Saturday, April 16, 2011

Some Pesach Yiddish

Yiddish is a wonderfully expressive language.   Knowing even a few words brings a feeling of self naches.  The feeling arises from a deep connection to history, culture and humanity.  It is second only to English in expressiveness (Russians may disagree).  Like English,  it draws liberally on multiple languages, with both simple (usually single syllable) and erudite words and forms.  English has it's origins old north German, Celtic,  and Viking (old Norse). The Roman, and later Norman conquests, brought Latin, Greek and Norman (Old Northern French).

Home Made Matzo - Click to Enlarge
Yiddish was not spoken by the Sephardic Jews . They spoke Judeo-Spanish dialects like Ladino, and came to Europe via North Africa.  Ashkenazim came to Europe through the Byzantine Empire, from the area called Anatolia (Asia Minor),  which is now Turkey.  The Ashkenazi migrated into Germanic-speaking Central Europe (~900 CE) and likely spoke Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Middle East,  and Hebrew.  Middle High German became the base for Yiddish.  Spoken Aramaic became less useful and Hebrew was used for religious purposes.   In 1290, the Jews were expelled from England,  auguring the later xenophobia, antagonism, repression and duress in Germany, France and Spain (~1492 CE).  Jews migrated east to Poland, Russia and the Baltic region.  Eastern Yiddish, absorbing  many Slavic words,  became the main dialect in the Yiddish continuum.  In Western Europe,  Yiddish declined as German Jews preferred German to Western Yiddish. However, in the east, Yiddish thrived until the Holocaust. The Golden Age of secular Yiddish culture, and it's language,  lasted about a century (mid 1800s to ~1945) expanding with the laissez-faire  ethos associated with the Industrial Revolutions.

"Hold on", you say.  What's with the megillah you are dishing out here?   Where is the Pesach Yiddish?
OK,  here's your payoff:  What's the origin of the saying   "Have a zissen Pesach"  ?  "Zissen" is Yiddish for sweet.  It comes from the German "süß" (note:  the beta looking character is a "ligature",  a new character formed from two other ones,  in this case an "S" and a "Z")

Eye of Horus (Egyptian)
 MFA Boston (click image to enlarge)
As a bonus bit of Yiddish,  (and still Pesach related) -  What does  "kein ein hora" mean?   This is a nice melange of Hebrew and German.  The first word "kein" is German in origin,  meaning no or not.  The last word is definitely not German.  The last word "hora" ( הרע )  means "evil" in Hebrew.   The "ein" is a little tricky,  ein means "a" "one" or "any",  so literally "not any evil"  would result.  But it's not quite right,   the ein is likely not German. The word eye in Hebrew is  "ayin" ( עין ) , so kein ayin hora.  A slim possibility is the Germanic version of "eyes" -  augen in German an oygn in Yiddish - so kein oygn hora. (a bit doubtful considering that the saying generally uses the singular form of  eye).   Avoid the evil eye!

Finally,  Yiddish is written with Hebrew characters.  It may look like Hebrew but it ain't.  Well I hope you like my little tsholent  (stew - one of those russian words in Yiddish) and another Yiddish word tsimmes צימעס which is similar but also means "big deal". 

"Have a zissen Pesach"

2 comments:

Dr. Deb O'Bannon said...

Thanks for sending this link (and reconnecting). Here's the blog for the Israel outreach we do in Kansas City: http://israelspiritjcckc.blogspot.com/ I hope you're having a wonderful Pesach. I'm exhausted from all the cooking (my favorite is matzah ball tsimmies in an apricot-cider sauce).

Deb (McKechnie) O'Bannon

DaveC said...

Hi Deb, Thanks for connecting. I'll check out your blogs.

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