Monday, March 09, 2009


When I was a child, I longed to be able to curse, it seemed so grown up. Mother told me I could not include curses in my vocabulary. I was too young to use bad language. She was evasive when I asked her how old I had to be, and I never got a satisfactory answer.

Bubbe did not use profanity but wished horrible fates on those who won her disfavor. One of her favorites suggested that the person she was angry with should go with his/her feet in the church and head in hell. Gay in dererd simply meant go to hell. Or she would wish cholera on people--a chalerya auf im! or she would wish a klog on someone. My Yiddish-English dictionary defines klog as a "lamentation," but as she used it, I would guess it meant curse.

She had lots of disparaging names in her arsenal: bahama (from the Biblical Behemoth," was literally a cow, but figuratively, a clumsy oaf. A naar was a dumbbell; mamzer was a really bad word, meaning a bastard, a gonif was a thief. A child who wouldn't sit still had shpilkes in toches (ants in her pants). A person who wouldn't listen was a goyishe kop, which translates into--well, it's hard to translate, but it's not good.

These are just a few I remember offhand, but bubbe know plenty more and was never at a loss for words.

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