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      Blog — Yiddish Expressions

      What Does “He's Meditating On Whether A Flea Has A Belly Button" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “He's Meditating On Whether A Flea Has A Belly Button"

      Er klert tsi a floy hot a pupik.

      There are several equally colorful expressions in this vein and whenever multiple incarnations of a single sentiment exist, one is apt to ask the question, “Why?” Well, I’d like to propose two hypotheses, one flattering and one not-so-flattering.

      We’ll start with the former. Jews are an industrious bunch. We like to put our time and our minds to good use. Knowing this, it’s safe to assume that a pet-peeve of the Jewish people might be those who fail to do likewise.

      On the other not-so-becoming hand (the one that was mangled in a turnip masher), there exists a less flattering possibility. There’s a chance—just a chance—that this expression and its many cohorts were inspired by a problem in-house: the inherent propensity for Jewish minds to, shall we say, dwell on the less-than-practical. I am by no means criticizing our neuroses! When applied productively, our overactive minds certainly can and have been put to great use. And that’s my point exactly! If it weren’t for the artfully anxious likes of Woody Allen, Larry David, and Lewis Black, the world of comedy would be reduced to an overabundance of redneck jokes and a grown man with his hand up a puppet’s tuchus. But imagine if Freud had spent his days fretting about the frivolous. Or if Einstein’s eccentricities edged out his efficacy! Where would we be today without the coltish but constructive consciousness of those Jews?

      In the end, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Expressions like these were coined out of an awareness that Jewish mind and muscle (figuratively speaking, of course) are great powers that, like Peter Parker postulates, come with great responsibility. The Jewish mind is a terrible thing to waste ... especially on awfully asinine and amateurishly awkward alliteration.

      Appropriate usage?

      Bernie and Art watch as John Betts, the new guy in sales, rearranges his office for the fifth time…

      Bernie: “I hear he ordered three kinds of business cards because he couldn’t decide on a font.”

      Art: “Mindy told me he spent most of last week sharpening pencils and agonizing over which parking space to claim. Meanwhile, I haven’t seen him pick up the phone once other than to record and re-record his outgoing message a half dozen times! I give him another week, tops. Look at him! He’s just sitting there! What could he possibly be doing?!”

      Bernie:He's meditating on whether a flea has a belly button. What else?”

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      What Does “He Wanders Around Like A Fart In A Pickle Barrel" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “He Wanders Around Like A Fart In A Pickle Barrel"

      Er drayt sich arum vie a forts in roosl.

      If there’s one thing we Jews are good at, it’s painting a picture ... and then kvetching about the shlemiel who hung the thing crooked! While garlicky pickles have been known to incite some gastrointestinal acoustics, dill—fun fact!—is considered a digestive aid. Hence the prominent role it plays in our famous chicken soup a.k.a. Jewish Penicillin, our go-to cure-all).

      Regardless, many guilty tooters point to the pickle (if not the dog) to explain away even the deadliest SBDs, but, even if the tooter is to be taken at their word, it’s unlikely that said flatulence would find itself back at the source; in this case, the pickle barrel. And that, my friends, is the genius of this expression.

      Oh sure, it has its “counterparts,” such as, “Lost as a fart in a windstorm.” But, the validity of this expression can easily be called into question. What’s to say that this fart—in essence mere wind itself—doesn’t feel perfectly at home in the midst of its brethren? Yes, OK, I realize the intention is to imagine that, once in the windstorm, the fart becomes indiscernible from the other winds, but regardless! I still maintain this inferior version is dangerously ambiguous. Whereas a fart finding itself in a pickle-barrel leaves no doubt in one’s mind that this particular stinker has found itself wildly off-course.

      Appropriate usage?

      Over dinner, Walter asked his husband Aaron how dress rehearsal went for this year’s senior center production of Fiddler on the Roof. Aaron shook his head ...

      Aaron: “Oy! Frayg nisht!”

      Walter: “What do you mean, ‘don’t ask’? What happened? Did that yenta Gloria Bomberg finally realize she can’t sing a note and quit the show?“

      Aaron: “Oyf mir gezogt gevorn! No, Murray had to drive Ethel to the chiropodist so he missed rehearsal, and his understudy, Frank Menzer, took his place.”

      Walter: “That putz? Is it safe to assume he can’t find his way around a stage either?”

