What Does “He Should Laugh With Lizards" Mean?
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.”
“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:
- Secure a nosh
- Make babies
- 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?
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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