The Rev. Sydney Smith (1771-1845) declared that in his span of seventy-three years he had witnessed eighteen improvements in human life, of which the introduction of braces was one. Braces, he said, enabled him to keep his smallclothes in their proper place.
When, precisely, the Jews in their Polish ghettoes took to wearing braces is not known; it could not have been until the sixteenth century, at the earliest, since it was not till then that trousers, which preceded braces, were first worn. By then the mass immigration of Jews into Poland from Germany had ceased, and the Polish Jews would not have known, at any rate through direct conversation, what the German for “braces” was. It was, and is, Hosenträger “trouser carriers”, a ponderous expression unlikely to have appealed to the Polish Jew even if he had known of it. The Polish Jew did not know of it, but he did know the Polish for “braces”: szelki, an altogether more viable word, and so, pausing merely to effect metathesis (Chapter IV, section 5, compare English third and three) and to give the word a respectable Yiddish plural, he said Vee zennen maane shleykes? “Where are my braces?”
A similar linguistic process took place with regard to the smallclothes known to quartermaster-sergeants as drawers, woollen, long, and to civilians as Long Johns. These, too, were defined in German with Teutonic precision: Unterhosen “undertrousers”. In Polish – gatki. So – off with the Unterhosen, and on with the gutkes “pants”.
I. H. Taviov whose Hebrew Elements in Yiddish (see preface) first gave me an insight into the rationale of the Hebrew component in Yiddish, has placed me under a like obligation for the Polish-Russian components with his Slav Elements in Yiddish. (Hayesodot Haslaviim Bazhargon, Hashiloach, vol. xxx, no.2, 1914, 139ff. Reprinted in Kitvei I. H. Taviov, Berlin 1923.) In this work he recorded the words of Slav origin which he had heard spoken by old men when he himself was a small boy, about fifty years previously. As he points out, this means that the words must have been part of the spoken language for at least a hundred years.
Taviov stresses that the words he records were part of the vocabulary of “ordinary” Jews who came mostly from White Russia, particularly the region of Vitebsk, and, to a lesser extent, from Lithuania; that is to say Jews who spoke neither the Germanised Yiddish prevalent among Yiddish writers in Taviov’s day, nor the Russified Yiddish of the younger, assimilated generation. He found, in the vocabulary of all his interlocutors, about 500 words common to Polish and Russian; about 300 words with no Russian counterparts; and about 400 Russian words with no Polish counterparts. Only a few score of the words cited by Taviov are known to me (as well as some given by me – I have not thought it necessary to specify which – not recorded by Taviov), but this small number occurred with great frequency in my mother’s speech and form an integral part of “normal” Yiddish, that is to say Yiddish that is neither Hebraicised nor Germanised nor Russified nor Polonised by speakers anxious to display their “education”. As less than a handful of the words of Slav origin used by my mother are exclusive to Russian I give, in the pages that follow, as a rule, only Polish etyma, without any Russian cognates.
“Ten measures of talk were given to the world, nine were taken by women and one by the rest of the world.” No doubt Taviov had this Talmudic dictum in mind when he attributes the introduction of Slav elements into Yiddish to the loquacity of the second sex. Most women, says Taviov, are “busybodies and chatterboxes” (askaniyot ufatpaniyot). [I’m keeping out of this, though purely for the linguistic record I note that my mother, too, would say, U froh ot naan moohss (German Mass “measure”) reyt (German Rede “talk”), “A woman has nine measures of talk”]. The Jewish housewife liked to gossip with her Polish neighbour – she, the Jewish housewife, unlike her husband, was not a merook’ “sulker”, Polish mruczek – and had perforce, if her husband were affluent enough, to talk frequently with her Polish maidservant or nanny. Hence, says Taviov, it is not surprising that many of the words of Slav origin in Yiddish relate to domestic objects.
