Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 3, 2006
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Diane Gordon
Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
David Solway
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward



Howard Richler is the author of The Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes, Take My Words and A Bawdy Language. Our Global Mother Tongue by Vehicule Press will appear in autumn of 2006 and Can I Have a Word With You?, Ronsdale Press, is in the works for 2007.


In 1997 I started to see a plot to Yinglishize my mother tongue by members outside my tribe. That year I phoned the Montreal Gazette books editor, Bryan Demchinsky, who happens to be of Ukranian descent, to see if he had received a book I wanted to review. The book in question was entitled The Bible Code and it purported that hidden inside the Torah were coded messages that predicted events such as the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. Demchinsky told me he had perused the book and that in his opinion “it looked like a bunch of dreck.” This surprised me, but not because I held a contrary view of the book. No, what stunned me was the editor’s knowledge of the word dreck.

This process has since proliferated among Gazette staffers. On Aug 21, 1999 columnist Don MacPherson wrote, “Perhaps Bouchard was just trying to avoid unnecessary tsuris at the next meeting of the PQ national council.”

Recently Gazette movie critic Brendan Kelly said that even though actor Robert Carlyle has a penchant for playing monsters like Hitler, at least he's a monster mensch.

Yinglish is ubiquitous. In August, I came across the following in the Globe & Mail by Elzabeth Renzetti: “I know that he was once fat, on the precipice of obese, and dreading sailing off into the floaty stage, the point in which the zaftig gave up all fashion sense and began dressing like Mama Cass.” In April, Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times that Vice President Cheney and his aides “shoehorned all their meshugas about Saddam’s aluminum tubes, weapons labs and al Qaeda links into Powell’s UN speech.” The Feb 21, 2005 edition of Time magazine featured this line by J.F.O. Mcallister on the upcoming marriage of Charles and Camilla. “Last week there were a few signs of apathy in the sea of schmaltz about enduring love.” On Oct 28, 2005 Liam Lacey reviewed the movie "Prime" in the Globe & Mail. The headline was, “What a shemozzle” and the review said that Meryl Streep was presented as a stereotypical Jewish mother: ‘She kvetches, plotzes, gets verklempt and all those other Yiddish things . . . ”

Of course often times Yinglish isn’t so much used as misused because not every Yinglish term rolls easily off every Gentile tongue. I remember an occasion some years ago, when I was in the business, I was kibitzing with a secretary named Anna, of Italian and Yugoslavian heritage. In response to a joke I related, she responded, “Howie, you’re such a schmuck.” I gave Anna a chance to recant and asked if she really wanted to call me a schmuck, and she timidly replied, “Doesn’t it mean joker?” I also had a black customer in Queens, New York, who was prone to saying when he was under a lot of pressure “I’m schvitzing.”

Some years ago, before the Canadian Alliance Party had been created, then Reform backbencher Lee Morrisson from Saskatchewan wanted to refer to Human Resource Minister’s Jane Stewart’s gall, but he felt the word gall wasn’t strong enough. So he said, “You got to admire the jutsper of the Minister of Human Resources.” Parliament realized a travesty had been committed on the Yiddish language and convulsed into laughter. Then Herb Gray (who happens to be Jewish) said he had two words to describe Morrison’s question : “Gornisht and absolute narishkayt.” This again convulsed the distinguished members, notwithstanding hardly anybody knew what Grey had said. This caused Speaker Gib Parent to say, “Order please, I have no way of knowing whether these words are unparliamentary.”

Montreal Jewry has retained many Yiddish aspects of our speech patterns and sometimes it even affects our grammar. My daughter Jennifer was apprised of her sub-standard English during her first year at Yale University. Jennifer was enjoying a nosh with her dorm-mates, some of whom were Jewish and she exclaimed “This cake is so good, you want?” This plea was greeted with consternation by her mates. Notwithstanding that Jennifer was majoring at the time in linguistics, she was informed by her roomies that her sentence didn’t correspond to the elementary grammar drummed into them over the past fifteen years. After all, there was no direct object.

This conversational style, though, is quite common among Montreal anglophones who are Jewish. If asked by someone whether a particular object was available in Montreal, a Jewish person might answer; “You could find.” If asked whether the dessert is included in the price of a meal, the answer might be, “It comes with.” This lack of a direct object follows the grammatical structure of the Yiddish expression es kumt mit. In addition, it is common to respond to a question with another question which is often peppered with an implied or stated complaint. Hence the seemingly innocuous question “How are you?” could elicit, “How should I be with my knees?”

It is difficult to escape one’s roots. When I was in business I had a non-Jewish business associate from Massachusetts with whom I became quite friendly and we would often shoot the breeze over the phone. Often, in response to some wry comment he made, I answered him by saying “go know” After years of using this expression, he one day asked, “Howie, you keep saying ‘go know’ to me. What the hell do you mean?” I was surprised he didn’t know what I meant and when I got home I checked in my Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten the expression 'go know' which stated, “Yinglish. From the Yiddish expression gey vays (meaning ‘go know’).” It said the expression could mean: “How could I know? How could you expect me to know?” or “How could anyone know?” Probably if I had said “Go figure,” my friend would have known what I meant.

Go know?


E-Tango: Web Design and lowest rates for web hosting
Care + Net Computer Services
Couleur JAZZ 91.9
MCC Marchande d'Art at:
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
Available Ad Space
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis