Rumors that Yiddish is a dead language are greatly exaggerated. In fact, both the Yiddish language and culture are alive and well in America and elsewhere. English speakers take note: The Random House Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary both contain almost 100 Yiddish words that are now considered part of the English language. The impact of Yiddish culture is strongly felt in the films of Woody Allen, in Broadway shows like The Producers, and in television sitcoms such as The Nanny and Seinfeld in the tradition of the comic headliners of the Catskills. The world of Yiddish reaches out and embraces us in the literature of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Art Spiegelman, the culinary offerings of innumerable delicatessens, and the renewed popularity of klezmer music.
Yiddish is rich and soulful, thick with pathos, full of humor and self-deprecating wit and sarcasm -- as a language it uniquely captures the essence of what, or who, it describes. If you've ever noshed on a bagel, or yelled at the schmuck who had the chutzpah to cut you off at the traffic light, you've been enriched and empowered by Yiddish.
Beautifully designed and illustrated, Meshuggenary is a deeply researched and eclectic introduction to Yiddish language, culture, and history. It explores the basics of Yiddish vocabulary and grammar; proverbs, expressions, blessings, curses, and insults; and even the difference between Yiddish, Yinglish (Yiddish-origin words now part of English), and Yiddlish (words that sound Yiddish but aren't). There are chapters on Yiddish humor, literature, theater, and music; a who's who of Yiddish luminaries; and a captivating glimpse of the contributions of women to its literature and culture. So you shouldn't go hungry, there's a chapter on food with a tempting selection of family recipes. And if this little taste isn't enough to satisfy you, there's information on a host of books and Yiddish Web sites and Internet links.
Erudite, accessible, highly informative, and enormously entertaining, Meshuggenary is an irresistible pleasure.
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Payson R. Stevens has worked as an artist, designer, and writer for thirty years. He and his wife live in Del Mar, California.From Booklist:
With the present revival of interest in Yiddish, this light, popular introduction will appeal to newcomers to the language and also to those who remember bits and pieces and want to know more. The authors don't try for the comprehensiveness of Leo Rosten's Joys of Yiddish (1968). Rather, they focus on the heart of the language, how it expresses European Jewish history and culture, and what Yiddish has lent and borrowed in America. Clearly designed for browsing, with lots of subheads and boxed notes, and with the Yiddish words in bold type, there are chapters on humor, on proverbs and sayings, and on recipes and cooking. There's also a useful overview of literature, theater, and music, past and present. A long alphabetical list of expressions works great for quick reference, and the final extensive bibliography includes Web sites. This is a book for sharing and reading aloud: the schmaltzy endearments, the grousing and kvetching, and, of course, the insults-- untranslatable, irreplaceable in their invective and vulgarity, hilarious "if they're not directed at you." Hazel Rochman
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