Year 2, Week 3: Schaechter
Published on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 By Max Sparber
I have studied Yiddish for 358 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 221 hours
I have reviewed 4,218 individual flashcards
My Yiddish studies are just now blessedly simple. I study grammar from a grammar book, as I mentioned last week, and add to my vocabulary from a dictionary.
But what a dictionary! I purchased the enormous and somewhat spendy Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary, and it is a delight. The book came out several months ago to considerable general fanfare, as it includes modern words that are typically lacking on other Yiddish dictionary, such as email and transgender.
It was also quite exciting for the Yiddish community, as it is based on the lexical research of Mordkhe Schaechter, who was the paterfamilias of a family of important modern Yiddishists and was himself a tireless proponent of Yiddish as a living, modern language. Schaechter was also somewhat legendary for several boxes of notecards in his private collection labeled "libe," or love.
These were Yiddish words for sex, some of them quite hilarious, as detailed in the article in Forward from 2014. (Sample sentence: "zi hot farflokhtn a koyletsh," which literally translates as "she braided a challah," but in this instance means "he's not getting any.") When this new dictionary came out, I know at least a few people who immediately scoured it for similarly entertaining sex words and phrases.
I started with this dictionary the same way I did my other, just going through it, page by page, to create flashcards. This proved to be tiresome -- the book is so enormous, and so full of precise technical words, botanical names, and words needed only by the painfully erudite, that I only found a word or two per page that I want to learn just now.
So I made an adjustment. I started to just flip through the book at random and jot down one word per page I landed on. My standards are quite simple now: The word must be terribly useful or terribly interesting. I wind up with about equal measure of either type. It is useful to know the way you represent the sound of a sneeze in Yiddish (Akh-tzi, among others, if I remember right), but when you also have the option to learn sex-bomb, you must. ("Secks-bombe," by the way.)
I have also started to compile lists of words I make regular use of, and a couple of times per week I look this up. I started with words for foods, such as pizza and pasta. (Disappointing, the words are essentially the same in Yiddish, although a pancake is called an Americaner latke,) I've been compiling a list of noises we make that aren't really words, but serve a linguistic function anyway, like "hoo boy" and "yowsa." There are versions of this in every language, and I always like to know it. For instance, in Ireland, instead of "um" they generally say "em," and once you know this, you hear Irish people do it all the time.
Anyway, I'm having so much fun with the book that my flashcards have become flooded with new vocabulary, and I have to remind myself to continue to add grammatical rules. I know we are in an era where poorly constructed word salads are all the vogue, but I don't like it, and don't plan to speak Yiddish that way.
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