One of the commonest domestic objects in any household of a century ago, before the advent of mops and squegees and vacuum cleaners and “wet strength” paper kitchen towels, was – a rag, shmutte, Polish szmata, which as like as not would be hanging on a nail, tchvok, Polish ćweik. Probably the Polish singular ćwiek sounded to the Polish Jew like the plural form of a singular with o (compare tepp/top, German Töpfe/Topf “pots/pot), and so he “formed” a singular tchvok (plural tchvekkes). If the Jew earned his living by peddling rags as such, or old clothes which, in his own circle, if not to his customers, he designated as shmuttes, this was not because he felt he had a vocation for shmuttering but because, denied access to craft guilds on account of his faith, he was unable to exercise more honourable callings. From the peddling of shmuttes was to arise the vast clothing industry of America and Britain which, in the words of Louis Golding, “enabled a shop assistant to become a passable imitation of a duchess”.
More or less synonymous with Polish szmata is ścierka, Yiddish ss‘tchehrke “duster”, a word I have now somehow found indispensible for designating a tea-cloth ever since, at a small Jewish guest-house many years ago, we heard the working proprietor ask his young wife for a ss‘tchehrke. “What”, asked the young woman, “is a ss‘tchehrke?” This seemingly innocent question brought down on her hapless head the vials of wrath poured out by her incensed husband. Voohss, veyst nisht voohss heyst u ss’tchehrke? “What, you don’t know the meaning of ss’tchehrke?” Vellkhe yeedish meydel veysht nisht voohss iz u ss”tchehrke? “What Jewish girl doesn’t know what a ss’tchehrke is?” a question which was to become a family catchword.
The sibilant in ss‘tchehrke brings to mind shkaar‘petke, Polish skarpetka “sock”, though my mother used zok, German Socke and shkaar‘petke indifferently, and pishke, Polish puszka “box”; towards the end of the service in the synagogue the shummes would come round rattling his pishke for tsedooke “alms”, Hebrew tsedakah, literally “righteousness”.
Most articles of clothing retained their German names, but fetcheylle “headscarf”, is from Old Polish facelet, from Italian fazzolo, and faaartekh “apron”, is from Polish fartuch, from Middle High German vortuch, literally “forecloth” Modern German Schürze. A “pin” is shpillke, Polish szpilka; zitsen ef shpillkes, literally “to sit on pins”, is “to be on tenterhooks”. Tsee (German zu) shpillen zekh is to “do up” clothing, presumably because when the word came into Yiddish, clothing in Poland was mostly held together by pins (German zu has the force of “closing, making to”; die Tür zumachen “to close, make to, the door”.) A skull-cap is yaarmelke, Polish jarmulka, though the word I always heard as a boy was kuppel from Kappl, an Upper German diminutive of Kappe, “cap.” (The tendency nowadays is to use the Hebrew, kippah.)
Jewish husbands were seldom brutal, but they still required feeding by their womenfolk, through whom a number of Polish words relating to foodstuffs found their way into Yiddish, e.g. smett’ene, Polish smietana “cream”. Smett‘ene as I knew it as a boy was sour milk with cream on top. In summer you covered a glass of milk with a saucer and next morning you had smett’ene: a layer of cream with curds and whey beneath. Also from Polish was rozh’innke “raisin”, Polish rodzynek, of rozh’innkes mit mundlen, German Mandeln (with metathesis) fame. (It is interesting to contrast the lullaby, in which the mother croons her little Yeedele to sleep with visions of his becoming a dealer in almonds and raisins, with the cradle song of the Israeli mother a generation later who tells her son to sleep peacefully, not to be frightened of the wind howling and the jackals crying and the Arabs attacking the settlement: “Your father works by day and is on guard by night, you will grow up, you will lift up your head, you will be a hero like your father, together you will plough the fields”.)
To spice his Sabbath fish the Jew took khreyn “horseradish”, the “bitter herbs” of the traditional Passover meal, Polish chrzan, Russian khren. His staple fare was boollbes, Polish bulwa (singular), from Latin bulbus. How staple it was is attested by the ditty:
Zinntik boollbes, moohntik boollbes,
Deenstik en mittvekh boollbes,
Donnershtik en fraatik boollbes,
Shubbes in u novvene u boollbe kighele,
Zinntik vaater boollbes.
“Sunday spuds, Monday spuds,
Tuesday and Wednesday spuds,
Thursday and Friday spuds,
Sabbath, for a change, potato dumpling,
Sunday spuds again.”
(Quoted from College Yiddish by Uriel Weinreich, 4th revised ed; N.Y. 1965 pp 166, 167. But I must confess that although Yiddish has, in addition to boollbes (boollves in the Lithuanian dialect), both kaar’toffel and ehrd’eppel, German Kartoffeln, Erdäpfel for “potatoes”, I can only remember my mother saying – peteyttes.)
Taviov associates the provenance of the words tutte, Polish tata “daddy”, zeydde, Polish dziad “grandad”, and boobe, Polish baba “grannie”, to the nursery: the Polish “nannies” would have been responsible for introducing them into the Jewish households in which they were employed. Grandma, incidentally, seems to have had a bad press in Yiddish. We have mentioned previously a boobbe maase (Chapter I), the folk etymology of which, at any rate, is “the sort of story you can only expect your grandma to believe.” The expression Sot (German es hat) maan boobbez taam (Hebrew ta’am “taste, flavour), literally “It has my grandmother’s taste”, applied to an article of clothing, for example, means “It looks awful”, and de boobbez yerishe (Hebrew yerushah inheritance, legacy”) meant “tuppence hapenny”, “peanuts”. I do not know of any sayings which are derogatory to grandfathers. It seems there is scope for a Yiddish grandmothers’ liberation movement.
From the Polish nannies, too, would come tsuttske, Polish cacko “toy”, and possibly lobbes, Polish lobuz “urchin, rascal”, with the caritative diminutive lobbesel. Yiddish mumme, in the spelling mama, is common to Polish and German. I have an idea I have read somewhere that the labial m sound, made by the baby’s lips as it sucks its mother’s breast, is common to the word for “mother” in all languages; could be. The more specifically Polish and German forms, matka and mutti, respectively, never caught on in Yiddish.
Polish brat “brother”, occurs only in the expression pun‘ye (Polish panie) brut (literally “sir brother”) zaan; “to be on familiar terms with.” Ehrz pun‘ye brut mit meer, “He’s palsy-walsy with me”, and in the saying Oohder iz nisht ken broohder, en shvut iz nisht ken brut, “The month of Adar (March/April) is not a brother, nor is the month of Shevat (January/February)”, indicating that the early spring month can be as un-springlike as the late winter one. Note that the German pronunciation of Bruder is retained for the rhyme (normal Polish Yiddish pronunciation breeder), but that shvut is one of a number of Hebrew-Aramaic words with a “Sephardic” pronunciation in Yiddish (See also Chapter III, Section 1).
The employment by a small number of Polish Jews of Gentile domestics went side by side with a treatment of the Jew by the Pole which was at best contemptuous. The verbal expression of this contempt passed into the Yiddish lexis. Paarekh, Polish parch “scab”, and paarshivve, Polish parszywy “scabby”, were used by the Poles as synonyms for “Jew” and “Jewish.” In Yiddish they were employed in the sense of “rotter”, “filthy”, a borrowing which, as Taviov points out, hardly reflected great credit on Polish Jews, but to which the use of “nigger” by some negroes to denote their “inferior” black brethren affords a parallel. Not quite so strong as paarekh is puskoodniuk‘ (with an indignant flourish on the final -niuk) “cad, bounder”, from Polish paskudnik “sloven.” The Jew returned the compliment by dubbing the Polish lord of the manor to whom he paid taxes poohrits, Hebrew parits “robber” (Ezekiel xviii,10), though I doubt whether the etymology was present in the consciousness of those using the word; certainly to my mother the poohrits – the word is “irreplaceable” – was the Polish squire, with no pejorative connotations.
A number of “medical” and anatomical terms are Polish, e.g. prish, Polish pryszcz “pimple”, smaarkutte, Polish smarkaty “snotty”, kille, Polish kila “hernia”, kul‘yeke, Polish kaleka “cripple” (from which, also, kul‘ye vehren “to be spoilt”, kul‘ye mukhen “to spoil”), pippik, Polish pepek “navel” (not to be confused with pempekh “paunch, ‘corp'”, from Polish pampuch “short, fat man”, the Polish word itself deriving from German Pfannkuchen “pancake”), pleytses, Polish plecy “shoulders”, kishke, Polish kiszka “gut.”
Yiddish gedehrm‘, German Gedärm “gut”, I heard from my mother only in Her kon erohss‘tsee‘en de kishkes mit de gedehrm‘, “He can draw out your guts together with your intestines”, i.e. he can “drive you up the wall”. A “Hebrew” version of this latter which, alas! I all too often gave my mother occasion to employ, was Her tseet mer erohss’ de dumme tumtsiss, Hebrew dam hatamssit, literally “quintessential blood.” Not quite so strong is a phrase I recall from my mother, but which I have not come across, in speech or in writing, anywhere else: Her/Ze/Se git mer pippik ri’minish, literally “He/She/It gives me navel rumblings (German rummeln “to rumble”) – He/She/It gives me the willies.” Whether navel borborygmus is physiologically possible I do not know; what I do know is that pippik ri’minish is a pet phrase of a medical practitioner in a genteel and Gentile suburb whose mother was a khuvverte of my mother’s.
In the “medical” section we can include the famous bunnkes, Polish banka (singular) “cupping glasses”; hellfen uzzoi‘ vee u toiten bunnkes, “to be as much use as cupping glasses to a dead man”, as well as khelehrre, Polish cholera “cholera”, used as an expletive: U/De khelehrre zoll ess nemmen “Confound it! Damn!” Incidentally, my mother very definitely stressed the penultimate syllable, “correctly”, as in the Polish pronunciation; not khol’yere with “incorrect” initial stress as stated by Daniel Leibel, in “On Ashkenazic Stress”, The Field of Yiddish, N.Y 1965, p.65, to be the pronunciation in Central Yiddish, i.e. the Yiddish dialect coterritorial with Polish.
Many expressions which are thought of as being “characteristically”, “inimitably” Yiddish are in fact, as Taviov observes, Polish vocations pure and simple. Shu! “Quiet!” is Polish Sza! Feh! “For shame!” is Polish Fe! (compare English Fie! Pooh! German Pfui!). And Oi! (and indeed oi vey!) even Yiddish oi! oi! is simply Polish oj! Oj! A revelation which, Taviov says, shattered his last illusion. (Tsee ehrz raakh? “Is he rich?” Oi! Oi! “And how!”). The enclitic zhe is also Polish, ze: Zoog-zhe nokh emoohl’ “Say it again, then.” Vee-zhe (vee = German wo) geysste? “Where are you going, then?”
Sometimes a Polish word was preferred to an existing German one because of the latter’s ambiguity. Yiddish took Polish smyczek to denote a violin bow, Yiddish smitchik, for instance, because German Bogen meant, as well as “violin bow”, “arch”, “sheet of paper.” Similarly “violin strings” in Yiddish are strinnes, Polish struna (singular) to avoid confusion between German Saiten “strings of a musical instrument”, and its homophone Seiten “sides”, “pages”. No doubt for the same reason uzz, Polish az, eventually replaced doohss, German dass (relative conjunction), because the latter sounded exactly the same as German das (definite article). In Tseynne Goreynne (Hebrew Tse’enah Ure’nah “Go Forth and See”, Song of Songs iii,11), a best-selling devotional work published early in the seventeenth century, both doohss and uzz are used indiscriminately as relative conjunctions. Admittedly, as regards ambiguity, Yiddish vee can be faulted, meaning as it does both “how”, German wie and “where”, German wo.
Yiddish took over the Slav diminutive adjectival suffix -yennke and tacked it on to German adjectives: gittinke, sheyninke, from German gut, schön “good”, “beautiful” (Yiddish adopted very few Slav adjectives as such). Even Taviov conceded that this added charm to the language, however much it outraged the genius of German. Anyway, what Yiddish did to German didn’t worry him, Taviov said. German was not the Jewish language. What did upset him was certain liberties which Yiddish took with Hebrew, which was the Jewish language.
Taviov quotes from an early Yiddish poem by Bialik:
Inter green’inke boim’elekh
Zitsen Moish’elekh, Shloim’elekh
Beneath green trees sit “Moishelekh” and “Shloimelekh”. Ziz u shtillinke “She’s a quiet one”, my mother would sometimes say, and Ziz eynne fin dee shtillinkes” “She’s one of those quiet ones”, with the implication of still waters running deep.
In turning Polish verbs into Yiddish, only what I have described (Chapter II, Section 5) as the “bludgeoning” method was adopted. Thus the Polish verb chapać “to grasp, snap, catch” becomes khuppen, and is conjugated with complete German regularity: khup, khupst, khupt; khuppen, khupt, khuppen; gekhupt. It combines with German prefixes, e.g. eraan’ (German herein) khuppen “to get in”, khupt e kedeeshe vebooh’rrekhee eraan’ “gets in (during the synagogue service) a kedushah and a barachu”. Erim (German herum) khuppen zekh “to blurt out”, off (German auf) khuppen zekh “to wake up (intransitive) with a start.”
Taviov considered the Polish verbs that entered Yiddish to be more vivid or expressive or succinct than their German equivalents. With khuppen one seems to hear the snap of the crocodile’s jaws. Or perhaps this is over-fanciful, no doubt the same could be said about German schnappen. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to envisage anything other than khup in expressions such as khup nisht! “Don’t grab!” (siz nisht heysse lokshen “it’s not hot noodles”), khuppen u drimmel (Polish drzemka “nap, doze”) “to snatch forty winks”, and Vest khuppen u putch (rhyming with English much) “You’ll get a smack.” (Putch, plural petch is from either the Polish interjection pac or the German interjection patch.) And certainly no German verb conveys the idea of toil and moil implicit in horrven “to labour”, Polish harować (and in the noun horrvunn’ye (Polish harowanie), nor the worries and anxieties of bringing up children conveyed by hodd’even, Polish hodować.
From fehrblonnzen zekh, Polish bladzić “to lose one’s way”, comes dehr fehrblonn‘zeter “the one who has lost his way”, which was neatly used to render the title of Perets Smolenkin’s Hebrew novel Hato’eh Bedarchei Hachayyim “The Wanderer in the Paths of Life”. Yiddish struzhen, Polish strassyć “to intimidate”, has a German equivalent, einschüchtern, which, however, apart from its less intimidating sound, is of late origin (it occurs only in New High German, and hence post-dates the Jewish settlement in Poland). Zhulleve nisht (from Polish zalować) “Don’t be stingy” (with the butter or cake or whatever) is more precise than German schonen, which can also have the meaning of “spare, have mercy on”, Yiddish rukhmoohniss (Hebrew rachmanut “mercy”) oobben. Nidden, Polish nudzić, is “to pester, bore, get on a person’s nerves”. Tcheppen zekh, Polish czepiać sie “to cling to, find fault with”, conveys the idea, in Yiddish, of looking for an excuse to start a row. Ehr vill zekh tcheppen “He wants to have a row”. Tcheppe dekh nisht (oohn) “Don’t pick on me”. Mitchen, Polish meczyć, is “to worry, cause suffering”; mitchen zekh “to suffer, have a rough time” (laaden, Middle High German lîden “to suffer”, is used in constructions like Ekh kon es nisht laaden “I can’t stand it”; Ehr laat fin doighen (German von den Augen) “He suffers with his eyes”.
