At the outset of Michael Wex’s latest book, he writes that his transliterations will be in Polish Yiddish, rather than “standard language developed by YIVO and spoken by virtually no one.” Explaining the fine points of nu, takeh, gevalt, shoyn, and nebakh, he enlightens as he makes you smile. Individual chapters are devoted to Yiddish names for stages of life, body parts, weather, as well as terms for “Greeting and Meeting.”
Discussing the expression, Amerike ganef (a clever person or invention), he writes, “Had they only existed, any Yiddish speakers present when Alexander untied the Gordian knot by cutting it with his sword would have exclaimed, ‘Alexander ganef!’”
Few readers will know that “tateleh,” or “little father,” becomes “Aetli” in Gothic, later “Attila,” as in the Hun — which means “chicken” in Lithuanian Yiddish. Thus, Attila could have been called Tatele the Litvak.
Wex also provides some basic Yiddish grammar, refuting the claim that Yiddish has no grammar. As novelist, translator of works such as Threepenny Opera, and scholar well-versed in Torah and Talmud, he has much to teach us, which he does with considerable wit. Appendix, glossary, index.