How Do You Say 'Fuhgeddaboudit' in Yiddish?

Seeking a Jewish Equivalent for Famed Mafia Slang

Language Mobster: James Gandolfini helped to popularize “Fuhgeddaboudit” on “The Sopranos,” but the phrase may be more common in Hollywood than in real life.
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Language Mobster: James Gandolfini helped to popularize “Fuhgeddaboudit” on “The Sopranos,” but the phrase may be more common in Hollywood than in real life.

By Philologos

Published May 12, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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The Internet linguistic blogger Ben Trawick-Smith is skeptical. Few of his Italian American informants remember it as such, and many don’t remember it at all. Sometimes, he writes, phrases become so identified with certain places and populations that they come to epitomize these in the popular mind, even though this may have no basis in reality. “Fuhgeddaboudit” may be such a case, a Hollywood-disseminated expression assumed to characterize Italian American speech by only those who know little about it.

But let’s get back to Bret Stephens’s question: How does one say “Fuhgeddaboudit” in Yiddish?

One would have to improvise. “Fuhgeddaboudit” in the sense of “There’s no possible way” might be conveyed by a nekhtiger tog, a “fat chance.” For “Fuhgeddaboudit” meaning “I can’t possibly do it justice,” one could try nisht keyn verter, “[There are] No words [for it].” And for a dark horse, you might want to check out the distinguished Yiddish linguist Uriel Weinreich’s suggestion of meyle in his Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary.

Weinreich doesn’t, it is true, offer meyle (pronounced “MAY-leh”) for “Fuhgeddaboudit,” which had no currency in 1968, the year his dictionary was published. He does, however, under the English verb “forget,” give meyle as a translation of the exclamatory “Forget it!” — which is about as close to “Fuhgeddaboudit” as one could get in pre-Fuhgeddaboudit days. Since meyle is a Yiddish word that is almost never uttered exclamatorily, and is most often let drop in a tone of quiet resignation, this may seem a surprising choice.

If anything, meyle is even harder to translate into English than “fuhgeddaboudit” is into Yiddish. It can, depending on the context, mean “Don’t worry about it,” “If you say so,” “It could be worse,” “I’m not going to comment on that” and various other things. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate some of its uses is by giving a few hypothetical examples.

Wife: “I know you wanted to watch the football game today, dear, but the Goldbergs are coming for tea.”

Husband: “Meyle.”

Translation: “And if I say I don’t want tea, that will help any?”

Chaim: “I think Mendl is a highly intelligent fellow.”

Yankl: “Meyle.”

Translation: “Let’s not argue about how intelligent Mendl is. I may end up wondering how intelligent you are.”

Grandfather: “I hear our granddaughter is dating a Jewish taxi driver.”

Grandmother: “Meyle.”

Translation: “It could have been a non-Jewish taxi driver.”

Prosecuting attorney: “You’ve already been caught lying three times under oath.”

Defendant: “Meyle.”

Translation: “From now on I’ll tell better lies.”

With all due respect to Uriel Weinreich, this is not quite the same as “Forget it,” let alone “Fuhgeddaboudit.” The difference is emotional as well as semantic. “Fuhgeddaboudit” can express excitement, impatience or annoyance, but there’s always an aggressiveness about it; meyle is passively accepting, though sometimes slyly so.

President Obama won’t stop the Iranians? Meyle.

Translation: “If God doesn’t want Iran to get the bomb, He’s got other ways of seeing to it.”

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com

Though this is a language column, some of the language used in the video shown here may be considered by to be inappropriate. Viewer discretion advised.


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