Streams

Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our word maven, Patricia T. O'Conner, answers questions about the English language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, has recently been published in paperback, and a paperback version of Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman, was just issued. Have a question about language and grammar? Call us at 212-433-9692 or leave us a question as a comment below.

 

Guests:

Patricia T. O'Conner

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Comments [63]

Adrienne from NYC

I found this website today...I see somebody refers readers to the dictionary on MY website: http://www.bubbygram.com/yiddishglossary.htm...thanks for that! TO clear some things up: "vontz" (vonce, vantz) literally means "bedbug". (I remember that episode of MASH, too!) It's colloquially used to mean an annoying little pest. Ungepatchket means 'cluttered, overdone, with too much going on." A Bubbeh Meiseh is a grandmother story -- a combo of old wives tale and urban legend. My grandmother's fave: "Don't make faces like that! I knew a kid once whose face FROZE that way!" When somebody's telling you a story of dubious truth, you might say, "Is this a bubbeh meiseh?" (i.e. is this bull $hit?) KHalushes literally means nauseating, but can be applied to anything from cooking to clothing to taste in furnishings. Sort of how we'd use "Godawful!" in English. Megillah as been adequately and properly defined above. For anyone who reads this...my new book, "Dirty Yiddish Slang" will be out in July of 2012. I think it's pretty funny and informative (if I do say so myself!) I hope you'll all pick up a copy (and give 'em as gifts!)

Feb. 18 2012 07:41 PM
eugene s. from Middle Village, Queens

I learned the word, "vonce" twenty-something years ago on the TV show, M.A.S.H. Someone is trying to find a word for a crossword puzzle and it's driving him mad. That's how I remember it and I bet that other nudnick heard it there too.

Dec. 07 2010 02:18 AM
tatiana.larina

I am belatedly catching up with the old episodes. What a pity they didn't mention "maven" which is a Yiddish word, too:
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=maven

Nov. 09 2010 11:44 AM
barrie from nyc


Farmisht - Befuddled

http://www.pass.to/glossary/gloz1.htm#letf

Ongepatshket - Cluttered, disordered, scribbled, sloppy, muddled, overly-done

Perhaps the latter is Yiddish, not Hungarian -- I was mixing it up with a different Hungarian word.

Would love to hear a segment by those experts a recent commenter requesed.

Sep. 16 2010 08:00 PM
Ron from Manhattan

Reflecting the concerns of some other listeners, I should state that I, too, was quite appalled at the general lack of linguistic knowledge displayed in this segment. This was monolingualism at its finest (or worst)! Surely it would not be asked too much to find a specialist in this field, or at the very least someone who is fluent if not in Yiddish, than in German, Russian, and Hebrew to clear up questions of semantics, etymology, and grammar. Is it really so hard to recognize a participle in a language reasonably closely related to English?

Sep. 16 2010 09:44 AM
Molly from Hudson Valley

Ellen from Chelsea - No, you are definitely not the only person listening who was totally disturbed at the lack of knowledge shared by Mr. O'Brien and Ms. O'Connor. It is the first time I have EVER found listening to NPR to be flat-out painful. If you are embarrassingly ignorant about a subject, bring in an expert - or better yet, don't hold a segment on the subject. When even the title of the segment is incorrect, you know you're in over your head. I am not even a little familiar with Yiddish, but I am Jewish, and pretty much any Jew could tell you what a megillah is. This is NOT an obscure term. Hmmm, do you think there are any Jews they could have called on in the greater New York area???? Very, very disappointing - and I had re-routed my day to listen to this.

Sep. 15 2010 06:58 PM
hilary

I'm unfamiliar with ungapachke - but the definitions here explain my mother's (anglicized) use of "pachke" to mean fiddling with something (and not in a good way). And apparently unrelated to my grandmother's "pache in tuchas" when we misbehaved.

Sep. 15 2010 02:28 PM
D from Nyc

Chalushes (spelling) is a word that didn't come up. It means atrocious or nauseating -- my family used it to describe attire -- if you mix polka dots and plaids that would be chalushes.

