Filed under: culture, technology | Tags: business jargon, corporate, etymology, Halloween, language, Yiddish
Every profession has its own jargon, words that turn the workplace into a super secret society.
Baristas know what “venti, skinny, half-caf, extra whip” means and then they serve it to you. Doctors say, “Code blue stat” to mean, “Hurry up, someone’s dying,” not “The copy machine is jammed.” But for us writers, most days find us sitting at our desk writing, snug in our own little world. We write articles and essays with a Jewish accent, so we are guilty of using some Yiddish jargon – – but it’s usually stuff like, “I need another shmeer on my bagel with this cup of coffee” or “Get the shmutz off the desk so we can get to work.”
Apparently, we are also guilty of using “old people jargon.” We discovered this when our kids didn’t know what we meant when we asked them to find us “a little box the size of a cassette tape” and the time we inquired if they had written and mailed a check yet for their rent bill.
When it comes to modern corporate-speak, we are strangers to interfacing, leaning in and reaching out. When we venture out of our home office cocoons into the business world to meet with an agent or do an interview, we are confronted with indecipherable bureaucrat-ease. When the secretary asks if we have our ducks in the row, we turn around to see who’s quacking.
We asked some corporate types we know to send us examples of the jargon they use every day, and before we knew it, our in-box was overflowing.
When we “crunched the numbers,” we realized that a bunch of terms fell into the category of sports metaphors, like “Tee it up,” “We need a big win on this one,” “We need to be defensive on this,” and “We have to punt this one.” We know that you punt in football when it’s fourth down and your team is doing stinky, but these terms all come from a man’s world – the world of sports. In fact, we know a female executive who hears these terms at meetings and can’t relate. She thinks they are exclusionary, so we thought up an option for her: Next time an employee says that he is having trouble choosing the best supplier, she can tell him to “Pick a color” already.
We soon realized that some of these business expressions have nothing to do what you think they mean:
Run it up the flagpole. In business this means, “Let’s test this idea and see what everyone thinks.” To us it means, “It’s time to take in the American flag. Labor Day was two months ago.”
No white smoke yet. Around the conference table, this means that the deal isn’t finalized yet. In real life, it means that the Cardinals are still shmoozing about who they want to be the next Pope.
I’m going off the grid. At the office this is shorthand for, “I’m going on vacation. I won’t be reachable by cell phone or computer.” When we go off the grid, we don’t know where we left our cell phone, and when we walk around the house calling our own number we don’t hear the theme song from Broadway’s Rent.
Can you hook me up? At work this means, “Can you include me in that meeting?” In our world, if we asked friends to hook us up, they’d be surprised to say the least. They know our husbands, and didn’t we all have dinner together last week?
Let’s not get into the weeds. In a corporate setting, it means, “Let’s not discuss the details yet.” From Food TV, we learned that in a restaurant being “in the weeds” means that you are behind on filling the orders. In Colorado it means, “Let’s wait until later to smoke.”
I’ve been putting out fires all day. At the office, this explains that you didn’t get back to someone because you had to deal with so many emergencies. At home, maybe it can mean the same. We’re going to use this last one to justify why we haven’t posted a blog in a whole month. We’ve been going on high-priority trips to see our kids, working on other projects to bring home the bacon, and taste-testing all the mini-sized candy bars before Halloween. We’ve been putting out fires all month.
But now we’re back on the grid. We’re teeing it up, and we have our ducks all in a row.
Filed under: holidays, jewish food, Uncategorized, Yiddish, Yom Kippur | Tags: Abe Fisher, cooking, food, holidays, Jewish food, Joan Nathan, Lipkin's, Mimi Sheraton, rugelach, schnecken, The Schnecken Lady, Yiddish
When we declare that we are going on a diet, all we can think about is pizza and ice cream. So you shouldn’t be surprised that when we contemplate fasting on Yom Kippur, we imagine diving into a fish tray – and finishing up with something sweet. This year, we have rugelach and schnecken on our minds.
We joke that when we were writing our Dictionary of Jewish Words, we came up with the definition of Torah in 10 minutes, but we pondered the difference between rugelach and schnecken for hours. We did enough research to write the definitions. We declared that these two pastries are similar – but not exactly the same. Cousins, you might say.
