Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 407

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 407

employed at home: in various parts of Russia and Poland a floor is a dill, a podlogé, or a bricke. So with ceiling. There were six different words for it.
  Yiddish inflections have been fastened upon most of these loanwords. Thus, “er hat ihm abgefaked” is “he cheated him,” zubumt is the American gone to the bad, fix’n is to fix, usen is to use, and so on. The feminine and diminutive suffix -ké is often added to nouns. Thus bluffer gives rise to blufferké (=hypocrite), and one also notes dresské, hatké, watchké and bummerké. “Oi! is sie a blufferké!” is good American Yiddish for “isn’t she a hypocrite!” The suffix -nick, signifying agency, is also freely applied. Allrightnick means an upstart, an offensive boaster, one of whom his fellows would say “He is all right” with a sneer. Similarly, consumptionick means a victim of tuberculosis. Other suffixes are -chick and -ige, the first exemplified in boychick, a diminutive of boy, and the second in next-doorige, meaning the woman next-door, an important person in ghetto social life. Some of the loan-words, of course, undergo changes on Yiddish-speaking lips. Thus landlord becomes lendler, certificate (a pretty case of Hobson-Jobson!) becomes stiff-ticket, lounge becomes lunch, tenant becomes tenner, and whiskers loses its final s. “Wie gefällt dir sein whisker?” (=how do you like his beard?) is good Yiddish, ironically intended. Fellow, of course, changes to the American fella or feller, as in “Rosie hat schon a fella” (=Rosie has got a fella, i. e., a sweetheart). Show, in the sense of chance, is used constantly, as in “git imh a Show, (=give him a chance). Bod boy is adopted bodily, as in “er is a bad boy.” To shut up is inflected as one word, as in “er hat nit gewolt shutup’n” (=he wouldn’t shut up). To catch is used in the sense of to obtain, as in “catch’n a gmilath chesed” (=to raise a loan). Here, by the way, gmilath chesed is excellent Biblical Hebrew. To bluff, unchanged in form, takes on the new meaning of to lie: a bluffer is a liar. Scores of American phrases are in constant use, among them, all right, never mind, I bet you, no sir and I’ll fix you. It is curious to note that sure Mike, borrowed by the American vulgate from Irish English, has gone over into American Yiddish. Finally, to make an end, here are two complete American Yiddish sentences: “Sie wet clean’n die rooms, scrub’n dem floor, wash’n die windows,