Es shit zikh fun im khokhmes vi fun a tsig bobkes.
You might be asking yourself, “Why a people who value humor so highly would liken a skilled satirist to the back end of a goat?”
The Boring Answer
Because it’s funny.
The Juicy Answer
Well, naturally, that’s a little more involved. …
You see, most comedians will tell you their humor is fueled predominantly by their pain and self-loathing. While they’re laughing along with us on the outside, their insides are doing the ugly-cry. Considering this advanced level of emotional dysfunction, it’s no wonder so many of the great comedians are members of the Tribe. Woody Allen, Larry David, Peter Sellers, and their countless comedic counterparts chose humor as a way to channel their neuroses. But it’s not just the pros that make this choice! Every Jew is raised in a culture whose primary outlet is humor, and as such it tends to be our first instinct when faced with suffering (something we’ve had to do a lot and have gotten quite good at). Right from the get-go, we’re welcomed into this world by a familial cast of characters straight out of the most recent edition of the DSM. As disturbing as this sounds, it’s actually a tremendous gift. This motley crew of crazies teaches us that when it comes to our own inescapable issues we have one of two choices:
- We can stay in bed—to dwell and kvetch while letting our troubles take the reins.
- We can get up out of bed! Grab those reins! ... and still dwell and kvetch and fret, of course, but this time we can be funny about it! We may as well put our suffering to good use; entertain some folks while we’re at it!
Now don’t get me wrong! While humor serves as a marvelous outlet for our pain, it’s certainly no cure. (Jewish Penicillin it is not.) Yes, laughter is the best medicine, but not for the ones telling the jokes! So with Jewish self-hatred alive and well, it’s no wonder we don’t equate our witty selves with the more flattering likes of a jackpot-spewing slot machine or Willy Wonka and his countless confectionary creations! No, we Jews are much more comfortable when settled into a state of sustained self-scorn. After all, self-deprecation opens the door so nicely for the compulsory complementary counter statements. Observe!
Self-effacing Saul: “Who am I? I’m nothing! I’m no better than a, a goat’s tuchus!”
Saul’s Salutary Shnook: “Are you kidding, Saul?! You’re a certified mensch! A one in million guy!”
Self-effacing Saul: “Who, me? ... really?”
See? Works like a charm! Feel free to try it out at your next dinner party.
But what about a totally different interpretation? What if this proverb was born not of an inwardly-aimed hatred, but of one directed outward? After all, this proverb is written in the third person. But why? you ask. If said witticisms are truly witty, why would someone liken them to piles of pungent poop? Well, just think of the wittiest person you know. Got ‘em in mind? Now ask yourself this: how funny do you think their spouse thinks they are? Or better yet, ask the spouse! It’s no coincidence that the aforementioned Jewish comic geniuses all have at least one ex-wife—any of whom, I have no doubt, could have coined this proverb.
And then there’s the matter of the goat. Why this particular pooper? The truth is, in the world of waste, goat turds are not only the most benign rendition of road apples, they are actually held in (relatively) high regard … at least in the gardening community.
Fun Fact! Goat manure is seasonally sought after by green thumbs globally. Why? Because this ordure is ostensibly odorless, and its dry, compact, finely-formed and seemingly mass-produced pellets make the handling of it a dream! Plus, the nitrogen content of these noteworthy nuggets is substantially higher than horse and cow manure, and apparently that’s good a thing! This marvelous mishmash of matters makes one almost forget they’re playing with poop. Almost.
So with this said, if we were really out to slander ourselves, certainly we could have chosen a source of more scurrilous scat! What about dinosaur dung or Caribou crap?! Did we even consider the contents of a bear’s bowel?! All worthy candidates until you consider this illuminating influence: what the goat has over all the other contenders is that its turds have actually played a role in the evolution of the Yiddish language. (No, I’m not joking!)
As you may be aware, our Yiddish version of “nothing, nada, zip, zero, jack, diddly squat” is “bubkes,” which is most likely derived from another Yiddish word, “kozebubkes,” which literally means … wait for it … dun dun dunnn: goat droppings! (How’s that for a Columbo-esque crescendo?!) So regardless of whether this proverb was inspired by self-directed disdain or marital malice, there’s no confusing its double-duty (no pun intended!) defamation. The question of whether number 2 is more offensive than nothing … well, I’ll leave that up to you.
But wait! Let’s not waste all our time quibbling over this quip’s catalyst when there are far more important matters at hand; the elephant, or in this case the goat, in the room: how do these gastrointestinally-gifted goats stay so regular? Fiber, shmiber! There goes the prune industry!