You might want to checkout bubbygram.com. The site has a lot of Yiddish words with definitions.

Sep. 15 2010 02:26 PM
Rick

i heart P.T.O.

Sep. 15 2010 02:21 PM
barrie from nyc

ungapachke (Hungarian, not Yiddish?) does not apply to a state of mind perhaps, but I think is meant to apply to things or states of affairs

but is sometimes used the way feh-mished is used -- a word I think does apply to an overwhelmed state of mind

Sep. 15 2010 02:09 PM
amm from new york

In our family, now quite removed from the original Yiddish speaker who was my husbands Great-Grandmother, Vonce is regularly used. For us it means an annoying kid. It's revival seemed to coincide with the years my husband spent coaching my sons soccer team!

Sep. 15 2010 02:08 PM
Robert from NY, NY

Balabusteh - an extremely industrious and fastidious wife (and mother) who takes great care of her family. Derived from the Hebrew "Ba'al Ha'Bayis" - man of the house - which is Balabus in Yiddish, and the female version is Balabusteh. Not to be confused with the English vernacular version, Ballabuster.

Sep. 15 2010 02:01 PM
Daniel

"Pronounced 'un-guh-potched-kahd'"

I don't think it's "un" --- it's "an." As someone pointed out below the patsch part probably comes from Hungarian (or some slavic language), but the prefixes "an" and "ge" and the suffix "t" come from german. I guess "patsch" comes from a verb meaning to ornately decorate. The prefix "an" means that the decorating has been to the noun being described. The prefix "ge" and the suffix "t" mean that it's an adjective formed with the meaning that the noun has been "anpatsch'ed" -- decorated.

Sep. 15 2010 02:01 PM
Gail Schneider

Love this segment. I grew up in the Bronx listening to my parents and their friends use yiddish to avoid being understood by us kids, but two words I can't live without are knocka, which means big shot and is used disparagingly, and schnorrer, which, as best as I can summarize, is someone who strives to come out ahead in any transaction, preferably without any cost to himself.

Sep. 15 2010 02:00 PM
Kristine from Fair Haven, NJ

To Derek: I have heard "ishkabibble"; my part-German grandma used it (or would just say 'oh, ish!) about something she didn't like...for example when my Dad grew a mustache.

Sep. 15 2010 01:59 PM

in german GE- makes a verb past tense

Sep. 15 2010 01:57 PM
Camille from Slovenia

the "nik" ending does turns a verb or an adjective into a noun in Slavic languages

in slovenian....
mešalnik =mixer (mix + thing)
žrzmovalnik = freezer (freeze+thing)

fun episode

Sep. 15 2010 01:56 PM
Barry from Mnahattan

I always understood Ungapatch to mean "A big mess"
My family had a cat that adopted us, ran into our basement in brooklyn, and she made a home for herself by knockingover books and stuff down there. She came to be named "Ungapatchkit" When she had kittens a few months later (surprise surprise) We named the one we kept "Abissell Ungapatchkit" (A little bit of a mess)
My 2 cents

Sep. 15 2010 01:56 PM
Camille from Slovenia

the "nik" ending does turns a verb or an adjective into a noun in Slavic languages

in slovenian....
mešalnik =mixer (mix + thing)
žrzmovalnik = freezer (freeze+thing)

fun episode

Sep. 15 2010 01:56 PM
Liz Miller from Brooklyn

How about "schnorer" -- in essence, for example, someone who borrows money and never repays the loan. Made famous in Duck Soup, when Groucho asks in mid-song "Did someone call me schnorer?"

Sep. 15 2010 01:55 PM
neal from Florence, Italy

I understand makatunin (sp) as meaning relatives of relatives, not inlaws.

Sep. 15 2010 01:53 PM
Joel from Westchester

Pronounced "un-guh-potched-kahd"

An example of a Yiddishism from the Lower Eaast side is "cockamamie". Derived from decal mania. -- when in the '20s(?) decals were very popular to palce on cupboard doors which sometimes made them "ungepotchkied.".

