BORN TO KVETCH: YID­DISH LAN­GUAGE AND CUL­TURE IN ALL ITS MOODS

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

RE­VIEWED BY DOVID KATZ

SOME ACA­DEMICS have been comp l a i n i n g a b o u t B o r n t o K v e t c h . This is, af­ter all, a book that has zero in­hi­bi­tion re­gard­ing vul­gar­ity. It is, more­over, quite po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect and provoca­tive. For ex­am­ple, there is plenty and more on the tra­di­tional anti-Chris­tian mo­tifs em­bed­ded in many Yid­dish phrases, enough to make a mod­ern Jewish per­son (or Yid­dish teacher of “mul­ti­cul­tural” stu­dents) want to tsiter (trem­ble), khalesh (faint), pre­tend the book doesn’t ex­ist ( nisht gesh­toygn, nit gefloygn), or makhn pleyte (run for it), as if from a sreyfe (fire).

But none of that is the fault of the au­thor, Cana­dian-born Michael Wex, whose book ren­ders him heir to Lenny Bruce, Leo Rosten and your favourite Yid­dish teacher, all rolled into one. It is the fault — if that is the word — of the Yid­dish lan­guage. The real one, that is, not the wa­tered-down, stan­dard­ised ver­sion of­ten taught at uni­ver­si­ties and cul­tural cen­tres.

Yid­dish is the lan­guage of an ex­otic cul­ture, and if you don’t have the

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