Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Yiddish Policemen's Union Glossary

Well, well, well! So you, too, have been brought to this while struggling through 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union' by Michael Chabon.
The struggle was for the meaning of the many Yiddish words that peppered this off-beat novel. Like pepper which adds a touch of flavour when used judiciously in a dish, too much Yiddish, like too much pepper simply gets up one's nose, shofar-like or not.
Sometimes while reading a novel I might add a few words to my index book of an ever expanding vocabulary, on occasion there may be ten or so. But while reading this amusing detective story I amassed over 80 words that I either had never seen before in my life, or wanted clarification on.

For example. While I know what a cow is, and know a heifer is also a hoofed cow-ish animal, I really had to know what the difference is. You're right- I never got within a bull's roar of a farm as a kid.
Nit-picking, I know, but after a while it was driving me crazy. Even when the context more or less defined the word, I had to go back through the novel and make sure I had it right.
The yiddish dictionary was no match for this challenge and browsing on the internet was not quite up to the task either. As you can see from the list, there are still a few that have slipped through the net (ahem!) and if anyone out there can fill in the gaps or correct my definitions, then by all means have your two sheckels worth.

From alcohol dehydrogenated
Alefbeys Alphabet
Apocrypha Those having been hidden away
Apostasy The formal renunciation or abandonment of one’s religion
Autonomic Part of the peripheral nervous system that acts as a control, maintaining homoeostatis
Aurochs Type of cattle
Bessarabian fish eye ? Anyone else able to enlighten us here?
Biks Bull
Boundary maven Expert or enthusiast
Cafard Blues or depression
Caisson A watertight structure used for repairs to piers, boats etc
Calliope A musical instrument fitted with steam whistles, played from a keyboard
Caravel Small, light sailing ships
Curare Skeletal-muscle–relaxant drug belonging to the alkaloid family of organic compounds
Dybbuk A malicious spirit of a dead person
Emes Truth, correct
Entropy Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society
Eruv Public domain transformed in to a private domain
Exegesis Interpretation and understanding of a text on the basis of the text itself
Fairings An auxiliary structure or the external surface of a vehicle, such as an aircraft, that serves to reduce drag; the workings?
Forshpiel Small reception
Four-corner a 'four corner' is a tallis katan (Hebrew), a small fringed garment that observant Jewish men wear under their shirts. Often the fringes are visible. Thanks for that D.M.K
Freylekhs Up-tempo klezma music, cheerful
Furze Gorse bush
Gabay Status name from Hebrew gabay ‘warden’, denoting a trustee or warden of a Jewish public institution, especially a synagogue, or a manager of the affairs of a Hasidic rabbi.
Ganef Thief, scoundrel, or rascal
Heifer A young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth to a calf
Kaynahora Something said to ward off the evil eye
Kibitzer To look on and offer unwanted, usually meddlesome advice to others. Kibitzers
Laminaria An instrument used to dilate cervix
Latke A pancake made of grated potato, also slang for a uniformed cop because their hats are shaped like a latke
Luftmensch an intellectual
Macher An ambitious person; a schemer with many plans
Mentum Part of the chin
Mikvah Ritual bath for purification
Momzer Bastard
Mukluks Moccasins or winter boots made of reindeer skin or sealskin
Muskeg Wetland or bog
Noz Yiddish for nose, but here means a cop
Papiros Cigarette
Patzer I gather that is actually chess slang! I didn’t know there was such a thing. It’s also Yiddish for “blunderer” and used to mean “poor player.”
Pisher Child, humorous (“little pisser”)
Rappelling To slide down a rope
Racnination The process of reasoning, deducing
Sarmali Are we talking about a Turkish recipe here?
Satori Enlightenment
Schlemiel Inept bungler, someone who is easily victimized
Schlosser mechanic or hit-man?
Schochet One who slaughters according to ritual
Senescence The study of the biological changes related to aging
Sententious Given to pompous moralizing.
Shammes A deacon in a synagogue
Shaydl A shadyl is a wig worn by an religious Jewish woman to keep men other than her husband from seeing her own hair.
Sheygets is a non-Jewish boy.
Shiv A razor, knife or other sharp implement of weapon
Shkotz A naughty boy
Shofar The ram's horn blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Also the brand name of the mobile phones the characters use
Sholem Peace/harmony (in the US they carry ‘a piece’ meaning a pistol.
Shomer Guards or to guard
Shtarker A strongarm, or one who
Shtekeleh Sounds good, but I can't find a recipe for this doughnut!
Shtetl Small town or village
Shtinkers Informants
Shvitz To sweat, steambath
Sukkoh A temporary outdoor dwelling
Susurration A rustling, whispering, or murmur
Tefilin the ritual object used for prayer with the leather straps that Mendel uses to 'tie off' in support of his drug habit. (again, DMK)
Tekia A blast made on the shofar
Tohubohu Chaos; confusion
Tzaddik The Rightous One
Tzimmes A casserole flavoured with cinnamon and sweetened with honey
Yahrzeit Anniversary of a death, prayer and candles

My advice is to print out the list and keep it close by when reading this novel. It could save you many trips to the dictionary or computer!