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The Bride Is Too Pretty

Forward reader Harold H. Rotman writes to ask:

“My mother, of blessed memory, used to use an expression that describes an absurd, impossible, preposterous circumstance, as, for example, that a prayer was too long, or that a great hockey game was going into a third overtime, or that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony took forever. The expression was, as best as I can remember it, a chasuron az di kalleh iz tsu sheyn. It’s the second word that I’m not sure of. Can you help?”

With pleasure. Mr. Rotman’s problem with the second word is that he’s misremembered its vowels. Using, as I do in this column, “kh” instead of “ch” to indicate the sound of “ch” in “Bach,” the word is not khasuron, but khisorn, with the stress on the middle syllable.

Khisorn (from Hebrew h.isaron) means “drawback” in Yiddish, and the expression a khisorn az di kale iz tsu sheyn means, literally, “The [only] drawback is that the bride is too pretty.” But its meaning is not quite what Mr. Rotman takes it to be. It’s not the circumstance — the overtime hockey game or Beethoven’s lengthy Fifth — that is being criticized by it as preposterous, but rather the people who complain about such things. To grouse that a bride is too pretty would indeed be preposterous; so would it be, the Yiddish expression conveys, to say that a thrilling sports contest or a magnificent musical work is too long. Perhaps the closest equivalent English idiom would be, “You can’t have too much of a good thing.” But the tone is different. “You can’t have too much of a good thing” cheerfully advises us not to shrink from enjoying life just because it exceeds our expectations, while a khisorn az di kale iz tsu sheyn sarcastically observes that this is advice a habitual kvetcher doesn’t take.

Jewish humor is full of jokes about matchmakers and their attempted matches; usually, either the matchmaker is portrayed by these jokes as a shameless exaggerator, or the prospective bride, groom or their parents are depicted as obsessive fault-finders. But although I suspect that the expression “The bride is too pretty” ultimately may derive from such a joke, too, I can’t think of any joke that has it. Some of you, though, may know an opposite joke about the matchmaker who sees the good side of everything. Told by a young man that he is not interested in a certain young lady, even though she comes with a large dowry, because she is lame, the matchmaker replies;

“What of it? She’ll never have to walk because you’ll be so rich, you’ll take her everywhere in a taxi.”

“But she’s half-blind!” the young man says.

“All the better,” the matchmaker says. “She won’t see your faults.”

“And she stutters, too.”

“Would you rather have a wife who talks all the time?”

“But she’s a hunchback!”

To this, the matchmaker sighs and says, “Look, nobody’s perfect.”

In response to my column of two weeks ago concerning possible names for the recent war in Lebanon, both David Curwin and Judith Weiss write to tell me that I left out one candidate, namely, “The War of Dire Straits.” This seemingly odd way of referring to Israel’s war against Hezbollah, a translation of the Hebrew milh.emet beyn he-metsarim, was first suggested, according to Mr. Curwin, by Israel’s minister of defense, Amir Peretz. The logic behind such a suggestion would be that the war, which lasted from July 12 to August 14, broke out the day before the traditional fast of the 17th of Tammuz, on which the besieging army of the Roman emperor Titus is said to have breached the walls of Jerusalem; it ended a week-and-a-half after the day of mourning of the Ninth of Av, on which the Temple is believed to have been destroyed. This period is known in Jewish tradition as the days of beyn ha-metsarim, “between the [dire] straits,” on the basis of the verse in the Book of Lamentations: “All her [Jerusalem’s] persecutors overtook her between the straits.” The days in question are considered to be a time of bad luck in which Jews were enjoined from festive occasions and took special care not to provoke the evil eye.

The reason that Minister of Defense Peretz, who was one of the war’s principal backers, would want to name it for a historical disaster associated with ill fortune is not clear to me. In any case, the chances of this name’s catching are slim. Most nonobservant Israelis are not familiar with the expression “the days between the straits,” and even if the war did not go particularly well, the implied comparison of it to the downfall of Jerusalem and Jewish independence strikes me as more than just a tad exaggerated.

And regarding my column of August 18 about the naming of the Katyusha rocket, Michael Dorfman informs me that when first produced in the Soviet Union shortly before World War II, the Katyusha was called the KAT, short for Kostikova avtomatitcheski thermitny, or “the Kostikov automatic missile,” thus named for its inventor, weapons engineer S. Kostikov. This doesn’t rule out the connection between the rocket and the popular Soviet song “Katyusha” that I wrote about, but Mr. Dorfman’s memo persuades me to think that the song must have been associated with the rocket in the first place because of Comrade Kostikov and his invention.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to [email protected].

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