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    Blog — Yiddish Curses

    What Does “May All Your Teeth Fall Out, Except One To Give You A Toothache" Mean?

    Ale tseyn zoln dir aroysfaln, nor eyner zol dir blaybn af tsonveytik.

    The average Yiddish curse is not what one might call succinct. In fact, our curses can be quite the mouthful. Consequently, they’re not for everybody nor every situation. They call for a distinctly determined degree of disdain, and a great commitment to the cursing cause. Anyone can blurt out an “F you!” in the heat of the moment, but a Yiddish curse requires conviction and some serious lung capacity (breathing being a luxury one cannot afford when reciting an interminable imprecation!).

    Just to put things in perspective for you: believe it or not, length-wise, this particular proverb comes in somewhere in the middle. There are many curses in our repertoire that require an even more thorough throat-clearing session and a captive (perhaps restrained) audience. Much of the reason behind the length of our curses comes from a desire to cover all the bases. Take the curse in question: a gentile and/or novice might feel that wishing for a person to lose all of his or her teeth is more than sufficient all on its own, but we Jews see nothing but insufficiencies and loopholes! Think about it! Once said toothless-Tom, -Tim, or -Tullulah gets over the shock of losing all his or her teeth, the suffering is essentially over. What good is that?

    I mean, when you get past the question of cosmetics, teeth just aren’t that crucial. Who needs to masticate a meal when the average Starbucks serving or Dairy Queen indulgence packs such a caloric punch? Speaking of fast food, thanks to the current, inexplicable smoothie sensation, there’s now a “King” (or one of his less-majestic counterparts) on every corner. Talk about uncomplicated consumption! Still not effortless enough? What about those powerhouse blenders, the Vitamixes and company?! Those suckers are commonplace in kitchens today and can turn a six-course meal into a slurpee in a matter of seconds. And what’s stopping this dentally-deficient dumkopf from springing for an artificial pair of pearly whites? Dentures have come a long way in modern times; heck, odds are your cursee will wind up with a better looking pair than he or she had pre-curse! Unacceptable! We just can’t allow for such possibilities! No, to us it’s worth the extra oxygen to affix the real zinger: “May all your teeth fall out, except one to give you a toothache.” There’s not a whole lot worse than an aching tooth, especially when it’s the only tooth you’ve got ... and especially for a people who sure as hell like to eat!

    Dear reader, may all your teeth remain healthy for 120 years! (Unless of course you were the driver of the dingy Dodge who callously cut me off yesterday. …)

    Appropriate usage?

    Zeyde Pinsky is pumping an imaginary passenger-side brake pedal while his permit-wielding grandson, Adam, fails to signal yet again. …

    Adam: “You doin’ alright over there, Zeyde?”

    Zeyde: “Vos zol ikh makhen? Adam, my boy, you’re going to give me a heart attack, G-d forbid! Stop with the tape deck already! Ten-and-two! Ten-and-two!”

    Adam: “Chill out, Zeyde. I got this, I promise. Don’t you have anything other than Theodore Bikel and Linda Kazan?”

    Zeyde: “It’s Lainie Kazan, and enough with the music! You need to be able to hear for honking! Not to mention the ambulance when they come for me, G-d forbid!” [muttering to himself, shaking his head] “Di mamma oysn oyg.

    Adam: “Huh? Zeyde, I can’t hear you over the music—you know, this Linda chick’s not bad.”

    Zeyde: [reaching for volume knob] “Oy gevalt! I said, You’re just like your mother! I still can’t ride in the car with her without getting indigestion! Just—just do your poor old Zeyde a mitzvah and pull over a minute, will you? Ahh! Adam! Use your indicator!”

    Once the car is safely in park, Zeyde takes a minute to catch his breath before he and Adam switch places for the ride home. ...

