Year 2, Week 10: That goddamn word
Published on Wednesday, March 08, 2017 By Max Sparber
I have studied Yiddish for 405 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 253 hours
I have reviewed 4,633 individual flashcards
So there is a Yiddish word that essentially means "flier" or "broadsheet." It's not a word that has that much use in my world, but in the Haredi world there is a long history of these sorts of broadsheets. They are a cheap, effective, and frequently anonymous way of communicating, and so there will sometimes be wars of opposing broadsheet hangers who launch missive after missive against each other, all hung from bare walls or telephone poles or the like.
For some reason, I stuck this word in my flashcards rather early on, and it has been an irritant ever since. I just can't memorize it.
I want to memorize it, because I like this sort of word, a word that is associated with a specific cultural expression, and, who knows, some day I might want to get into my own broadsheet war. I have made efforts to memorize it, trying various mnemonics and then just trying to force it into my memory by brute force, repeating it over and over again, tens of times, hundreds of times.
None of it worked. The word would pop up in my flashcards and I would draw a blank, and then I would curse myself and consider authoring a broadside directing angry words at my own brain.
Yesterday I was on the bus on my way to work and suddenly my brain said a single word. "Pashkevil," it said. It was that goddamn word.
And I knew it. I knew that I knew it. From that moment on, it would be easy for me to remember it, instead of impossible. And it has been. I just used it with my boss. We published a story he fears might upset the Haredi community, and I told him we'll know we did if pashkevils show up on our door.
I have had this happen before. A word will just spontaneously go from being unmemorizable to unforgettable, and often like this, just by popping into my head at the odd moment. There doesn't seem to be any set length of time either -- I think I have been trying to memorize this word for a year. This is the longest it has taken, and so stands out. I wonder if there are words it will take me two years, three years to learn?
Memory is strange. My father has been complaining about his memory lately. He always had a very fine memory, and now he struggles to remember the sort of things we all struggle to remember. He told me he can't remember the name of the black actor from The Shawshank Redemption, and so he uses his own mnemonic: The Yiddish word for morning, which is morgan. I feel like if he is using Yiddish words to remember English words, he is probably doing all right.
Now, whenever I hear Morgan Freeman's name, I think of Yiddish. Nobody warns you this is going to happen when you start studying a language.
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