Week 18: 1000 Words

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 129 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 63 hours
I have reviewed 1,789 individual flashcards
Correct learning: 68.3%
Correct young: 71.98%
Correct mature: 83.65%

The advantage of gamifying my study of Yiddish is that it has brought a terrible and perhaps counterproductive clarity to my studies. I have ordered a silver badge that says "1,000" on it, and I will award it to myself when I have completed my list of the 1,000 most common Yiddish words. So, at the moment, that is all I am working on, racing toward completion. I am up to 717, although I should point out that I already know a lot of the words on the list thanks to my initial project of memorizing the Yiddish versions of the most-common 600 words found in any language. I have maybe 150 words left to learn, and that's about a week and a half of study.

The truth is, I don't know how accurate the list is. It comes from here, and the site gives no indication how it came up with the list. The site is anonymous, but a search for the owner produces a fellow named Nariman Pishdar from Stockholm who has no special background in language. There are seemingly arbitrary choices, like the fact that some of the verbs are in a past tense, and the list is missing a lot of words specific to the Jewish experience, which you would expect to show up on such a list. And if you go from language to language, the word list is identical, so I suspect Mr. Pishdar just located a list of most common words from somewhere and perhaps used something like Google Translate to find the equivalent in every language he could think of.

This doesn't make this list particularly useful, in that is offers no insights into the Yiddish-speaking experience, and undoubtedly misses words that are used all the time. Compare it to this list, which drew from the most common words published in Yiddish-language newspapers. There, in the top 100, unsurprisingly, are the Yiddish words for Jews and Yiddish, as well as the word for Israel. Palestinian show up in the to 200, and Torah show up somewhere between 200 and 300. None of these are to be found in my list.

It would be nice if somebody did a proper survey of the use of the Yiddish language and put together a more comprehensive frequency list, but nobody has and I am not going to, so you take what you can get. I am determined to have my list of 1,000 words done as soon as possible, so I can give myself an award, and so that's where my focus is. No more Yiddish swear words. No more words plucked from the dictionary because they seemed interesting. No more songs or poems. Not yet, at least.

On another topic, I turned 48 on Sunday. I have recently decided that all Ashkenazi Jews should speak fluent Yiddish by the time they are 50, which I think was clever of me, as it gives me two more years to become fluent.

On another topic, I got the Golden Book of Jewish Humor by Harry Golden, who I suspect invented the phrase "Dress British Think Yiddish." He does indeed claim ownership -- he says he was in a Madison Avenue firm and suggested they use it as a variation of IBM's "Think Different." However, Golden also says that within a day he was hearing the phrase repeated back at him in other states, and so he wonders if jokes don't simply magically appear everywhere at the same time. So he will only claim that he thinks he came up with the phrase, but has no idea how it became so popular so quickly.

Anyway, I'm calling it for Golden. Until someone else comes forward with a credible earlier claim, Golden not only remembers inventing the phrase, but there is also a newspaper account that credits him as having originated a variation of it, and that's how we do history. Or that's how I do history anyway, and I am the author of this blog, so here, at least, it's Golden.