    Zeyde: “Maybe better you just learn from observation for the rest of the lesson, good? Good. Now watch what I do, Adam. You have to pay attention and keep your focus on—”

    Zeyde is so busy lecturing that he fails to check his blind spot and narrowly misses a maroon Golf. Horns blare, and Zeyde, leaning out the window, fills his lungs to capacity and shouts ...

    Zeyde: “Ale tseyn zoln dir aroysfaln, nor eyner zol dir blaybn af tsonveytik!”

    Adam: “Zeyde! The guy’s long gone and I doubt he understands Yiddish anyway. Wouldn’t it be easier to just give him the finger?”

    Zeyde: “Easy is not always best, my boy. Besides, one doesn’t have to know he’s been cursed for it to work. I’d stay away from corn on the cob for a while if I were that behaymeh!”

    What Does “You’re A Piece Of Meat With Two Eyes" Mean?

    Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “You’re A Piece Of Meat With Two Eyes"

    Vos a shtik fleish mit tsvei oygn.

    We Jews put our meat through an ordeal so grueling it would make even the most hardened Harvard applicant sweat. As absurd as it sounds, there are actually some strong parallels to be drawn between these two infamously rigorous processes:

    1. A whole slew of unworthy candidates are dismissed right off the bat; solid-hoofers, “D” students, and bottom feeders need not apply!
    2. Officials confirm that both anxious applicants have enjoyed an upbringing that could survive the closest scrutiny (vegetarian diets and extracurriculars are a must!).
    3. Both the Kosher meat and Ivy League contenders must have “graduated” (from this mortal coil and high school, respectively) with the highest of honors.

    With this said however, before all you eager cockeyed-college candidates take this analogy and run with it, there is one rather large discrepancy: While it’s imperative that Kosher meat candidates chew their cud, I would strongly discourage any gum-chewing during your interview process! OK, so my comparison may have some holes. I’m certainly not going to suggest that both processes share a ritualistic throat-slitting procedure ... but I have heard some things, and the rumors suggest that Shochets, our revered Kosher slaughterers, could teach admissions personnel a thing or two about humane practices!

    So, with all this time and effort invested in our meat—all you very mature adults who are now snickering, let’s just try and get through this with a modicum of dignity, shall we? I’m dodging innuendoes left and right in this article!—you’re probably thinking that, coming from us, the supposed insult housed in this particular proverb doesn’t sound so bad. Well, not really. …

    Laws of Shechitah aside, at the end of the day, kosher or not, a piece of meat is still just a piece of meat. It just kind of sits there. Other than its colossal contributions to the pastrami sandwich, meat doesn’t serve much of a purpose, especially when compared to human beings … well, except those of us who are deserving of this insult.

    Appropriate usage?

    Ruthie found herself compulsively checking the grandfather clock in the living room as she angrily went through the motions of folding laundry. She couldn’t believe it was half-past-two and her batlen of a son was still asleep. Three days into his two-week suspension, Jake, a junior in high school, was on the fast-track to Shnorror-ville. Ruthie’s mind raced. ...

    Ruthie: “He’d better write that letter of apology to Mr. Elmwick. I can’t believe I raised such a disrespectful son! It’s only October and he’s already suspended! How many suspensions is it until expulsion, two or three? Oh G-d, let it be three! I can’t believe this is what I’m dreaming of for my son! His cousins are pre-med and he’s going to get kicked out of high school! Oh, I can’t bear it! What a shonda!!! Well, that’s it!”

    She physically punctuates this exclamation at the expense of a pair of her husband, Frank’s, briefs.