Since then, we’ve been in delis where they label any bite-sized cinnamon sugar pastry a rugelach and in others that call them schnecken. When we do our book talk and ask our audiences – filled with bubbies that love to bake and everyone else who loves to nosh – to tell us the difference between the two pastries, they are stymied. They happily share bits of information like,“You should taste my sister’s cinnamon rugelach” or “My husband hates it when I put nuts in the schnecken,” but no one can tell us exactly what makes the two noshes different.
A few weeks ago, we decided to revisit the debate. (After all, someone had to take on this delicious investigation.) We did our due diligence by closely examining (and tasting) as many rugelach and schnecken as humanly possible.
It must have been bashert that we came upon a car decorated with photographs of schnecken. We knew it was schnecken, not rugelach, because the words “The Schnecken Lady” were printed beneath the photos. The Word Mavens decided to give The Schnecken Lady a call, hoping she could referee the controversy.
Myrna Freedman lives in Northeast Philadelphia and provides her home-baked schnecken to stores all over the region. She told us that she’s been baking schnecken since 1977; she uses her Aunt Minnie Eisman’s traditional recipe, which has cinnamon sugar, walnuts, raisin and orange marmalade (this makes the pastries sticky). She also makes novel versions, including Nutella, lemon curd, and chocolate raspberry.
Myrna declined to take sides. “Call it what you want to. The ingredients are basically the same. It depends on where you live, what your family calls it – some people say kigel and others say kugel – and how you cut it. In New York, everything’s a rugelach.”
Thanks, Myrna, but you’ve clearly taken a side – schnecken is emblazoned on your van, business card, website and bakery boxes.
Clearly, we needed to do more research. We’re old school, so we turned to our cookbook collection for clarity, hoping to find out whether it’s the dough, the shape or the fillings that distinguish these two sweets.
THE DOUGH: Schnecken dough is usually composed of butter, flour, egg yolks and yeast. We learned that kuchen (German for cake) is a precursor to schnecken; the yeast-containing dough can be used for cinnamon buns and coffee cakes. This might give us a clue as to why schnecken is sometimes gooey – like a cinnamon bun.
Back in the day in Europe, schnecken dough and rugelach dough were similar. When these pastries both came to America, someone had the bright idea to add cream cheese to rugelach. In fact, venerable cookbook author Joan Nathan calls rugelach “cream cheese cookies.”
At Lipkin’s, a kosher bakery in Northeast Philadelphia that been in business for four-generations, the bakery lady behind the counter told us, “Of course, Mitch [Lipkin] puts cream cheese in the dough.” At Lipkin’s – which sells chocolate, raspberry and cinnamon sugar varieties – they call them rugelach. “I’ve never heard the word schnecken,” the clerk told us.
THE SHAPE: New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton is the author of From My Mother’s Kitchen and a member of the tribe. She calls schnecken “cinnamon nut snails.” That’s a good choice because the word schnecken comes from the Yiddish word for snail. To get that snail shape, you roll out the dough into a rectangle, spread the filling on top, roll it up jellyroll style, cut it into small slices, and bake.
What’s the shape of rugelach? In an essay in Tablet, Joan Nathan wrote, “Rug means spiral or crescent-shaped in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish; a miniature spiral-shaped dough was, therefore, a rugelach.
To get the crescent shape, you roll out the dough into a circle, cut it into pie-shaped wedges, spread the filling on each wedge and, beginning at the wide edge, roll it up to the point, like a crescent roll.
We checked out Green’s Rugelach Chocolate Original from the supermarket. It comes in a plastic bag and has enough preservatives to last a month on the counter. We were pleased to see, however, that Green’s got the shape right. Their rugelach are parve so they left out the cream cheese.
THE FILLINGS: The basic filling for either is a combination of sugar, cinnamon and nuts. Raisins are the next most popular add-in. Then there’s chocolate and apricot jam. After that, the sky’s the limit, like the Schnecken Lady’s Nutella or Abe Fisher’s newfangled savory version filled chicken and schmaltz or salmon, boursin and kimmel seeds.
