is very similar to German, again, because “krank” means “sick” in German, and the sentence I included as an example is close to the German sentence, “Ich bin sehr krank.” (In fact, I typed in “I am so sick” into an English-Yiddish translator, and voila. Or should I say: “oysnemen!” Which apparently means “success.” That is a word that is not very closely related to English or German.)
As for a word that even we gentiles use, “klutz” means what we know it to mean: “A clumsy person.” As in, “That damn klutz spilled wine all over my new, white, leather couch.” The Free Dictionary says that “klutz” comes from the High German word “kloz” which means “block or lump.”
How about some Yiddish phrases? Here’s a good one: “Kish mir in tuchas.” It literally means “Kiss me in the you-know-what.” This is another example of German grammar, but the word “tuchas” may be from another language. We can see, however, that “tuchas” is a lot like the word “tush,” meaning “buttocks,” which apparently was taken from the Yiddish “tokhes,” and we come full circle.
And lastly, “Khas vesholem!” This means, “G-d forbid!” An example given by this website is, “Be careful or you’ll break your neck, khas vesholem!” It is also spelled “Chas v’sholem” in Hebrew. I believe this one is purely a Hebrew phrase with Yiddish spelling.
Isn’t Yiddish great? I could read about this stuff all day. For some examples of Yiddish, try YouTube. If you know German, Russian, or Hebrew, see if you can understand some of what they’re saying without looking up translations.
***This post is part of the Blogging from A-Z April challenge. Starting with A, every post in April will be about a topic starting with a letter of the alphabet, consecutively. For more information, please visit the official page.***