Words Only Jews Have

Words Only Jews Have

This morning at the hardware store the man behind the counter was figuring out my bill out loud.

“One hundred, one hundred and nineteen, and.. one hundred and twenty! Ad meah v’esreem! Until 120!”

Only Jews say “Ad Meah V’esreem,” I thought as I answered “Amen!” and handed him my credit card.

And I thought back to a Binah Magazine article by Chani Kurtz about cultures and languages which have words that no other country does.

The Germans have schadenfreude, the pleasure a person feels on account of someone else’s misery and misfortune.

Japanese have kyoikumama, the mother who relentlessly pushes her child towards academic achievement.

French have the Seigneur Terraces, the person who nurses an espresso for hours, spending a lot of time sitting at cafes, but spending very little money.

The people of Ghana have pelinti, to describe the urgent attempt to push unexpectedly hot food around your mouth to avoid a burnt tongue.

Georgians have shemomedjamo, which means “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”

Scots have tartle, which means to hesitate when introducing someone else cause you’ve forgotten her name.

And Czech’s have provoznit, which means calling someone else’s cellphone and letting it ring once, so he has to call you back and foot the bill.

I guess each of these invented words tells us something about that country’s society. Like the Inuits’ 50 words for different types of snow (that’s nothing, though…The Sami people of northern Russia have 180!).

And what do we Jews have that no one else does?

We’ve got davka.
And firgun (which is, by the way, the opposite of the German schadenfreude–taking pleasure in someone else’s successes and speaking nicely about them.)
We’ve got mechutanim, the in-laws of your married child.
And Yoreh and Malkosh, the first and last rain of the year.

And we JewishMOMs also have two special words which we use a lot.

Kvell and nachas– having extraordinarly pride in and love for another, usually our children.

But why do we need two words for that?

I guess it’s sort of like the Inuits, who live in place full of snow, and need 50 words to describe it.

And we Jewish parents, full of so much love for our children, need an entire lexicon to express the kvellific nachas which, upon occasion, floods our hearts.

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11 comments

  1. Lol
    This is great!
    Thank you 🙂
    I am waiting for your next book with a collection of your beautiful, uplifting and unique writings 🙂

  2. By the way, the Hebrew word “Firgun” comes from Yiddish, and the original word is the German vergönnen.
    So it isn’t unique to the Hebrew language. I guess it kind of goes hand in hand with Schadenfreude if you don’t vergönn somebody something good.

    • Google translates “vergonnen” as “vouchsafe”, which is defined as “”to grant or give, as by favor, graciousness, or condescension:
      to vouchsafe a reply to a question.
      2. to allow or permit, as by favor or graciousness:
      They vouchsafed his return to his own country.
      verb (used without object), vouchsafed, vouchsafing.
      3. to condescend; deign.

      Doesnt sound like firgun to me….

  3. what a refreshing surprise! great article.

  4. Pelinti – I love it! How quirky!

    • In Bocharit, there’s a word for the burnt food at the bottom of the pot: tadigi. There are also

  5. My friend lived in Austria for a year. When I mentioned the Yiddish “mensch”, she was interested, because in Austria, they use the word “mensch” differently: When someone drops something or is klutzy, he is called “mensch” (man), as if man’s defining element is his inadequacy and frailty in the physical world. How different from how we think of mankind!

  6. like the German “saumentsch,” meaning sow-person, which is an insult to a woman (but in the immortal Book Thief, it’s used lovingly)

  7. Chana Jenny, this is one of my favorite subjects. I remember once in English class, we had an exercise: find as many words/expressions as possible (in English) for “vomit”. As a class, we found 80! Obviously the culture of drinking has its effects…

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