    Ruthie: “If he’s not going to be in school, then he’s sure as hell going to get a job! But who will hire a high school drop-out!? Oyf mir gezogt gevorn! ‘Drop-out’ implies that he took action!!! Didn’t Frank’s cousin’s boy work at McDonald’s for a summer? I’ll have to ask Deborah … oh G-d, is that her name? ‘Deborah’? She always wears those ridiculous cardigans with ducks all over them. ... Why can’t I remember her name? I’m too young to be forgetting names this often. Yesterday with the pharmacist and now Frank’s cousin!?! Those pharmacists should really wear name tags! They probably refuse, bunch of gantzeh k’nockers! Even stock-boys who never leave the back wear name tags! I wonder if you need your high school diploma to be a stock boy? Oy vey. How did we get here? It’s all that Marcus’ fault, that gonif! Ever since Jake started hanging out with him, I barely recognize him! My own son! Oh G-d! What if he and Marcus go on to big-time things?! I’ll wind up with a convict for a son! Like that boy from Temple. Oh G-d, what’s his name!? The Rosenbaum’s boy ... ugh! I have to ask Ma if Alzheimer’s runs in the family. This can’t be normal! I’m 42! What time is it?? 2:53!?!? That’s it! I’m going up there!!”

    Ruthie storms up the stairs and throws open her son’s bedroom door. ...

    Ruthie: “Jacob Aaron Saltzer! Get up! I’m not going to have you lying in bed all day like You’re a piece of meat with two eyes!

    Jake: [muffled] “Come on, Ma. Ten more minutes.”

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    What Does “May You Grow Like An Onion With Your Head In The Ground!" Mean?

    Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “May You Grow Like An Onion With Your Head In The Ground!"

    Vaksn zolstu vi a tsibele mitn kop in dr'erd!

    Jews have a long history with the onion. This piquant bulb actually held great esteem in Ashkenazi society, and has therefore inspired some fittingly pungent expressions. One of the most well known Yiddish curses—onion-related or otherwise—is the one in question. Believe it or not, this is actually an abbreviated version of the curse—perfect for shouting out your car window at dangerously distracted drivers! The most common full version ends with:

    Yiddish

    “ [...] un dis fis aroyf!”

    English:

    “ [...] and your feet in the air!”

    I would think this addition states the obvious and is therefore superfluous, but to each his own! The most curious version of this notorious curse concludes with:

    Yiddish:

    “ […] di fis in shpitol, un di hent in kloyster!”

    English:

    “ […] your feet in the hospital, and your hands in a church!”

    This addition is especially harsh considering there are perhaps no two more unappealing places for a Jew to find himself:

    • The church, for obvious and hopefully antiquated reasons.
    • The hospital because, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, to a Jew, health is paramount.

    This most verbose version is a masterpiece as it employs the element of surprise to add injury to insult, so to speak. It’s believed that, because of the aforementioned prominence of the onion in Jewish society, the curse’s target would be not only unfazed but completely disarmed by the first part, and thus left all the more vulnerable to the one-two punch of the second and third parts. History and an Ashkenazi affinity for the onion aside, to the modern cursee the abbreviated version is more than sufficient. Hey, I like an onion as much as the next gal, but I certainly wouldn’t take lightly the idea of spending an eternity doing a headstand in the dirt!

    Perhaps you Yoga-enthusiasts have a different opinion? Do tell!

    Appropriate usage?

    Ilene and Gloria are trying desperately to get their husbands to at least look at each other following a particularly devastating game of bridge at the senior center. …

    Ilene: “Larry! You and Jacob have been bridge partners and, more importantly, best friends for 35 years! You can’t let this stupid game come between you!”

    Gloria: [whispering to Ilene] “Not a good start, Ilene; as much as we think it’s ridiculous, they live for that ‘stupid game.’” [out loud to the men] “You’re behaving like children! I refuse to believe that you survived thousands of wins and losses together, in life and in that game, and you’re going to throw it away over one bad bid?! That’s just plain meshuggeneh!”

    [silence]

    Ilene: “You really have nothing to say to each other?”

    Jacob: [turning to his recently-proclaimed ex-partner and -friend] “I have something to say: May you grow like an onion with your head in the ground!

    Larry: [bitterly] “I’ll see you there, old friend!”

    Both men storm out and the women are left to roll their eyes in peace. …

    Ilene: “Well, we tried. Now let’s have a nosh. All this mediation’s got me starving!”

