Can you think of a word that sounds more complicated, muddled and frustrated than farpotshket?
Better Than English: Untranslatable Words defines the Yiddish word farpotshket as “Something that is all fouled up, especially as the result of attempts to fix it–repeatedly making something worse while trying to fix it.” It is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable.
Our church, First Presbyterian Albany, hosted a work camp in the city the week leading to the 4th of July. Homes were repaired/painted throughout the city; 400+ youth and adults, from several states, including Hawaii, plus folks from Ontario, Canada, were hosted at Myers Middle School; 75+ First Pres folks volunteered to make it all happen. We received some media coverage, including one of the radio stations, WFLY present on opening day. Here’s the web link to the Times Union article. Plus nice coverage from a local public radio station.
Mark Evanier wrote about The Battle of the Network Stars, some cheesy TV competition c. 1977. What struck me is that I knew every actor and the associated show from CBS, all but one from ABC, but had serious trouble with the NBC stars. Even I knew of the actor, say, Jane Seymour, I had no idea what show she was representing.
Sondheim wanted “F@#$ YOU”; interesting how the F-word rhymes with the SCHM-word, and means about the same.
One Yiddish word I liked to use quite a bit when I was in my twenties was schmuck, meaning “an obnoxious, contemptible person; one who is stupid, foolish, or detestable.” I did not know until recently that, in some Jewish homes, the word had been “regarded as so vulgar as to be taboo”. The non-religious Jews I knew certainly used it often enough. The word’s derivation comes from the word representing that which beleaguered Congressman Anthony Weiner tweeted recently.
In his book Finishing the Hat, lyricist Stephen Sondheim talks about the evolution of the words to the song GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE from West Side Story.
But the producer of the Broadway cast album told him that the word schmuck would have to be changed. “I confessed that I had no idea the word was obscene. I thought it was simply a vulgarity…, not an obscenity that could prevent the recording from being distributed.”
Another lyric change involved the last two words of the song. Sondheim wanted “F@#$ YOU”; interesting how the F-word rhymes with the SCHM-word, and apparently mean about the same. But for the same commercial reasons, this as scrapped in favor of the Leonard Bernstein suggestion of “KRUP YOU!” It conveyed the same message without actually saying it, and Sondheim believes that it “may be the best lyric line in the show.”
Leo Rosten also defined chutzpah as ‘that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.’
My wife, who teaches English as a Second Language, sent me this article about how “certain words from other languages express meanings that no English words can.”
The author, Connie Tuttle, notes: “Part of the richness of English comes from the thousands of words derived from other languages. Nevertheless, there are occasions when no English word expresses the nuance of a situation. A friend who is a linguist once commented that English was the language of commerce, but was lacking in vocabulary expressive of complex social relations. Maybe so. If she is right, that could explain why over the years I’ve found myself resorting to an increasing number of words from languages other than English, not only in conversation but also while writing.”
Unsurprising to me, six out of the ten examples comes from Yiddish: ALTER KOCKER, OY VAY (or just OY), MISHEGOSS, MESHUGGE, PUTZ, NU, and BUBKES. Three of these I find that I use quite a bit: oy (which is a versatile word), putz (meaning a fool), and bubkes: “If you want to make a living as a poet, be prepared to earn bubkes.” These terms do not come to me as an affectation; rather, they are words I heard from my great aunt Charlotte, and especially from her family.
But the word, not on the list, that IMMEDIATELY leapt to mind was chutzpah: “to express admiration for nonconformist but gutsy audacity.”
“Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as ‘gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible guts, presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to.’ In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and grudging admiration. In the same work, Rosten also defined the term as ‘that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.'”
“Yiddish is a Germanic language originally spoken by the Jews of Central and later Eastern Europe, written in the Hebrew alphabet, and containing a substantial substratum of words from Hebrew as well as numerous loans from Slavic languages.” But the same word in Hebrew may have a different nuance in Yiddish; chutzpah in Hebrew is much more negative, for example.
There are a lot of words on the list beginning with SC, usually combined with other consonants, that are just fun to say. “Schlemiel, schlimazel” show up in the lyrics for the theme song to the TV show Laverne and Shirley, meaning “an inept clumsy person” and “a chronically unlucky person,” respectively. In fact, I’ll write at length about another one of those words…tomorrow.
Among the words of Yiddish origin I’ve been known to use include kvetch (complain habitually), schlep (drag or haul), and zaftig (pleasingly plump, buxom, full-figured, as a woman). I suppose a synonym for the latter would be Rubenesque, but zaftig suggests a more positive attitude, I’m told.