Actually, let’s not capitalize on the opportunity, let’s kvetch

From bagel to tuchus, the capitalist-English language has its sights on Yiddish

Did you know that the common term “oy” comes from the Yiddish expression “oy vey iz mir” which translates to “woe is me?” No? Didn’t think so.

Yiddish has always been the language of the lament, and gifting it to the west has been one of the Yiddish-Jews’ great contributions to North American society. Yinglish, the uniting of Yiddish and English forces, equips the speaker with a whole new vocabulary to express distinct thoughts and feelings that really only a Jewish mind could come up with.

For example, a schlemiel is a notoriously clumsy person and a schlimazel is a notoriously unlucky person. Leo Rosten helps distinguish the two in his work, “The Joys of Yiddish” as they’re often confused.

Rosten says, “A schlemiel is one who always spills his soup, a schlimazel is the one on whom it always lands.”

This is the kind of distinction I’m talking about. I bear no ill will to the English language, but honey, there’s nothing in English that illustrates a sad sack pathetico quite like a schlimazel.

Yinglish embellishes English with a distinct beauty. It opens the door for digression, vulgarity, and, dare I say, a bit of complaining. It is the language of good jokes and good times.

I remember a family friend telling me, under the cloak of woman-to-woman advice, “Ven der peckel steht, das sechel geit.” There are many ideations of the expression, but this one loosely translates to “When the pickle gets hard, the mind goes soft.”

With all of these gems in humour, lewdness, wisdom, and culture, I must ask the non-Jew who repeats our language to remember, you are a guest in someone else’s home, so please don’t start putting price tags on all the furniture — it’s bad manners.

You might be wondering what in the name of French bread am I talking about? English has long served a capitalist agenda, reminding those who use the language to continue counting their worth by their productivity and their utility, wearing burnout signs like a badge of honour. Catch yourself the next time you say something like “meet potential,” “land lord,” “invest time,” “capitalize on” — that’s capitalist-English for you.

English is the international language of business, and with that, a lot of English words serve to elaborate and establish ideas of ownership and loans, property and land, work and earn. Ultimately, capitalist-English is a sandwich with the crust cut off.

In contrast, Yiddish makes no place for talk of capitalist ideology. Yinglish is all crust. Yinglish has many terms for a pathetic person, distinguishing mood, degree, and context. This is important to us. Kapital? Not since Yiddish extinguished from practical use after the Second World War, and communism took hold of Eastern Europe for four decades afterwards. In this time capsule, Yiddish preserves, unimposed by capitalism.

Capitalist-English is a glue gun sticking price tags to everything, and Yiddish is not here for it.

So I ask that we leave “quota for the day” and “waste of time” for the capitalist-English talk, and save Yinglish for anything that is true to its roots in the shtetl: to mention with great energy that it’s schvitz central on a particularly warm day, or to call a brazen move out for its chutzpah.

I never want to hear chutzpah used to congratulate someone for “wowing the team at the board meeting.” Lament as resistance, not complaisance.

Thus is the extra-special element of Yinglish — it’s the free-form furniture in your house, that if you ever dared to try and get a quote for, you’d discover you can’t afford it. 


Graphic by Taylor Reddam.

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