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.”