Some Polish verbs “just grew” into Yiddish, but even these would not have taken root had they not been words in frequent use among the Poles with whom the Jews came into contact, and had they not been at least equally as expressive as their German equivalents. Thus perhaps khroppen, Polish chrapać “to snore”, is even more splendidly onomatopeic than German schnarchen, while khlippen “to sob”, Polish chlipać (“to whimper”) is not less so than German schluchzen, and khluppen “to drip, splash”, Polish chlapać not less so than German rieseln, patschen, plätschern, nor kuppen “to trickle”, Polish kapać, less so than German träufeln.
Yiddish-German simple verbs were given a connotation corresponding to compound Polish and Russian verbs by means of Yiddish-German prefixes which were a “translation” of the Polish-Russian prefixes. The Polish preposition na “on, at” for example, prefixed to a simple verb, conveys the idea of completion, repetition, intensity. Yiddish “translated” this prefix by its German equivalent an, prefixed it to a German simple verb, thereby “pseudo-creating” (Taviov, who disapproved of the process, insists that there is no genuine creation involved) a new “Yiddish-German” verb. “To eat one’s fill”, for example, is oohn’essen zekh, German sich satt essen. Similarly oohn’shikkern zekh, from Hebrew shikkor “drunk”, is “to have one over the eight.” (Shikkern “to booze”; yeeden shikkern nisht “Jews don’t drink”; ehr ot sekh (sekh is progressively assimilated from zekh) git oohn’geshikkert “He got tight”). Se zeyt sekh oohn = “It’s noticeable” (German ansehen = “to look at”). The Polish preposition pod means “under”, the Polish verb podrastać “to grow up”. Yiddish “translated” the pod by inter, German unter, prefixed it to vukkse, “to grow”, German wachsen, to form the Yiddish verb in’tervukksen, German heranwachsen “to grow up”.
In the Yiddish folk-song Lommer zekh ibb‘erbetyen “Let’s make it up, bury the hatchet”, German Versöhnen wir uns, ibb‘erbeyten is a calque of Polish przepraszać “to beg pardon”, prze “across”, being translated by Yiddish ibber, German über, and (u)praszać “to pray” by beyten, German beten. Ibb’ershlooghen de reyt is a calque of Russian perebitj retchj “to interrupt the speech”, itself a calque, as Taviov points out, of French and Latin (as is German unterbrechen).
Two Yiddish verbs derive from Polish verbs which themselves come direct from German. Yiddish rutt‘even “to rescue”, is from Polish ratować, from German retten. And zeygnen zekh “to say goodbye” is from Polish zegnać sie, German sich segnen. The history of zeygnen zekh is a curious one. German segnen “to bless”, derives from Latin signum “sign”, since the blessing was accompanied by the sign of the cross. The Jews of Germany were conscious of the Christian significance of the word segnen, and avoided it, substituting bentchen, from Latin benedicere. When they came to Poland, however, they heard zegnać sie used in the sense of “to say goodbye” (Middle High German sich sëgenen, New High German sich segnen meant only “to make the sign of the cross, to bless one another”; “to say good bye, farewell” was Middle High German abeschit nëmen, New High German Abeschied nehmen) and, finding it filled a gap in the Yiddish vocabulary, adopted it, even though the “sign of the cross” is as marked in zegnać as it is in segnen. One can almost see the curl in Taviov’s lip as he writes: “Who could possibly doubt the essential Jewishness of the jargon?”
