Philologos


The Language Bibi and Bam Used

By Philologos

As settlement policy continues to roil U.S.-Israeli relations, our language columnist says that some linguistic common sense could have avoided the mess.Read More


Shabbat by Way of Babylon

By Philologos

The holiday of Shavuot has arrived — and with it, a d’var Torah, a commentary on a biblical passage, customarily delivered by a rabbi or member of a congregation, from Edward Reingold of Michiana, Mich. For his subject, Mr. Reingold has chosen the verses in Leviticus 23 that tell us when Shavuot is to be celebrated — that is, seven weeks plus a day, or 50 days, from the commencement of the Omer, the “sheaf-offering” of the barley harvest that begins during the week of Passover. (This is why the holiday is called ḥag ha-shavu’ot, “the feast of weeks,” in Hebrew, and Pentecost, from Greek pentekoste, “fiftieth,” in English.) Leviticus 23:10-11 reads, in the Jewish Publication Society translation: “When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its [barley] harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest. He shall elevate the sheaf before the Lord for acceptance in your behalf; the priest shall elevate it on the day after the Sabbath.”Read More


Fermisht but Not Fergotten

By Philologos

Our language columnist takes on a question about the Yiddish prefix “fer–” — as in ferklemt, ferblondzshet, ferkakt, ferdreyt, fermisht — and whether or not it has any relation to the English prefix “for.”Read More


How To Live Like God in Odessa

By Philologos

Two Yiddish saying seem to paint very different pictures of Jewish life in Odessa during the 19th century. Our language columnist attempts to reconcile the two maxims.Read More


Can We Mix Jewish and Italian?

By Philologos

Stanley Sadinsky of Waterford, Conn., writes: “In recent stories in the Forward about the Triangle tragedy, the victims of the fire were referred to as predominantly ‘Jewish and Italian’ immigrants. Since ‘Jewish’ is a religious connotation and ‘Italian’ refers to country of origin, this descriptive mix was wrong. What should have been said was that the victims were predominantly ‘Jewish and Catholic’ immigrants, or conversely, ‘Russian and Italian.’ At the Forward, it would seem, ‘Jewish’ overrides national origin.”Read More


And Rains in Their Due Season

By Philologos

It rained fairly heavily in Israel the week after Passover, and since anything more than a few drops is rare here after April, it was probably the year’s last downpour. Real rain is unlikely to fall again before late September or October, and there are years in which the first autumn showers don’t come until November. The winter months of December, January and February are the rainiest ones, after which precipitation starts tapering off again.Read More


Israel and the ‘M’ Word

By Philologos

On the face of it, there was no need for anyone to be embarrassed by the much publicized WikiLeaks disclosure that Israel’s former minister of housing, Labor Party member Yitzhak Herzog, told an American diplomat in 2006 that ex-defense minister and then Labor Party head Amir Peretz was perceived by the Israeli public as being “inexperienced, aggressive, and a Moroccan.”Read More


Questioning the Questions

By Philologos

Ruth Fath of Princeton, N.J., asks a timely question: “Does the Yiddish word kashe, as in the fir kashes, the ‘Four Questions’ asked at the beginning of the Seder, come from the same root as the Hebrew word kasheh, ‘difficult’? Our rabbi points out that in Hebrew the Four Questions are known as arba ha-kushyot, rather than as arba ha-she’elot, even though she’elah is the Hebrew word for ‘question.’”Read More


Do We Nosh on Celery or Cupcakes?

By Philologos

“I recently had an argument with a friend about the word ‘nosh.’ He grew up with Yiddish-speaking parents. I grew up around Yiddish-speaking grandparents. He maintained that to nosh means to snack on sweets, while I said it meant just to snack. I’m pretty sure I’m right, but since his family was from Galicia and mine were Litvaks, could it be a matter of different regional usage?”Read More


Enumerating Jewish Denominations

By Philologos

Warren Handel writes from Edwardsville, Ill.: “Perhaps I am mistaken, but I had always understood the term ‘denomination’ to refer to varieties of Christianity. When did the term come into use to describe varieties of Judaism? What terminology did it replace?”Read More





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