Yiddish Sound Effects

By Sarah Kricheff

Published March 06, 2008, issue of March 14, 2008.
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The Shmooze is always struck when Yiddish words come up in unlikely places, but we were particularly surprised by this latest discovery: the word “hazarai” attached to a new sound-effects box that has become a top-seller in the world of rock music. The Stereo Memory Man With Hazarai is a guitar-effects pedal made by Electro-Harmonix, the company that has served the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Kurt Cobain and the White Stripes’ Jack White.

Yiddish scholars define “hazarai” as “junk food,” but the colloquial meaning has shifted throughout the years to include “junk” more broadly, and many people today use the word when referring to “stuff” or “a little of this, a little of that.” And that’s just what Electro-Harmonix owner Mike Matthews had in mind when he came up with the product’s name.

“This is a new digital unit, and it had so much extra stuff,” Matthews said. “I remember when I was a kid, you’d buy a frankfurter and tell the guy, ‘Put on all the hazarai.’”

The new stompbox is an expanded version of its analogue predecessors, the Memory Man and the Deluxe Memory Man. It includes eight programmable presets, 30 seconds of loop time, reverse delays and tap tempos.

Matthews, 66, is not fluent in Yiddish and was raised in a nonreligious Jewish household in the Bronx. He acknowledges that most of his rocker clients won’t know the meaning of “hazarai,” but he is not concerned.

“We do all sorts of crazy things,” he said, noting that many of his products have unusual names, such as the English Muffin, the Holy Grail and the Electric Mistress.


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