Abe isn’t our uncle; it’s a new Philadelphia restaurant featuring “food of the Jewish diaspora.” The Israel-born manager brought these savory pastries to our table in place of bread. “Have some rugelach,” he announced. We asked him why they weren’t called schnecken; he told us he had never heard that word. They were delicious.
So it seems that what you call this nosh depends on where your ancestors came from. Since schnecken is a German word, unless you are a direct descendant of German Jews you probably didn’t grow up with schnecken. The vast majority of American Jews are children of immigrants from Poland, Russia and the Ukraine, where rugelach ruled.
For a final opinion, we turn one last time to Joan Nathan to weigh in on the great schnecken/rugelach debate. She talked about cream cheese vs. yeast, spirals vs. snails and how the best schnecken are sticky like a cinnamon bun. Her conclusion: “Sometimes the pastries seem to only be different in name. If nothing else, the different names offer the perfect excuse to start the day with a schnecken and end it with a rugelach—what could be better than that?”
That’s good advice, Joan. So when we place the order for our break-fast fish trays, we’ll order a pound of each. Assorted, but throw a few more chocolate ones in the box.
Filed under: New Year, Rosh Hashanah, Uncategorized | Tags: Auld Lang Syne, calendar, cantor, Happy New Year, holidays, Jewish holidays, kissing, L'shanah tovah, New Year's Eve, resolutions, Rosh Hashanah, shofar
This article first appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward on Sept. 22. Illustrations by Dani E. Go.
How is the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, different from that other New Year? Let us count down the ways.
On secular New Year’s Eve we make resolutions with the best of intentions. We promise to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes a day, to stop wasting at least $4 on a latte at Starbucks and to give up all refined sugar. At Rosh Hashanah services, we say prayers to begin the ten days of repentance because we’ve forgotten those resolutions. This repentance comes in handy at the Kiddush when we see that there is rugelach.
Rosh Hashanah is a family holiday; New Year’s Eve is not. On Rosh Hashanah our brisket and kugel entice the kids to come home; these kids are even tolerant of Cousin Ronnie’s embarrassing questions, like, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” On New Year’s Eve, it’s embarrassing to admit you have nowhere to go except to Ronnie’s party for the cousins.
8. Same Old, Same Old Tunes
The melody to “Avinu Malkeinu” hasn’t changed in a million years. Compared with this, “Auld Lang Syne” is a recent hit; it has been on the charts for only 226 years. With both songs, the crowd starts off strong. Everyone knows “Should old acquaintance be forgot… ” and “Avinu Malkeinu sh’ma kolenu…,” but many trail off after the first line or two and mumble the rest.
7. Cantor vs. DJ
While the cantor is a professional who reads Hebrew and has a beautiful singing voice, the New Year’s Eve party disc jockey might be the host’s nephew who hooked up his iPhone to a set of speakers. If the DJ doesn’t mix it up, he won’t get the gig next year. But if the cantor does a Rosh Hashanah remix, the congregation shouts “Dayenu.” No one expects new tunes on Rosh Hashanah; it’s surprising enough when the cantor comes down off the bimah to sing the prayer Hineni from the back of the synagogue.
Filed under: culture | Tags: foreign words, funny expressions, idioms, words, Yiddish words
Guess who’s coming to dinner? The machetunim.
That’s the Yiddish word you’ll probably use soon after your daughter has announced her engagement, when you’ve invited her fiancé’s parents to your home for the first time.
In contrast, there is no single word in the English language to describe one’s relatives by marriage.
Yiddish is filled with many hard-to-translate words that have no equivalent in English, words that convey a whole range of emotions.
Another is mechayah, literally “resurrection,” a feeling of pleasure, delight and relief. You might experience this when you loosen your belt after a big meal or stand in the surf and splash yourself on a hot day. In English, it could take three sentences to convey the sentiment: “Aaaah! Now that the bar mitzvah is over, I can peel off these Spanx. I can finally breathe again.” In Yiddish, you need just three words: “What amechayah!”
