Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In praise of Yiddish (Listen up, schmucks!)

I've always loved Yiddish words ever since I became aware of them. Who can say why and I'm not alone. Who cannot love such a language? Yiddish was the language of the Ashkenazic Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, most of whom died in the Holocaust

Years ago I gave a graduation talk to MLS grads on Yiddish words, since one seemed to fit their class to a T: chutzpah. 

Chutzpah
Chutzpah has a positive meaning in popular culture, meaning cheeky, gutsy. That's how I meant it for the MLS students who graduated that year and were an audacious bunch of rascals.

When thinking of chutzpah, I picture saying it with a guttural sound with spit flying everywhere and prefer the pronunciation by the Israeli man.

Politicians mangling the word: For fun, see attempt by US politician Michele Bachmann.

How to pronounce chutzpah (for you and me)

Mensch 

I love Guy Kawasaki's 'How to be a mensch'

My choices for those most likely NEVER to be called a mensch:
  • Stephen Harper, Canada's Conservative Prime Minister (note he's hardly ever had a real job outside politics) 
  • Harper's good buddy Rob Ford, the joke of a mayor in Canada's largest city, Toronto.
Shalom
You have to love a word that can mean hello, goodbye, and peace (and much more). I heard shalom often during 1965 travels in Israel.



Then there's greetings like Shalom aleikhem. Also the writer Shalem Aleichem whose Tevye's Daughters was the source of Fiddler on the Roof.



Schlep
I've spent much time traipsing around Europe, beginning in the 1960s.

Occasionally, that would best be described as schlepping, especially in Berlin after a 2001 plane trip that took over 24 hrs. for what should have been less than half the time. Blame using Aeroplan points and getting stuck with a ridiculous route with long hours in Vancouver and Frankfurt airports.

Like most Yiddish words, schlep is fun to say and use, even when it doesn't quite fit.

Schlemiel
How many schlemiels do you know? I know a few, all of them lovable.



Of course, Woody Allan epitomizes the quintessential schlemiel. But Peter Sellers is great too in The Party and as Inspector Clouseau.

As a Seinfeld fan (still watch reruns), Jason Alexander as George Constanza perfects the schlemiel.

Schtick
Everyone has a schtick, sometimes good, sometimes not. 



Do you know anyone whose schtick is to be negative? I call them "boo birds". Never a good word, always moaning and groaning. Know a senior like this and quite a few 20-somethings too. Or how about the opposite? No matter what disaster befalls them, their schtick is stoicism, just grin and bear it.

Most successful comedians have a schtick, e.g.,

  • Bob Newhart on tobacco (Hilarious example of his understated humour)
Summary
I could include many more Yiddish favorites like schmooze and the whole darn megillah, as in this Yiddish dictionary.

But, bubbee, that might cause you to exclaim, Oi, Vai! Enough already for one blog....



And for anyone who gratuitously uses the F-bomb - see In praise of angst and other German words (Banish the F-bomb) - the word that comes to mind is schmuck. Your language ain't worth bupkis


That goes for comedians Russell Peters and Jon Stewart and Robin Williams. They're immensely talented, so why rely on the lazy man's F-bomb to get a laugh from the immature schmucks in the audience?

Monday, February 13, 2012

In praise of angst & other German words (Banish the F-bomb)

Over time I've discovered a love for many German words (and Yiddish words too - see next blog).

Unfortunately, today's youth is partial to the so-called "F-bomb" - the all purpose option of the lazy, a word that precludes the effort of expressing oneself meaningfully. 



Al Pacino apparently dropped 182 F-bombs in Scarface. The university students that live in the apartment across from me drop at least 5 in every sentence they utter. Except when Mom is there doing their laundry and cooking....


What a shame that today's youngsters ignore the rich language available to us all.

My German favorites include the following. 


Angst
Woody Allen's films often satirize existential angst, as shown in Annie Hall (love the opening!) and many of his films (Also see Annie Hall's ending).

Doppelgänger 

We may all have a doppelgänger. Has someone ever mistaken you for someone else? Or have you ever mistaken a person for someone else? In airports my husband routinely points out dopplegängers of my late mother and father. Eerie....

Periodically, a news item features rather lame celebrity doppelgängers

Gestalt
I first came across gestalt in an education course that discussed theorists like Kurt Lewin.

Being a big picture person, gestalt resonates since it validates that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Realpolitik
Realpolitik is often used by governments such as that of U.S. president Dubya (George W. Bush) to justify hypocritical, unethical behavior as the only smart option.



Or see Don Rumsfeld courting Saddam Hussein (1980-4) because Saddam (he of the axis of evil) was against Iran, America's enemy. Then it mattered not that Saddam used chemical warfare on his own people.

Schadenfreude
Schadenfreude - One of the best because it encompasses so much in a single word. 


We've all experienced schadenfreude, e.g., when someone slips on a banana peel or an egotistical ball player hits a slump or the hypocritical politician gets hoisted on his own petard. 


I certainly felt schadenfreude when John Edwards, who cheated on his wife Elizabeth when she was dying of cancer, was indicted for campaign fraud.


Weltschmerz
If you have ever felt a bit gloomy at the state of the world, such as human trafficking being common, or your country's apathetic voters, or the sense of entitlement of today's youth, you may have experienced weltschmerz .

Zeitgeist
My generation, defined by the 60s, definitely had a zeitgeist. What was it? See 'Utopia's return - 1960s attitudes reborn'

Do today's youth have one? Maybe....

Learning Point
If you too are partial to the F-bomb because it's the lazy person's word for almost everything, consider using language that better expresses your meaning. In other words, F-defuse (F-off), and, yes, that precisely expresses my meaning.