A shlamazel falt oifen ruken un tseklapt zikh dem noz.
Fun Fact! Typically we see shlamazel translated as fool because it’s the closest thing the English language has to offer. Yiddish is heavy into negative terminology, and, not surprisingly, it offers a healthy array of vocabulary for the many, many specific kinds of fools. (Very specific.) Shlamazel refers to the unlucky fool. A more appropriate translation might be loser but that probably seems a tad mean, even for us.
Now just wait a minute. Before all you diehard physicists out there dismiss this perfectly good adage on principle, let me explain. As you may have gathered, if we Jews are intent on making a statement, we’re sure as hell not going to let trivial details such as the “laws” of physics and “logic” impede our mission! The Yiddish language boasts a multitude of richly hyperbolic claims about fools. Think of it this way: they’re kind of like our version of “Yo Mama” jokes. Exaggeration is key!
And sure, our proverbs about fools may seem foolishly impossible, but can you honestly say you’ve never met a fool who was just downright impossibly foolish? Huh? See what I did there?
Hello?! Wait a minute ... you’re not even listening, are you?!! Oh, I see—I lost you at shlamazel, didn’t I? Trying to place it are you? No, it wasn’t the Yiddish word that was comically and embarrassingly mispronounced by the shiksa-of-all-shiksas and Newsweek’s own “Queen of Rage,” Michele Bachmann. (That was chutzpah.) It dates a little further back. Let me help you out; say it with me:
”One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!
Schlemiel! Shlamazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”
[Aaaand, cue the music!]
Satisfied? Now for those of you for whom all that ditty did was trigger a memory of that bit in Wayne’s World that you never understood, it’s time that you Google it. I’m not saying the song will make any more sense (all it amounts to is a reference to two subtly different varieties of fool* and an entrepreneurial rabbit stew), but at the very least you’ll discover, as everyone should, that Penny Marshall hung out in front of the camera for quite a while before she joined her brother, Gary, behind it.
I live to educate, don’t mention it.
Over Mahjong, the ladies discuss the weekly goings-on. Ethel, the resident yenta, her finger on the pulse as usual, speaks first…
Ethel: “Nu? Did you hear?”
Sharon: “About what, Ethel? Spit it out, already! We know you’re dying to tell!”
Ethel: “Feh! You love it! Well, Marty Jacobs had quite the week!”
Sarah: “Now what happened??”
Rina: [tsk] “That poor shlamazel. ... ”
Ethel: “He was in the exercise room the other day; you know how he loves that Stairmaster!”
Sharon: “Oy! Does he ever! I’ve never seen a man so content on climbing nowhere!”
Sarah: “Personally, I think it’s odd that he uses a ladies’ machine. I’m only saying. ... Didn’t that Suzanne Sommers invent it? If I were Diana Jacobs, I’d be mortified that my husband exercises on a ladies’ machine! What a shonda!“
Rina: “Oh, Sarah! Join the 21st century, will you? And that Suzanne did the Thigh Mister, you dummy! And that was ages ago! Didn’t do me a lot of good. I was on that thing day and night after Jakey was born. I think Stan uses it as a tie rack now—”
Sharon: “Anyway! What happened to Marty Jacobs?! No wonder we can’t play a full game! We can’t even finish a fakakta story!”
Ethel: “Well! The number four Stairmaster, by the ficus? Well, it’s been out of order since Merna Hellerman thought she was Tonya Harding or somebody and took it up to level 10 and burned the motor out. Well, of all people, Marty Jacobs goes waltzing up to the thing and, one-two-three, the next thing you know his back is out and he’s got a shiner like in the movies!!!”
In Chorus: [gasp] “They couldn’t put a sign!?!?!”
Ethel: “That’s the thing! That young one, Ramone, who’s in charge of the towels? Doles them out like they’re gold. He put a sign and everything, very official, but as it turns out, the Goldberg’s son was down from Manhattan this weekend—the mensch, Jeffery, the Financial Analyst, not the other one, anyway, the one with the wife who swears she hasn’t had work done? Anyway, his kids are running around wild and apparently they ran out of coloring books and decided to move on to David’s sign! It’s probably hanging on the Goldbergs’ Frigidaire as we speak!”
[Laughter all around]
Rina: “Oh, Ethel! You’re terrible!!“
Sharon: “Wait a minute, back to Marty—he fell on his tuchus but wound up with a black eye?! How on Earth did he do that??!”
Ethel: “Oh, typical Marty. When he fell backwards, so did his fancy Discman he’s always showing off—the one he ordered from the internet on the epay? Anyway, that clunker came crashing down and got him right in the eye! Diane’s having a conniption because her niece’s wedding is this coming weekend and she’s afraid he’s going to ruin the pictures. She’s trying to convince him to wear some of her powder! ‘What a shlamazel’ is right!“
Rina: [screaming laughter] “Oh my G-d!!!! Girls! It’s just like that saying my father always used to love! How does it go? A fool falls on his back and bruises his nose!”
[Roaring laughter all around]
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