'0Re: tchotchkes

Victoria Neufeldt vneufeldt at M-W.COM
Tue Feb 29 13:24:12 UTC 2000

But words mean what they mean.  That is, it is the users of the words, of
the language, who decide over time and in the aggregate, what individual
words mean.  The history of English is full of examples of words that have
changed in meaning since they first entered the language, either as
borrowings from another language or as coinages or whatever.  Look up the
history of 'nice' or 'dapper' or 'condominium' for example.  Sometimes the
original meaning is superseded entirely, as in the case of 'nice' and
'dapper'.  But while 'dapper' has one basic sense today, very different from
its original meaning of "bold" or "strong", 'nice' has developed a number of
meanings that all co-exist today (from "particular" or "exacting" to
"pleasing" and "agreeable"), and it is only the context that will tell you
which is meant.  A word may even develop directly opposite meanings; e.g.
'citation' (both meanings -- the "good" and the "bad" -- are standard
today).  So it is with 'tchotchke', which has been adopted as an English
word, so it is its use in English that we have to consider; it may mean
different things to different people at different times (it seems from the
postings here that even in the Yiddish-speaking community there is some
disagreement about its connotations), but the broad consensus is what


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> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Diana Sheron Fingar
> Sent: Monday, February 28, 2000 8:41 PM
> Subject: '0Re: tchotchkes
> aep
> On Mon, 28 Feb 2000 11:32:23 -0800 "A. Vine" <avine at ENG.SUN.COM> wrote:
> > As someone who was raised in a household which threw in the occasional
> Yiddish
> > term or phrase, I can say that "tchotchke" is not pejorative.
> For what it's worth, I was raised in a practicing Jewish household
> (Reform Jew, not Orthodox or Conservative), and I, my mother, and her
> mother (who spoke Yiddish well into her adulthood) all use tchotchke
> for a very particular type of junk. All the previously cited definitons
> from newspapers and such sound like a misuse of the work to me,
> possibly stemming from incomplete knowledge of Yiddish. Incidentally,
> this is one of the words I use that I was surprised to learn
> was Yiddish. I thought it was English. (Of course, I thought "schpritz"
> ["a small portion of something foamy that comes in an aeresol can" or
> "the act of getting such an item out of the aeresol can"] was also
> English until last Thanksgiving. Undoubtedly this is not the original
> meaning of schpritz, but other Jewish friends have understood it
> perfectly well.) I will admit that this may be a regional use of the
> word. My mother's family is all from Chicago, if that helps. However, a
> Jewish friend of my mother's from New York has also spontaneously used
> "tchotchkes" in the perjorative sense my family associates with the
> word.
> Many people use smatterings of Yiddish without really understanding
> all the nuances of certain words, as seems to have happened in the
> newspapers. (Ms. Vine, I do not mean to insult you at all, particularly
> not if you are also Jewish.) I agree totally with "kitsch" and mostly
> with "schlock" (ie,"crap" + sleaze) -- but schlock can be applied to
> anything, while tchotchke only applies to certain things.
> I still say it's a strange choice of word to describe an exhibit.
> Diana Fingar
> Sorry, I know I said I wouldn't answer anything else about tchotchkes, but
> I really do know what I'm talking about.

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