      Aaron: “Ha! You got it, my love! He wanders around like a fart in a pickle barrel!

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      What Does “Where Are You Climbing With Your Crooked Feet?" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “Where Are You Climbing With Your Crooked Feet?"

      Vu krikhst du mit dayn krume fis?

      This expression could be put to excellent use by the judges on American Idol during those painful but oh-so-entertaining preliminary rounds of auditions. Just think of all those talentless contestants who naively attempt to ascend the Everest that is Simon Cowell’s “good side,” despite their metaphorically twisted tootsies! Or better yet, couldn’t we put our voracious voyeurism aside and spare these lame luftmenschen the humiliation? Would it not be a mitzvah to lend each hapless hopeful a straight-talking Bubbe who could employ this expression—one seemingly benign question—to swiftly squash their wildly misguided dreams? Like a Band-Aid. One motion. Right off!

      And yes, it would mean the end of the show, but I’m more of a fan of The Voice anyway. Either way, don’t fret over Ryan Seacrest losing his job—I think his 63 other projects could sustain him.

      Appropriate usage?

      At 6:18 AM, Deborah’s eyes shot open and her heart began to race at the permeating stench of burnt toast. My G-d! I’m having a stroke! she thought. As she searched what she was sure was her now-failing brain for the details of that Dr. Oz episode in which he talked about what to do in this very situation—Why didn’t I take notes?!—her left arm flailed about in search of her husband, Barry, on his side of the bed. Her attempts yielded nothing but tangled bedsheets. Typical! I’m having a stroke and he picks today of all days to be Mr. Up-And-At-’Em?!? Just then, it dawned on her: It was Sunday. Mother’s Day. Oy vey.

      Deborah took deep breaths to steady her still-pounding heart and rehearsed her most surprised and delighted expression as she headed downstairs. When she stood at the threshold of her barely recognizable kitchen, and, in the moments before she was noticed, Deborah tried to take in the scene before her: It appeared as though every pot, plate, appliance, and utensil that they owned—Is that the gravy boat?!—had been used in one form or another. The contents of their fridge and pantry now covered every available surface—including her husband and young daughters, Sophie and Sarah (who, to top things off, had dressed themselves in their prettiest party clothes for the occasion)!

      Sophie: “Maaaaa! We were gonna surprise you in bed!! Ugh!”

      As she shot a look to Barry, Deborah addressed her schmear-covered children. ...

      Deborah: “Oh my bubbelehs! I just couldn’t wait, everything smells so good!”

      Sarah: “AND! While you eat, Daddy’s gonna do laundry for you!!!”

      At that announcement, Deborah spun around to catch Barry heading for the basement….

      Deborah: “Freeze! Where are you climbing with your crooked feet? Breakfast is more than enough, you don’t want to spoil me ... or our clothes for that matter! Now let’s eat!”

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      What Does “A Cow Flew Over The Roof And Laid An Egg" Mean?

      Cartoon depicting the Yiddish quote, “A Cow Flew Over The Roof And Laid An Egg"

      A ku iz gefloygn ibern dakh un geleygt an ey.

      We Jews love sarcasm almost as much as we love to go camping.

      Get it? Sarcasm.

      This saying is one of many Yiddish expressions that is just dripping with the stuff. We’re all familiar with the expressions “when pigs fly” and “when hell freezes over.” These work. They serve their purpose in a strictly utilitarian, rudimentary and one-dimensional way. In our adage, however, we Jews take things a step further by layering on an additional dimension of absurdity. In this way we are able to achieve a one-two punch of sarcasm, thus ensuring the target is not just sufficiently mocked, but profusely.

      Just call us overachievers.

      Appropriate usage?

      Following a hopping early bird supper at the senior center, Morty and Joe moved on to the local diner for coffee and a Danish, and to go over the early-evening’s events. Joe could hardly contain himself and Morty felt a rare gratitude for the glaucoma he suffered in his right eye because it partially obscured the sight of Joe’s goofy and yellowing grin. When was the last time he soaked those fakakta things!?

      Joe: “I swear, Morty, that Gladys has it bad for me! I mean, how many trips to the hot bar can one woman make? I don’t think it was a coincidence that your ol’ Joe here happened to be at the table right next to the brisket! No chance! What’d I tell ya? She was giving me the eye all night!”

      Morty: “Sure, Joe, and A cow flew over the roof and laid an egg.

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