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    What Does “He Should Laugh With Lizards" Mean?

    Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “He Should Laugh With Lizards"

    Lakhn zol er mit yashtsherkes.

    I promise. I didn’t make this up. And, no, this is not our version of “You’ll sleep with the fishes.”

    On second thought ... maybe it is.

    Confused? Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself! Allow me to explain. ...

    I’ll begin with this related Yiddish proverb to help beef (kosher, of course!) up my argument:

    Original Yiddish Saying

    “Der vos hot nit farzucht bittereh, vaist nit voz zies iz.”

    English Translation

    “He who has not tasted the bitter does not understand the sweet.”

    Yeah, yeah, I know, “Every culture has a version of this!” But I’m invoking it here because it serves as the perfect backdrop for the cryptic curse in question. Here’s the thing: we Jews are champion sufferers. The very crap of life serves as inspiration for the bulk of our oral tradition and the Yiddish language in general. Kvetches, curses, curmudgeon-y comments; we’ve got them all! But the great miracle of life (theoretically) rests on balance, which brings us back to this bittersweet proverb: “He who has not tasted the bitter does not understand the sweet.” We Jews have experienced the lowest lows on record, readily choking down life’s most extreme bitterness. Subsequently, our highs taste all the sweeter, and savoring this sweetness is an integral part of our not only surviving these lows but thriving in spite of them. And what better way to savor and celebrate such sweetness, such joy, than with laughter?

    “But what, pray tell, does this have to do with lizards?”

    Well, let me ask you this: have you ever seen a lizard laugh? No, seriously! Allow me to put on my ill-fitting science-lady hat and learn you somethin’. We’ve all heard of the reptilian brain, right? It’s the part of our human brain that doesn’t fool around (strictly business; no time for pleasantries). It’s concerned only with survival:

    1. Secure a nosh
    2. Make babies
    3. When faced with danger, assume the karate stance or get the hell out of Dodge

    There’s a school of thought that asserts only one thing can snap us out of this primitive trance, and that mysterious “thing” is—you guessed it—laughter. Or, conversely, that laughter is a unique side-effect of the act of wrenching our freedom back from the reptile within—like how your eyes are forced shut when you sneeze. I think. Or something. See, it’s a chicken-or-the-egg kind of thing, and—yeah, OK, my hat fell off a while back somewhere. Regardless, the point is, lizards don’t have a single funny bone in their scaly little bodies. Therefore, wishing that someone would “laugh with the lizards” implies that you hope they will never laugh a genuine laugh again. (Not a giggle, not a chuckle, not a tee-hee ... never go “Ha!”) Alternatively, in some cases the wish is that they will be laughing on the outside and crying on the inside.

    Pretty harsh, eh? So in the end, this curse may indeed be our version of an invitation to sleep with the fishes. After all, what’s life (especially a Jewish life) without honest-to-goodness-cross-your-legs-so-you-don’t-pee-your-pants laughter?

    Appropriate usage?

    The second his grandson, Daniel, slouched down defeatedly in the back seat of the 1993 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Zeyde Freidman knew something had happened at school. …

    Zeyde: “Uh oh, vos iz, bubbeleh?”

    The warmth of his grandfather’s voice, and the comforting smell of his Bubbe’s cooking that clung to Zeyde’s clothes, caused Daniel to tear up. …

    Daniel: [between sniffles] “Oh Zeyde! I told mommy this was a dumb shirt!”

    Zeyde: “Vos makht iz mir oys?? Who says so?”

    Daniel: “Matthew Miller, that’s who! He’s such a bully! At recess? He and Joey and Seth and Jeremy came up to me near the slide and said I looked like a baby and that my mommy buys my clothes and that only babies let their mommies buy their clothes. But Jeremy was the worst! Every time I saw him today, he just pointed at me and laughed!”

    Zeyde: “That little paskudnyak! He should laugh with lizards!

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