Pain in the neck, Nu (1896); Tzatzkes (1898); Madame Klesmer (1917)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Mon Jun 24 08:08:29 UTC 2002

   Abraham Cahan was a founder of the JEWISH DAILY FORWARD. A check of his
name shows only one OED hit, for "tea."  One!  However, the revised OED (not
linked to the general search engine--hey, I didn't do this computer program)
shows that Cahan's THE RISE OF DAVID LEVINSKY (1917) is the first citation
for "matzo ball."
   Back in my unsuccessful playwriting days (when I made nothing at all, or
about $100 less than I've made from etymology the past ten years), I met
Isaiah Sheffer (director of Symphony Space).  At that time, Sheffer was doing
an Off-Broadway musical titled THE RISE OF DAVID LEVINSKY, based on the book.
   Cahan perhaps wanted to sell LEVINSKY to a general audience; the Yiddish
we expect to see shows up, for example, as "woe is me."  Oi vay!  But the
book is still worth reading.


by Abraham Cahan
New York: D. Appleton and Company

Pg. 3:  Like here, in New York, where the Jews are a _lot_ of _greenhornsh_
and can not speak a word of English.

Pg. 17:  ...the two being what is called in sweat-shop parlance,
"_chance-mentshen_," i. e., favorites.

Pg. 34:  Such _shnoozes_, they can hardly set a foot well, and yet they are
free, while I am a married man.

Pg. 38:  You knaw I don' like no monkey beeshnesh.

Pg. 40:  It don' cut a figger, shee?

Pg. 53:  During the three years since he had set foot on the soil, where a
"shister* becomes a mister and a mister a shister," he had lived so much more
than three years--so much more.
*Yiddish for shoemaker.

Pg. 65:  Sanctification again, and sit by his side, opposite to mother, and
receive from her hand a plate of reeking _tzimess_,* as of yore!
*A kind of dessert made of carrots or turnips.
(OED has it from 1892--ed.)

Pg. 73:  "_Oi_ a lamentation upon me!"

Pg. 75:  "You look like a _poritz_,"* she said shyly.
*Yiddish for nobleman.

Pg. 78:  "_Oi_ woe is me!"

Pg. 80:  "Where do you eat your _varimess_?"*
   "Don't say varimess," he corrected her complaisantly; "here it is called
   "_Dinner_?"**  And what if one becomes fatter?"
*Yiddish for dinner.
**Yiddish for thinner.

Pg. 85:  "Quite a _panenke_!"*
*A young noblewoman.

Pg. 95:  ...she will _oyshgreen_* herself...
*A verb coined from the Yiddish _oys_, out, and the English _green_, and
signifying to cease being green.

Pg. 97:  ..._borshtch_*...
*A sour soup of cabbage and beets.

Pg. 101:  ..._shadchen_*...
*A matrimonial agent.

Pg. 119:  "Here a husband must remember--"_ladas foist_"--but then you do not
even know what that means!"
(OED has only one hit for "ladies first"?--ed.)

Pg. 127:  "Not unless your wife drags along with you and never lets go of
your skirts," she said sneeringly, adding the declaration that Jake's
"bluffs" gave her a "reg'ula' pain in de neck."
(OED has 1924 for "pain in the neck"?  Not under "neck" in RHHDAS?--ed.)

Pg. 139:  _Nu, sir_!"
(OED has 1892, then 1945 for "nu"--ed.)

Pg. 149:  "What punishment is due to me, then, if I can not stand a _shnooza_
like her?  It is _nu ushed_; I can not live with her, even if she stand one
foot on heaven and one on earth."


by Abraham Cahan
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company

Pg. 8:  "Show a _treif_* gendarme a _kosher_** coin, and he will be shivering
with ague."
*Food not prepared according to the laws of Moses; impure.
**The opposite of _treif_.

Pg. 13:  He recognized the plushy clover knobs in the vast array of placid
magnificence, and the dandelions and the golden buttercups, although his poor
mother-tongue could not afford a special name for each flower, and he now
addressed them collectively as _tzatzkes_--a word he had not used for
thirty-five years.

Pg. 39:  ..._mazol-tovs_ (congratulations)...

Pg. 55:  Is she going to be a _rabbitzen_ (a rabbi's wife)?
(No OED entry for this word--ed.)

Pg. 68:  "The boy is a _gaon_,"* the corpulent old man remarked humbly.
"What a head!  What a memory, what a _chariff_!"**
   "Yes, and what a _bokki_!"***
*A genius.
**A man of erudition.
***Acute intellect.

Pg. 95:  "He is an _appikoros_."*
*Epicurean; atheist.

Pg. 100:  "Have you been to the Mariv service?" Shaya intervened.
(The revised OED has only 1892, then 1904 for "Maariv"?--ed.)

Pg. 123:  Rouvke's hair is now entirely free from the pair of sidelocks, or
_peieths_, which dangled over his ears when he first set foot on American

Pg. 124:  But "bishness is bishness," as Rouvke would put it.

Pg. 145:  _Choson_ is a term applied to a Jewish young man, embracing the
period from the time he is placed on the matrimonial market down to the
termination of the nuptial festivities.  There is all the difference in the
world between a choson and a common unmarried mortal of the male sex, who is
left to the bare designation of _bocher_...


by Abraham Cahan
(I don't know the publisher.  This is a 1969 reprint by Peter Smith--ed.)

Pg. 23:  ...calling him something the equivalent to "Sissy."

Pg. 160:  ...Madame Klesmer...
(A character named after the word "klezmer."  Look it up in the OED--ed.)

Pg. 181:  "I don't care what you say, but of what use is a good heart unless
he has some jinglers* to go with it?"
*Coin, money.
(RHHDAS has 1906 from Australia, then 1933--ed.)

Pg. 233:  We were eating cold sorrel soup, prepared in the old Ghetto way,
with cream, bits of boiled egg, cucumber, and scallions.

Pg. 238:  "Don't bite off more than you can chew, Levinsky," he would tell

Pg. 241:  One of his ways of being tremendously American was to snap his
fingers ferociously and to say, "I don't care a continental!" or, "One, two,
three, and there you are!"  The latter exclamation he would be continually
murmuring to himself when he was absorbed in pinochle.

Pg. 271:  "A bunch of good-for-nothings, too lazy to work, will stir up
trouble, and there you are."
(See prior ADS-L posting on Professor Irwin Corey's alleged coinage of "And
there you are!"--ed.)

Pg. 298:  "But what's up?"

Pg. 247:  I looked upon poor people with more contempt than ever.  I still
called them "misfits," in a Darwinian sense.
("Misfits" is a nice cite here.  Levinsky's business is the clothing trade.
The revised OED does not cite this work--ed.)

Pg. 404:  In addition to families who were there for the whole season--that
is,k from the Fourth of July to the first Monday in October--the hotel
contained a considerable number of single young people, of both
sexes--salesmen, stenographers, bookkeepers, librarians--who came for a
fortnight's vacation.  These were known as "two-weekers."
(The reference is to the Catskills, not then called the "Borsht

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