It’s no surprise that other languages have untranslatable words, too. As self-described word mavens, we couldn’t resist taking a closer look at some farkakteh foreign words through a Yiddish lens:
Badkruka is a Swedish word that describes someone who is reluctant to jump into the water outdoors. No wonder they are reluctant: In Scandinavia, there are all those freezing cold fjords. Who would want to jump in and freeze their tootsies off? In Atlantic City, we’re only badkruka when the ocean temperature dips below 68 degrees. Of course, that means we probably won’t wade in until mid-August.
At the swim club, when we see a bunch of women glued to their lounge chairs, we don’t think they are badkruka; we know they don’t want to get their hair wet.
Zapoi is Russian for two or more days of drunkenness, usually involving waking up in an unexpected place. There’s no Jewish equivalent for this kind of drunkenness; we like to wake up in our own cozy beds. The only thing that comes to mind is the custom on Purim when Jews are supposed to drink until they can’t distinguish between Haman and Mordecai. Sometimes people down shots of whiskey in the back of the synagogue to fulfill this minhag (custom), but it’s no zapoi unless you wake up on the bimah.
Kabelsalat is German for tangled-up cables. It translates as cable salad. Klaus might say, “When I keep my earbuds in my pocket, they come out all kabelsalat.” For this word, there is a Yiddish equivalent: “When we tried to move the surge protector, all the cords were ongepotchket (disorganized, cluttered, thrown together).”
Uitwaaien is Dutch for going out for a walk in the countryside in order to clear one’s mind. Our uitwaaien is going down to the basement to put the wet clothes in the dryer and realizing that it’s so nice and cool and quiet down there that there’s no reason to hurry back upstairs.
Ikigai is the Japanese term for a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to live. We’re Jewish mothers. Our word for ikigai is “children.”
Then there’s the Inuit word iktsuarpok. It’s described as the feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’ve arrived yet. It’s curious that the Inuits, the native people of the Arctic Circle, coined this word. Isn’t it too cold to leave the igloo and stand out on the tundra waiting for the dogsled?
We iktsuarpok all the time–waiting for the school bus to drop off the kids, the UPS guy to deliver the coffee we ordered, and the plumber to show up. We love this word so much that we have adopted it. Since the English language has appropriated so many Yiddish words, we think it’s only fair that we add one word back in.
This column was also published on the blog of Moment Magazine… we were waiting for them to post it before we did.
Filed under: calendar, jewish food, summer, Uncategorized, Yiddish | Tags: Camac Bath House, Creamettes, Jewish foods, shvitz, summer
Northeast on Fire! Massive Heat Wave Bearing Down! No Relief in Sight! When summer comes, TV weather people shout these teasers at us, warning us to take shelter in air-conditioned libraries, avoid caffeinated drinks, and check on our elderly neighbors.
It has to hit 90-plus degrees for three days in a row to be labeled an official heat wave, and we’ve had two so far this summer. It’s been sticky, steamy and stormy and we’ve lost our Internet service, but as the weather people keep reminding us, it doesn’t compare to the Snowmageddon of 2014.
We really shouldn’t kvetch about the heat, but we will because we’re shvitzing, which is the Yiddish word for “sweating heavily.” Shvitzing isn’t perspiring or having a moist glow; it’s sweating so much that you need to reapply your deodorant or change your shirt before dinner.
The Jewish people have been sweating for thousands of years, and we’re tired of it. When Eastern European Jews immigrated to America, they brought the shvitz – a place to sweat – with them to their new neighborhoods. In 1929, Alexander Lucker opened the Camac Bath House in Philadelphia. (It’s now the site of the 12th Street Gym. People still shvitzing!) At the bath houses, men would relax and socialize in steam room. Sweating was considered a good thing.
We prefer to sweat in private; we take refuge at home, meticulously following tips from the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service to “slow down, don’t engage in strenuous activities, and drink plenty of fluids.” Although we were reluctant to follow the directive from Homeland Security to make an emergency evacuation plan for the family or the instructions from the attorney to draw up a living will, we have no problem lounging on the sofa drinking ice tea and not cooking dinner – but we still have to provide something.
