Just Say 'Nu?': How Are You, cont’d.

The usual responses to general questions about your welfare are:

E-e-h and nishkoosheh are two of many Yiddish words with a pronounced physical component. In order to use either of them effectively:

  1. Raise the right hand to mid-chest level, palm parallel to the floor.

  2. Give the wrist a quarter-turn to the left (toward you), followed immediately by a half-turn right (i.e., a quarter-turn from the starting position), followed immediately by a half-turn left.

  3. Repeat if needed with an extended e-e-h or every time that nishkoosheh is said.

A truly fantastic “greeting” that asks “How are you,” provides a negative response on behalf of the person asked, and leaves them more room than ever to bend your ear with complaints is:

Epes geFELstee MEER NISHT
I somehow don’t like you, [i.e., there’s something about you that displeases me; i.e., I can see that there’s something wrong with you, so why don’t you tell me about it?]

The word heint, “today,” is often appended to the phrase (“Epes gefelstee meer nisht heint”) just to make sure that the person to whom it’s addressed doesn’t get the wrong idea. As mentioned above, this phrase is an invitation to kvetch and should never be used unless you really, really care.

Meeting

DRIKN DEE HANT, “the shaking of hands” (literally, “pressing the hand”) usually follows.

Simple Conversation: The Weather

In order to discuss the weather effectively, it helps to be able to be able to identify the following:

Day and Night

Heavenly Bodies

Basic Precipitation

but

There’s nothing more embarrassing than sitting in a stuffy room and saying, “Am I the only one here who’s horny?” without even knowing that you’ve done so.

Common Courtesy

Those who think of Yiddish-speakers as rude will be shocked to discover that Yiddish has two ways of saying “please” that people who speak the language use all the time:

and

Many of the same people are, however, just as likely to point at something that they want and grunt, generally from somewhere behind the nose (grunting of this sort seems to be a male prerogative), or else shout out the name of whatever it is that’s wanted, for instance, “ZALTS, Salt!” or “GATkehs, Long johns!” with a strong if unspoken sense of “now.”

No one reading these words will be able to get away with such behavior until the generation just described has been gone long enough to be remembered by no one else. Until then, it’s best to observe the proprieties and ask nicely:

It’s also considered good form to say “thank you”:

And let’s not forget “you’re welcome”:

*Forgiveness**

ZEIT MOYKHL, which has a very literal meaning of “forgive me,” really means “excuse me, I beg your pardon” or “please.” If you want to ask a stranger for directions, you approach with ZEIT MOYKHL, “excuse me”; you say the same thing if you’re pushing your way through a row of seated theater-goers with a box of popcorn in your hand. If you want someone to pass you the milk and you don’t feel like using ZEI(T) aZOY GIT, you could say ZEIT MOYKHL, DEE MIlekh, “milk, please.” It gets more interesting, though, when you find yourself in the usual Yiddish situation of not getting what you want: you’ve tried a couple of ZEIT aZOY GIT’s and the damned MIlekhis still at the other end of the table. You can then say IKH BIN DEER MOYKHL DEE MILEKH —literally, “I forgive you in regards to the milk.” What it really means is “You can take your stinking milk and pour it through a funnel where the sun don’t shine.” Or you can reach over, invade the personal space of the yutz who’s ignoring your request, take the milk yourself and say MOYKHL, “Don’t flanken bother.”

You can use MOYKHL even more ironically to indicate how little you want something that’s been offered you: VILST ESN BAY MEER KREPlakh, “Want a knuckle sandwich?” (Literally, “Would you like me to give you some dumplings to eat?”) Just hold up your hands and say, MOYKHL, “[No] thanks!”

meKHEEleh, the noun derived from MOYKHL, means “pardon” or “forgiveness,” what you ask for on Yom Kippur. It’s also used to mean [TUkhes or] “rear end”:

Want a kick right up your you’ll-pardon-the-expression?

Adapted from “Just Say Nu,” by Michael Wex. Copyright (c) 2007 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

Written by

Michael Wex

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Just Say 'Nu?': How Are You, cont’d.

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