Sep. 15 2010 01:52 PM
Daniel

Alte Kacke = Old Sh-t

Sep. 15 2010 01:51 PM
Libby K from Upper West Side

vantz means obnoxious punk (Urban Dictionary)

bubbe meise=grandmother's tale: old wife's tale

Sep. 15 2010 01:51 PM
Ellen from chelsea

alter kakeh is an 'old sh*t'

Sep. 15 2010 01:51 PM
Lucia from Manhattan

Billy Crystal remarked that Yiddish is a combination of German and phlegm.

Sep. 15 2010 01:51 PM
elaine

please ask your audience what 'eppis' means?

Sep. 15 2010 01:51 PM
Steven Swendeman from manhattan

Another favorite I heard as a child....
"Halt dem Schnabel"

"Shut your mouth"

Sep. 15 2010 01:48 PM
barrie from nyc

ungaphachke does not mean overdressed, though I can see someone thinking that

it means cluttered

Sep. 15 2010 01:47 PM
barrie from nyc

ungaphachke does not mean overdressed, though I can see someone thinking that

it means cluttered

Sep. 15 2010 01:46 PM
Ellen from chelsea

Harvey - it's bubbe meister - a grandma story

Sep. 15 2010 01:45 PM
barrie from nyc

ungapachke is Hungarian

it means overdone, too many ingredients, screwed up, too many accessories or clothing items, too much of something, not exactly crazed, but crazed in that too much kind of way, not "going in both directions"

according to Hungarian ancestors

Sep. 15 2010 01:43 PM
Bob from Riverdale, Bronx

Miles/Patricia --

The word 'Megilla' is Hebrew. It means 'scroll.' On the holiday of Purim, the Megillat Esther -- the Scroll of Esther -- is read, which tells the story of Queens Esther saving the Jews of Persia. So in Yiddish, Megilla means the whole story or an involved story.

Bob
Riverdale, the Bronx

Sep. 15 2010 01:43 PM
pegi from scarsdale

Ungapatchka means overly done, especially over decorated

As in gilding the lily

Sep. 15 2010 01:43 PM
barrie from nyc

ungapachke is Hungarian

it means overdone, too many ingredients, screwed up, too many accessories or clothing items, too much of something, not exactly crazed, but crazed in that too much kind of way, not "going in both directions"

according to Hungarian ancestors

Sep. 15 2010 01:43 PM
Mike from Manhattan

When I was studying applied linguistics I read that Yiddish was a creole evolution of Old High German, i.e. the Medieval German dialect from the Alpine (hence "high") areas of Southern Germany that incorporates a number of Hebrew words. Ladino, the dialect of the Sephardic Jews of Spain, was a similar amalgamation of Medieval Spanish with the inclusion of Hebrew and Arabic words, thanks to the influence of Moorish Spain. In both cases, the grammars are most similar to the European languages.

Sep. 15 2010 01:43 PM
Celia from NYC

Ongepatchkeh (sp?)

Too busy/cluttered. See Leo Rosten's "Joys of Yiddish" for a great example - short version: A modern absract painter known for his huge canvasses with one giant circle painted in one color on a background of another invites his agent to see his latest work - he's very excited about it. The agent arrives - he's shown the new piece - TWO giant circles are on the canvass. His response: "Too ongetpatchkeh!"

Sep. 15 2010 01:42 PM
barrie

ungapachke is Hungarian

it means overdone, too many ingredients, screwed up, too many accessories or clothing items, too much of something, not exactly crazed, but crazed in that too much kind of way, not "going in both directions"

according to Hungarian ancestors

Sep. 15 2010 01:42 PM
Ellen from chelsea

a pisher is a small child - use your imagination.

Am I the only person listening, disturbed that the people who are supposed to explain about Yiddish are so uninformed as to not understand or recognize 'megillah' or 'pisher' or 'unkapotche' - these are very, very common words. Did you consider referencing a Yiddish speaker or even checking with YIVO first?

Sep. 15 2010 01:42 PM
Oy vey

I'm writing to kvetch (and maybe make a little with the kvelling, too, why not?) about sports broadcasters on the radio who mix up their pronouns, saying things like "Him and I talked to Alex Rodriguez."

