Brian Williams, Yiddishist?

By Gabriel Sanders

Published May 11, 2007, issue of May 11, 2007.
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A debate over Yiddish usage broke out in our offices this week, and it was settled by an unlikely authority: “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams.

The brouhaha centered on last Sunday night’s episode of HBO’s series “The Sopranos” and what seemed to some a strangely placed Yiddish locution. While engaged in conversation with the show’s perennially aggrieved Christopher Moltisanti character, a fellow recovering alcoholic — through the smoke of his post-AA-meeting cigarette and with a decidedly goyish inflection — let slip the word “tsoris.”

Some on staff, arguing that tsoris — Yiddish for “trouble” — has entered the American vernacular, found the use of the word unremarkable; others maintained that it was worthy of note. Williams sided with the second camp.

Writing as a guest blogger on the Web site Slate, the anchor, who is a New Jersey native and a “Sopranos” devotee, said he was “rocked” by the use of the word.

“What was striking about it,” Williams said later, in an interview with The Shmooze, “was how incredibly white-bread the cigarette-smoking guy was.”

The dapper newsman proved to have a better ear for mamaloshn than fellow blogger — and onetime Forward hand — Jeffrey Goldberg, who, in a subsequent post, wrote, “How is it that a guy named Williams heard tsoris and one named Goldberg didn’t?”

So is tsoris in a different league than, say, chutzpah?

“That’s pretty entry level,” Williams said. “This goes with ponim, mishpokhe, shpilkes and keynehoreh. This is for the pros. This is Triple-A ball.”

Before getting off the phone, Williams — a self-described “loyal observer of the language and culture” — couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the show that follows “The Sopranos” in HBO’s Sunday lineup: “Entourage,” the most recent episode of which was largely devoted to the Yom Kippur “observance” of scruple-free super-agent Ari Gold.

“I actually thought it went over the top,” he said. “A very, very caricatured depiction.”


Read previous Forward coverage of “The Sopranos” (here and here) and “Entourage” (here).


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