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AWADmail Issue 439A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language
This week's Email of the Week is from Carol Sevilla (see below), who will receive the Uppityshirt of her choice, and there's a heck of a selection.
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
No Need to Kvetch, Yiddish Lives On in Catskills
Language May Help Create, Not Just Convey, Thoughts and Feelings
From: Linda Alpert (lalpertesq gmail.com)
As a child, I remember hearing another use of the word shmear, which we would use when one team beat another team by a lopsided score -- i.e., we really "shmeared" that team or the team was "shmeared" by their opponent. We used that word interchangeably with "creamed". The other sense of the word I heard most often was in ordering the following in a restaurant: "I'll have a bagel with a shmear" -- it was understood that shmear meant cream cheese and not butter.
From: Joe Hoffman (joshof gmail.com)
There is one other definition of shmeer, used in Israel, similar to the idiomatic American expression "to fudge", as in intentionally writing something that is difficult to decipher, like an exam answer, to conceal the writer's lack of knowledge.
From: Jerr Boschee (jerr orbis.net)
It obviously emerged from a different but somehow related source, but my German/Prussian Grandfather Peter Wickenheiser (a fierce pinochle player) would always command me to "Schmeer!" whenever he wanted me to dump a counter (a card that added to our score) onto his winning trick so our opponents couldn't get it from me later. I guess, in a way, to "grease" the trick, in the sense that we made it more valuable by adding my counter to the trick he'd already captured (or that I knew he would capture because of the way the cards were falling) -- our version of adding cream cheese to the bagel! My grandfather lived to be almost 103, so we played a LOT of pinochle over the years.
From: Larry Huber (larry_huber comcast.net)
My Dad always called cottage cheese schmierkase, the spelling of which I had to look up. We grew up understanding what he meant by it, but the derivation of the word makes sense for how he ate schmierkase, on bread.
From: Joel Lazar (joellazar joellazar.com)
From: Ramona Wickenkamp (monakamp charter.net)
The word schmeer has been in my vocabulary longer than 1958. My Dad was of German descent but not Jewish. I grew up on a farm where, according to my Dad, there was a whole schmeer of kittens in the barn and that sow had a whole schmeer of piglets and there was a whole schmeer of white-face cattle at the sale barn.
Had I known, I could have recorded this usage in 1935 in pencil in a "Chief" tablet so you would have a more accurate date for "first recorded usage". "Too soon old, too late smart."
A number of readers sent similar comments, describing their parents or grandparents using the term earlier than the year mentioned for the word. The Oxford English Dictionary records first citation of the noun sense of the term from 1958; verb form is from 1930. It's important to note that this is the first recorded use of the word in the English language.
Lexicographers revise the entries when they receive a citation antedating a word. The OED is always on the lookout for documentary evidence that antedates a word. Send it here.
From: Zelda Dvoretzky (mamazee netvision.net.il)
You strike rich soil when you dig into "mamaloshen" (the mother tongue) -- Yiddish. My father used to describe a certain annoyingly pedantic acquaintance as a phudnik, that is, a nudnik with a PhD.
From: Joan Perrin (perrinjoan aol.com)
I could just kvell, a week of all Yiddish words. As a Hebrew school teacher, I would be obligated to inform you since the holiday is just around the corner, that the shamus is the name for the helper candle that lights the other candles in a chanukiah. A chanukiah is the correct name for the nine branched menorah used only on Chanukah. A menorah is a candelabra, but is usually represented by the seven branched version that is described in the Torah. The Chanukiah has nine branches. One for the eight nights candles are lighted, and a branch for the shamus. I like to tell my students that a chanukiah is a menorah, but a menorah isn't a chanukiah. Chanukah is a holiday that is bursting with Yiddish words such as dreidle, latkes, and gelt.
From: Joseph Hoffman (joshof gmail.com)
Apropos of "golem" as a shapeless mass, the tri-literal root g-l-m in Hebrew is used as a verb to denote an actor who portrays a character as in "John Wayne g-l-m Davy Crockett in The Alamo", i.e. turns something shapeless into a specific form.
From: Randi Gerber Suss (RandiGSuss comcast.net)
A contemporary literary use of the term shamus/shammes is in Michael Chabon's ingenious novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union. A hybrid of the noir and Yiddish genres, the story's main character, Meyer Landsman, is a detective -- or as he's referred to in the novel, a shammes.
Also, Hiding the Golem of Prague is a plot thread in another of Michael Chabon's novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
As a self-confessed etymology nerd, I love AWAD. As an American Jewish woman, I applaud your tackling words from Yiddish. Oy, I'm kvelling!
From: Richard Rabinowitz (rrahw earthlink.net)
Growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, we learn that there were only three ontological categories. In the deli we frequented, the schlemiel, or clumsy oaf, was the fellow who tripped the waiter, who was a schmegeggy or buffoon, and whose tray with the hot soup fell onto the schlimazel, or bad-luck hapless soul.
From: Edie Bonferraro (edieb mailbug.com)
Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, is reported to have said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse." One wonders how he would have completed, "and Yiddish to..."
Based on personal reflection, "and Yiddish to my kids" would work: I remember fondly some examples from Mom: "Stop hoking mier a tchynik!" "Stop noodging me!" "Oy what a nudnik!" "Go clean the schmootz in your room!" "Don't wear that schmate!" (Bang on a teapot, nagging, bore, dirt, rag)
From: Lety Haynes (letypersonal cox.net)
And Yiddish to... my mother-in-law!
From: Carol Sevilla (carolsevilla verizon.net)
Subject: Yiddish and King Charles V
If having a non-Catholic lapse, King Charles would have spoken to his Sephardic "enemies" in Ladino, the Yiddish of Spanish, aka "the 1492 Spanish" or the Spanish of the Sephardics. Although quickly becoming extinct, Ladino is still spoken in dwindling numbers here and there, with larger numbers in areas in the Middle East (where the Spanish Jews fled from Spain during the Inquisition) and Mexico City. Ladino isn't as funny as Yiddish, though, so I get your point.
From: David Millstone (millstone valley.net)
Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, is reported to have said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse."
This brings to mind the old saying:
In heaven, the police are British, the chefs are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian, and everything is organized by the Swiss.
In hell, the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.
From: Mariann Evans (msemse sbcglobal.net)
The quotation from the comedian Jackie Mason goes something like this:
"I speak French to my wife and my cook; Italian to my mistress and my pastry chef; German to my horse, my dog and my mechanic; English to my accountant and my business manager; Spanish to my maid, my gardener and my confessor; and Yiddish to my doctor and my lawyer."
From: Richard Bailey (hms-rose comcast.net)
Let's not forget new Yiddishisms in current use, for example:
From: Max Kahn (maxkahn gmail.com)
With perfect coincidence (bashert [destined] some might say), The Atlantic published this week a legal petition to Federal District Court Judge Kimba Wood, full of annotated Yiddishisms (simcha, bubbamaiseh, bris, etc.) along with her charming response.
From: Tiffany Anderson (tnanderson08 yahoo.com)
When I told my husband I had signed up for AWAD emails to expand my vocabulary, he thought it was ridiculous; that I'd never use any of the words in "real life" and it would just be another email I wouldn't read. When we sat down for our daily "Jeopardy" session one night last week, he was surprised when I knew the answer in situ and when he turned in dismay, I reminded him how I'd never use these words in anything useful. Oh, the glory! Thanks, AWAD!
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. -Steven Wright, comedian (b. 1955)