In the dog days of summer, we look for quick, cold dinner options. Sometimes we do bagels and lox, the traditional, cold brunch that can easily stand in anytime. Or takeout sushi. Or the Seinfeld big salad – with olives, cheese, almonds and whatever else is in the pantry. Sometimes we even say, “You’re on your own. Have a bowl of cold cereal.”
In the days before central air conditioning and microwaves, our mothers had to come up with summer dinners that didn’t involve turning on the oven and heating up the house. Salmon croquettes, tuna salad and egg salad would make an appearance all too often. On some nights, our moms would cook on the stovetop, and we’d enjoy buttered, boiled Creamettes with those salads.
We’re not complaining. We know we are blessed with central air, microwave ovens and automatic ice dispensers. And we’re grateful not to be among the 2-3 percent of the population that has hyperhidrosis, the medical term for excessive sweating no matter what the weather or physical activity. Hyperhidrosis does not describe your husband when he comes in from jogging. People who suffer from severe cases of hyperhidrosis can be so sweaty that it’s hard for them to “hold a pen, grip a car steering wheel, or shake hands,” according to WebMD.
We read that other causes of excessive sweating include diabetes, hyperthyroidism and a high arsenic level. If someone is slowly poisoning you with arsenic, being sweaty is the least of your worries.
As long as it stays hot outside, writing this essay is enough activity for us for the day. We’re going to pour ourselves a cold drink, sit quietly on the couch, and wait for Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz to announce: Killer Heat Wave Ending!
Filed under: culture, Current Events, technology | Tags: afterlife, cloud, computers, Facebook, heaven, internet, legacy
Heaven is often depicted as a place in the sky where everything floats on beautiful clouds and people don’t age.
Is it a coincidence that the Cloud where our electronic footprints dwell is a lot like this place?
On Facebook, it appears that time stands still. When you click through a friend’s albums, you might see photos of a Bat Mitzvah girl smiling shyly with her new braces, a fabulous trip to an Eastern European country, and kids posing by the lake at a summer camp. In reality, that teen just graduated from college, the Eastern European country is now seven independent nations, and that summer camp is a housing development.
In the actual world when time marches on, you can see the Closed sign on the facade of the restaurant and the For Sale sign on the storefront. You notice the occasional abandoned car on the highway. No so on the information superhighway.
In the virtual world – what’s been abandoned is invisible. There’s no clue that things have changed. Online you’ll still find:
- reviews of restaurants that have gone out of business,
- blogs that have lain dormant since the author’s enthusiasm for breeding dachshunds waned, and
- online stores that appear to be in business until you fill your cart and try to enter your credit card on the last screen.
Likewise, when people die, they live on in cyberspace. This got us wondering: What happens to people’s user names and secret passwords when they are no longer users? Family members will eventual divvy up their possessions, clean out their closets and close their online bank accounts, but will they remove the TripAdvisor review of the bad mule ride down the Grand Canyon and the Goodreads review of Tom Clancy’s spy thriller? Probably not. Will they take down their loved one’s Facebook page?
It turns out that Facebook has a set of guidelines for this eventuality. When someone passes away, his or her Facebook page can be memorialized. This is different from closing your account or creating a Facebook alias because you’ve posted too many photos of your drunken self-holding a red plastic cup. According to Facebook, memorializing a page means it can be viewed but it can’t be logged into or changed. However, “anyone can send private messages to the deceased person.” Facebook notes, once a page is memorialized, they will take care of the awkward possibility that you’ll get a birthday reminder or a suggestion of “people you may know” for someone who is deceased.
All this playing online makes us realize that we’ve left quite a trail on the Internet. In fact, when we Googled ourselves, as we are wont to do, we got 22,500 results in 0.55 seconds – 8 pages documenting 14 years of writing. Our Passover reminiscences, parenting advice, and musings about kugel are filling up quite a few clouds out there in cyberspace. For writers like us, this is heaven.
P.S. We are proud that we are still blogging as The Word Mavens. This is our 106th post. You’re reading this, and we’re still here. We have not gone out of business or lost our enthusiasm for kibitzing with you.