A delightful excursion through the Yiddish language, the culture it defines and serves, and the fine art of complaint
Throughout history, Jews around the world have had plenty of reasons to lament. And for a thousand years, they've had the perfect language for it. Rich in color, expressiveness, and complexity, Yiddish has proven incredibly useful and durable. Its wonderful phrases and idioms impeccably reflect the mind-set that has enabled the Jews of Europe to survive a millennium of unrelenting persecution . . . and enables them to kvetch about it!
Michael Wex—professor, scholar, translator, novelist, and performer—takes a serious yet unceasingly fun and funny look at this remarkable kvetch-full tongue that has both shaped and has been shaped by those who speak it. Featuring chapters on curse words, food, sex, and even death, he allows his lively wit and scholarship to roam freely from Sholem Aleichem to Chaucer to Elvis.
Perhaps only a khokhem be-layle (a fool, literally a "sage at night," when there's no one around to see) would care to pass up this endearing and enriching treasure trove of linguistics, sociology, history, and folklore—an intriguing appreciation of a unique and enduring language and an equally fascinating culture.
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The entry for "kvetchn (the verbal form) in Uriel Weinreich's "Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary reads simply: "press, squeeze, pinch; strain." There is no mention of grumbling or complaint. You can "kvetch an orange to get juice, "kvetch a buzzer for service, or "kvetch mit di pleytses, shrug your shoulders, when no one responds to the buzzer that you "kvetched. All perfectly good, perfectly common uses of the verb "kvetchn, none of which appears to have the remotest connection with the idea of whining or complaining. The link is found in Weinreich's "strain" which he uses to define "kvetchn zikh, to press or squeeze oneself, the reflexive form of the verb. Alexander Harkavy's 1928 "Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary helps make Weinreich's meaning clearer. It isn't simply to strain, but "to strain," as Harkavy has it, "at stool," to have trouble doing what, if you'd eaten your prunes the way you were supposed to, you wouldn't have any trouble with at all. The connection with complaint lies, of course, in the tone of voice: someone who's "kvetching sounds like someone who's paying the price for not having taken his castor oil---and he has just as eager an audience. A really good "kvetch has a visceral quality, a sense that the "kvetcher won't be completely comfortable, completely satisfied, until it's all come out. Go ahead and ask someone how they're feeling; if they tell you, "Don't ask," just remember that you already have. The twenty-minute litany of "tsuris is nobody's fault but your own.
---from "Born to Kvetch
Novelist, lecturer, and translator Michael Wex is one of the leading lights in the revival of Yiddish, and author of the New York Times bestseller Born to Kvetch and its follow-up, Just Say Nu.
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Book Description Souvenir Press Ltd, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0285638564