Monday, April 11, 2005

Say It in Yiddish

Thanks, Little Toy Robot, for turning me on to Michael Chabon's new website, Organ. It looks promising, and for those of you have read his Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, you know that he knows how to put pen to paper.

The essay at the top of his site right now is about the discovery of a guide called Say It In Yiddish, and I hope you'll enjoy this excerpt in which he ponders the origin of such a work:
What were they thinking, the Weinreichs? At what time in the history of the world was there a place of the kind that the Weinreichs imply, a place where not only the doctors and waiters and trolley conductors spoke Yiddish, but also the airline clerks, travel agents, ferry captains, and casino employees? A place where you could rent a summer home from Yiddish speakers, go to a Yiddish movie, get a finger wave from a Yiddish-speaking hairstylist, a shoeshine from a Yiddish-speaking shineboy, and then have your dental bridge repaired by a Yiddish-speaking dentist? If, as seems likelier, the book first saw light in 1958, a full ten years after the founding of the country that turned its back once and for all on the Yiddish language, condemning it to watch the last of its native speakers die one by one in a headlong race for extinction with the twentieth century itself, then the tragic dimension of the joke looms larger, and makes the Weinreichs' intention even harder to divine. It seems an entirely futile effort on the part of its authors, a gesture of embittered hope, of valedictory daydreaming, of a utopian impulse turned cruel and ironic.
It's a great piece, one in which he also points to some of the more ridiculous phrases one could learn to say in Yiddish, including "I need something for a tourniquet." My two cents: even assuming a situation in which you would need to ask for tourniquet supplies, what Yiddish speaker would know anything about such things? My grandparents were trained in the arts of chicken soup and cold compresses, not tourniquets.

Check out the whole thing here.

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