As a writer I am always looking to learn new words that will show my readers I am erudite (knowledgeable) and justify my parents’ investment in my college education.
That’s one reason I subscribe to Dictionary.com (try it, you’ll like it). In just the past week two familiar words with Hebrew or Yiddish antecedents grabbed my attention.
"Tchotchke" was described as a noun meaning a trinket or a knickknack. It is "from Yiddish tshatshke, "trinket," ultimately of Slavic origin. It is also spelled tsatske."
One of the nice things about such words (you’ll find more examples below) is that there is no hard and fast spelling rule.
The other word was "copacetic," which was described as an adjective meaning "very satisfactory; fine" but of unknown origin.
I’d always heard that it is an Americanized version of the Hebrew phrase meaning much the same thing, Kol b’seder, which translates to "everything is in order." It probably originated among African Americans and, according to some versions, a black person in the early 20th century asked a Jewish shopkeeper/acquaintance/neighbor how things are going and the response would be "kol b’seder."
In another (not necessarily contradictory) version the legendary Bill "Bonjangles" Robinson, the great tap dancer of the 20s and 30s, is credited with coining the term, "Everything is copasetic." In 1949 a group of Robinson’s admirers formed a tap revival group called The Copasetics that was popular into the 1980s.
In her MA dissertation at the University of Nottingham, "Tap Dancing on the Racial Boundary," Hannah Kate Durkin, wrote, "Bill Robinson is famous for coining the term ‘copasetic’, a word that can be used interchangeably with ‘okay’ to reassure that everything is in order."
One thing’s for sure: we’re continuing to see the creeping Yiddishization of the English language. It isn’t new and can probably trace its origins to the comics in the Catskills (aka the Hebrew Himilayas).
When I was 10 and our family moved from Cleveland to the then-much smaller Columbus, I found out that many words I grew up using were not English. More recently I’ve seen a TV weatherman refer to hot and humid weather as a "schvitz," a politician’s style as his "schtick," sitcom characters call each other "schmuck" and there’s Michele Bachman who tried to use the word "chutzpah" but pronounced it "Shootz-Pa."
All this, of course, flies in the face of the "English only" sentiment percolating through our roiling body politic.
In last week’s GOP presidential candidates debate, one of the wannabes declared to the cheers of the Tea Party audience that he wanted English to be the official language of the United States.
He should consult the world renowned etymologist on that subject, Jackie Mason. For those who may have missed Professor Mason’s erudite exposition on bilingualism, herewith is a treatise attributed to him (I have not been able to verify the authenticity, but I’ve found dozens of references to it on the Internet, and if Jackie Mason didn’t actually write it, he should take credit anyway):
There may be those among you who support including Spanish in our national language. I for one am 110 percent against this! We must preserve the exclusivity and above all, the purity of the English language.
To all the shlemiels, shlemazels, nebbishes, nudniks, klutzes, putzes, shlubs, shmoes, shmucks, nogoodniks, and momzers that are out there pushing Spanish, I just want to say that I, for one, believe that English and only English deserves linguistic prominence in our American culture.
To tell the truth, it makes me so farklempt, I’m fit to plotz. This whole Spanish schmeer gets me broyges, specially when I hear these erstwhile mavens and luftmenschen kvetching about needing to learn Spanish. What chutzpah!
These shmegeges can tout their shlock about the cultural and linguistic diversity of our country, but I, for one, am not buying their shtick. It’s all so much dreck, as far as I’m concerned. I exhort you all to be menshen about this and stand up to their fardrayte arguments and meshugganah, farshtunkene assertions. It wouldn’t be kosher to do anything else.
Remember, when all is said and done, we have English and they’ve got bubkes!
The whole myseh is a pain in my tuchas!