Yiddish adopted only a few adjectives and particles from Polish, but these occur frequently, and are well entrenched in the language. Prosst(e) “simple, plain”, is from Polish prost. Yiddish Zey zennen prosste mentchen “They’re simple people”; ef prosste mumme loohshen “in plain Yiddish.” Yiddish pisste, Polish pusty “empty”, occurs chiefly in pisste reyt (German Rede “speech”) “empty talk, twaddle”. (“Empty” in Yiddish is lehr, German leer.) Yiddish pevolle, Polish powoli is “slowly”; my mother sometimes added an enclitic -tchke: Gey pevolle or pevoll’etchke “Go slowly, carefully”. Yiddish zaarss or zaarres “immediately, straightway”, is from Polish zaraz while Polish choć “although, at least”, gives Yiddish khotch, khotchik: Khotch ehrz uzzoi’ gelehrnt’, se feyl im u sukh sekhel “Although he’s so educated, he’s got very little sense”; Ennfer mer khotchik! “Answer me, at least!”
Yiddish tukke “actually, really”, is from Polish tak “yes, thus.” Ehrz tukke gerekht “He’s right, really”. Ziz u kulle gevorren (“She’s become engaged”). Tukke? “Really?” Yiddish did not adopt Polish tak in the meaning of “yes”, Yiddish yo, German ja, being perfectly adequate (but Middle High German eigenlich, würkelich, New High German eigentlich, wirklich were too cumbersome compared with tukke).
Yiddish ot, Polish ot = voilá! “just” (adverb). Ot uzzoi! “That’s the way!” Ot-ot-ot! “You’re almost there!” Ot doohss meyn ekh “That’s just what I mean”. Ot doohss iz de tsoohrre “That’s just the trouble.” Tosste = ot plus osste, German hast du “hast thou.” Tosste u nai’e modde (German neue Mode “new fashion”) with stress on nai’e = “Not likely!”
We have already mentioned uzz, Polish az. It is also used in the sense of German wenn “if”, Yiddish venn being used for “when”, German wann, Middle High German wenn. Uzz de veysst nisht, shvaag, German Wenn du nicht weisst, schweig “If you don’t know, keep quiet”; Venn osste gevisst? German Wann hast du gewusst? “When did you know?” Yiddish tsee, Polish czy = “whether.” (The Yiddish pronunciation follows the Polish pronunciation of Mazovia; Weinreich, Geshikhte, ii, 213-4). Ekh veyss nisht tsee se vett toighen “I don’t know whether it will be suitable”. It is sometimes used to introduce a question: Tsee osste eynmoohl gefreykt’ voohss ekh mukh “Did you ever once ask how I was?” Ee…ee, Polish I…i is “both…and, not only….but”: Ee siz git, ee siz billik “Not only is it cheap, it’s good”. Yiddish ubbee’ “so long as”, is from Polish aby “in order that, for the sake of”: Ubbee’ de geyst in sheel “So long as you go to shool (but your conduct otherwise leaves much to be desired)”; ubbee’ ehr kenn eppes ferdeenen “So long as he can earn something (even if he’s not a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, etc.)”. The vulgar Polish Na! fuses with deer, German dir “to thee”, to give nudder (u shtik broit mit pitter) “Here’s (a slice of bread and butter for you)”, with no vulgarity at all, though of course the mere use of deer implies familiarity. Presumably the Pole handed over money to the Jew with a na! – the same expression he used in throwing a bone to his dog – and the Jew either failed to realise there was anything vulgar in the expression or adopted it nonetheless.
From the Russian verb rzhavetj “to rust”, Yiddish formed fehrzhuvvet (German prefix ver-) “rusty”; fehrzhuvvet vehren “to rust, get rusty”. Russian kubarem “head over heels” became kepoir’/kuppoir’ in Yiddish “the wrong way round”. Teest es kepoir’ “You’re doing it just the wrong way”; u kuppoirre kop (German Kopf “head”) is someone who always gets hold of the wrong end of the stick. The Russian verb pravitj “to administer”, occurs in Yiddish pruvven dem seyder “to carry out the seder according to its ritual”.