A Semantic Study of Yiddish-Origin Lexemes in English icon

A Semantic Study of Yiddish-Origin Lexemes in English

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4.5.6. gefilte fish

When Jews immigrated to the U.S.A., they brought with them not only their languages but also their culinary habits. Gefilte fish is a fish cake or a fish loaf made of various fishes which are chopped or ground and mixed with eggs, salt, onions and pepper (Sometime with sugar). This is a traditional Ashkenazic Friday night dish.

The cuisine name is of German origin. In German it is gefülte and indeed the word is sometimes rendered in English in this form. The OED cites these examples:

There is even gefülte Fisch, which is stuffed fish without bones. (1892 I. Zangwill ^ Children of the Ghetto. i.iv.114)

Don't your Old Lady make gefülte fish any more for Shabbath dinner? (1941 L.g. Blochman See You at Morgue [1946] ix 61)

This orthography follows the German spelling. In Yiddish there is no /y/ sound. In very early Bavarian ö, _, ü, iu were unrounded and it is possible that this feature came from there to Yiddish (Birnbaum 1979: 75). Therefore, a better English transcription of this word is gefilte as in the following example, taken from the OED:

The nicest piece of gefilte fish you could wish to find on a plate.(1959H. Pinter ^ Birthday Party II 26)

In the story 'Butch minds the baby', Damon Runyon writes:

One evening along about seven o'clock I am sitting in Mindy's restaurant putting on the gefilte fish, which is a dish I am very fond of, when in come three parties from Brooklyn… and Little Isadore reaches out and spears himself a big chunk of my gefilte fish with his fingers, but I overlook this, as I am using the only knife on the table.

Among Jews, gefilte fish is a controversial dish. For some it is a gourmet; many for others (like myself) it is not. Neither the narrator nor Little Isadore is Jewish and the fact that both love it and eat it with such a relish, gives the text a highly comical nuance. Had the author used for example 'liver', which is a controversial dish in many societies, he would not have got the same comic effect.

In addition, gefilte fish is usually served with some kind of gravy, which make it a bit slippery and, unlike for example pizza or chicken, hard to eat with the fingers. The effect the author creates is not of disgust but of parody. It serves as an introduction for a funny story about breaking into an office and blowing a safe, all in the company of a small baby who "keeps on snoozing away first rate" or "mumbles", "squirms around" etc.

4.5.7. beygl

When the word beygl appeared in an article in The New York Times on February 4, 1956, the writer felt that he had to explain it (Gold 1982: 34). In 1962 it was apparently more familiar:

He [Arthur Goldberg] followed this up, a few days after his induction, with a Sunday-morning brunch at his house for his fellow Cabinet members, at which he introduced them to the delight of scramble eggs with bagels and lox (Robert Shaplen, New Yorker, April 14, 1962: 68 [Steinmetz 1986: 51])

When a Pentagon officer, describing the air-bombardment pattern used around Haiphong used it, he assumed that his listeners were familiar with the term. He said:

You might call it the bagel strategy. (Newsweek, September 25: 1967 [Rosten 1968: xxv])

Writing about new generation of children's books, Newsweek (January 25; 1993: 44) wrote:

Befriending neighbors is also the theme of Patricia Polacco's Mrs. Katz and Tush, in which a black boy gives a scrawny kitten to a lonley widow. The pair discovered that blacks and Jews have much in common. A Yiddish accent helps in reading this one aloud. ("Such a kugel I baked for you today, Larnel!")

4.5.8. Jewish Holidays

Jewish holidays appear as news items when something unusual happens in them, naturally. The most known example is probably the Yom Kippur War of 1973 which started in the middle of the day of Atonement, when almost all the Jewish population of Israel was either in the synagogues or at home, praying and fasting. Apparently, the attacking forces did not even notice to what day they had fixed their assault.

Insensitivity to Jewish important days is not an exclusive trait of the Jews' enemies; even their best friends do not always notice it:

Secretary of State James Baker arrived in Jerusalem last week with a promising new formula for Mideast peace talks, but it did little to bolster his own tattered image among Israelis. Baker landed during Tisha Be-Av, a religious holiday marking the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Many Israelis regarded the timing as insensitive - one more callous gesture from an administration they don't trust. (Newsweek, August 5, 1991: 5)

If one expected Baker to learn something from this experience, one was wrong. The Americans invited the participants of the peace conference for negotiations in Washington in December 4 of the same year during the Chanuka holiday, which marks the victory of the Jews over the Greeks in the second century before the Common Era. Writing about the Israeli government's decision to arrive a week later (the holiday lasts 8 days), Helsingin Sanomat wrote (November 28, 1991) that: "Israel perustelee sitä sillä, että heidän mielestään neuvottelut voidaan aloittaa vasta juutalaisten Hanukka-juhlan jälkeen" ('The Israeli government maintains that, in its opinion, the negotiations can start after the Jewish holiday of Chanuka')

Chanuka, the Feast of Lights, is a minor holiday in Jewish tradition. Among Americanized Jews it had become a major Jewish holiday. It falls at about the same time of the year as Christmas and some Jews, endeavoring to imitate the neighbors, 'Christinized' it. Thus we find Chanuka cards, Chanuka shopping, Chanuka decorations etc. which do not belong to Jewish traditional way of celebrating this holiday (Gold 1986: 105). Since this holiday is, except in U.S.A., indeed a minor one, the Israeli government could not but use it as a subtle pretex for delay tactics.

The holiday of Sukkot was mentioned in connection with what is called the "October Surprise" theory which holds that Bush or Casey - or possibly Bush and Casey - cut a secret deal with Iran in the summer or fall of 1980 to delay the release of 52 U.S. hostages until after the November elections. In November 4, 1991, Newsweek wrote:

Ben-Menashe also insisted to Newsweek that he was sure about the dates - Oct. 19 and 20 - because the meeting took place the day before the Jewish festival of Sukkot. But Sukkot is a movable feast - and in 1980 it fell on Sept. 25, almost a month before Ben-Menashe says he saw Bush in Paris. (p.13)

A week later Newsweek wrote that:

In an interview with Newsweek, Ben-Menashe said he was sure it was Oct. 19 or Oct. 20 because it was close to the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Sukkot, a movable feast, occurred on Sept. 25 in 1980. (p. 23)

Sukkot is indeed a movable feast, but everybody who is familiar with the Hebrew calendar can see a problem here. As a matter of fact, since the Hebrew calendar follows the lunar year, all Jewish holidays are "movable" in relation to the regular calendar. Therefore, the description of the facts in Newsweek fails to give a proper presentation of this point which, although minor, strikes the eyes. Newsweek could have briefly explained the source of discrepancies between the Hebrew and the general calendars and mention that in 1980 Sukkot fell on such and such day, not in the dates the witness said.

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