It drives me nuts that people who speak for a living haven't gotten that most basic thing under control.

Sep. 15 2010 01:41 PM
Jan from UWS

"wants" is dutch for a kind of bug.

Sep. 15 2010 01:40 PM
Harvey from Manhattan

Has anyone called in with the word "Bubbamonsa?" It means a whole, long story..

Sep. 15 2010 01:40 PM
Daniel from Munich

Pischer comes from german and is easy to understand as a cognate... a pischer is a "pisser."

Sep. 15 2010 01:40 PM
David Kanegis from Montclair

A vance is a varmint.

There are 6 megillas/megillot, one of which is Esther.

Sep. 15 2010 01:39 PM
Sharon Kaufman from New York

"ungepatchke" a Yiddish word that describes the overly ornate, busy, ridiculously over-decorated, and garnished to the point of distaste.

Sep. 15 2010 01:39 PM
Elise from downton

Ungapachah [sic] but my understanding is that it mead over done, and with little taste

Sep. 15 2010 01:39 PM
a

ungepatchke means overly fancy in a versailles kind of way

Sep. 15 2010 01:38 PM
hilary

The Megillah is the Book of Esther, which is a long story (re-told on Purim)

Sep. 15 2010 01:37 PM
Sharon Kaufman from New York

The Megilla is the scroll that tells the story of the holiday Purim. Thus, it is a "long story"

Sep. 15 2010 01:36 PM
ag

megillah is hebrew, usually a scroll, such as the Book of Esther is known as megillat Esther

Sep. 15 2010 01:36 PM
Moby

It's "gay kaken offen yom" and is a fabulous way to dispatch someone.

Sep. 15 2010 01:35 PM
Steve Alcott from Inwood

I think the phrase Miles was looking for is "the whole megillah".

Sep. 15 2010 01:33 PM
Daniel from Munich

Not all Yiddish words are derived form German, yet it seems that most of the Yiddish words commonly used in the U.S. are derived from German. Why is that?

Sep. 15 2010 01:32 PM

My grandmother always used to say (and please forgive my spelling), "gay cauchen oofen yam" which I understand means "go poop in the ocean." It's become a favorite family curse! There was another one I remember meaning "may a fart get caught in your throat" though I can't remember how to say it in Yiddish. Has anyone ever heard this phrase?

Sep. 15 2010 01:31 PM
Derek from Oyster bay

It's often been said," Act British and speak Yiddish"!

Have you ever heard the term (Ishkabbile)?

Thank you!

Sep. 15 2010 01:30 PM
Moishe

google just says it's

"die ganze schmegegge"

;-)

Sep. 15 2010 01:25 PM
Kristine from Fair Haven, NJ

Also, there's an expression about whose origin I've often wondered:

"quicker than you can say Jack Robinson"

(likely referring to the baseball player, but why is his name consider "quick" to say?)

Sep. 15 2010 01:19 PM
Kristine from Fair Haven, NJ

Please address whether "amend" and "emend" be used interchangebly. Can they both be used in regards to editing text?

Sep. 15 2010 01:12 PM
Phillip from brooklyn

Why are the meaning of words different in legalese than in normal speech, and have more weight as opposed to outside the court room?

Sep. 15 2010 12:58 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Fad or forever? An expression which seems pretty new to me: "to walk (something) back". Usually used in a political context to mean to moderate an extreme position (I think).

Sep. 15 2010 05:38 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

New word alert: "Balconing", a dangerous new fad in which guests in resort hotels (particularly in Ibiza) jump from their balconies into the hotel swimming pool.

Sep. 15 2010 05:34 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Please don't forget to plug "National Punctuation Day" on September 24.
http://www.nationalpunctuationday.com/

Sep. 15 2010 05:32 AM
Joan Adler from Brooklyn

When did "infamous" become confused with famous? I hear it all the time and find it so annoying.
Also, what is the proper pronunciation of the word "veteran"? EVERYONE seems to say "vetrin".

Thanks, Joan

Sep. 15 2010 12:26 AM

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