In my opinion, this expression simply makes a case for eating anything and everything in sight. (You don’t have to tell me twice!)
As soon as she spotted Barbara’s unmistakable fuschia sunhat bobbing through the crowd roughly four-and-a-half feet above the ground, Louise rested her highball on the arm of her lawn chair so she could use both hands to wave her friend over. …
Louise: [crying out] “Yoohoo! Over here!!!”
To no avail. Poor Babs was as lost as a fart in a pickle barrel as usual. Even though Louise always set up in the same spot, signalling Babs was, without fail, a long and painful ritual that left her nearly hoarse and freshly self-conscious of her unsightly “wings” (her name for the excess flaps of underarm skin that seemed to be swinging lower by the day, which Babs calls “Hadassah ahrems”).
Louise’s husband, Al, liked to arrive at least an hour early to the bi-monthly concerts in the park, which was fine with Louise because it meant she could secure a prime spot. Besides, as long as she had one of her Harlequins and a Thermos of cocktails, she would have been content to sit there all night. The cocktails were especially helpful once the music started (Was there such a thing as beermuffs?) so she went heavy on the whiskey in anticipation of tonight’s Big Band theme.
Louise’s early arrival meant she was there to watch the band set up their equipment, and she always felt badly for the visiting musicians. As usual she fought the urge to warn them that they’d be playing to more backs than fronts and competing with the din of the crowd’s multitude of separate conversations. The truth was, no one came for the music (well, except for the Speilmans, who insisted on dancing, ballroom style, right up front, no matter the evening’s musical genre). Case in point, Louise never missed a show because these concerts were the perfect venue for one of her and Barbara’s favorite pastimes: people-watching (and -judging, of course). If Babs doesn’t get her tuchus over here already, she’s going to miss what looks like the newly-single Ida Herschel’s foray into thong underwear peeking out of the top of her Stein Mart capris.
To keep her mind off her still waving (and now aching) arms, Louise does some more preliminary scanning of the crowd in preparation for Babs’ arrival. Her eyes fall on her husband and she reflexively shakes her head. Though she’s not nearly close enough to hear what he’s saying, 37 years of marriage has taught her all she needs to know. After all, Al’s own reason for attending these concerts has nothing to do with the music either. (Hell, he’s nearly all-the-way deaf ... not that he can be bothered to do anything about it.) If anything, the poor schmucks who play their hearts out on stage only get in the way of his focus—which is why Al insists on arriving so early. You see, if Al had his way he would be the headlining act at these events and, in a way—at least to the throngs of people who also arrive early to witness his antics—he kind of is.
Watching her husband in his element—limbs flailing, reenacting what Louise has no doubt is last week’s incident when Hank Minzer’s Rascal scooter got stuck in reverse and sent him careening backward up the handicap ramp and into the crowd of people waiting for Early Bird seating at Red Lobster—she is filled with a discernible amount of envy. There was a time, years ago, when Louise would have been counted among that crowd, laughing and holding her (then much flatter) belly along with the rest of Al’s loyal fans. But what people don’t understand is that even Al’s antics get old. (Especially when it’s midnight, you’re balancing a checkbook with one hand and making school lunches with the other, and trying to get a straight answer out of him about the roof repairs, while he’s got the handle of your favorite wooden spoon up his nose and he’s spouting one-liners.) Oh, Louise! she’s often told, You must never stop laughing! If she hears that one again, she just might scream.
Barbara: “There you are! I had the worst time finding you! Oy, my arms are breaking from these bags! Oy, I can’t—they’re tangled! Oh Lou, help me! I can’t feel my fingers. Look at them, they’re white! I don’t see why you have to sit so far from the parking lot. I must have schlepped this stuff two miles! And so close to the trash bins! Speaking of trash, I got a look at Merna Appleby’s granddaughter on my way in—she thinks she’s some hotsy-totsy, wearing a t-shirt for a dress! What a shonda! Where’s my drink?”
Louise: “Hi Babs, where’s Ernie?”
Barbara: “Oh, I lost him to Al again. He made a beeline from the car as soon as we parked and left me with everything, of course! He was Mr. Ferkrimpt all the way here because we were running late! You know he hates to miss a moment of your husband’s famos schtick. Given the chance, Ernie would leave me for your Al any day. It’s all I hear! ‘That Al is a laugh a minute! How does he come up with that stuff?! I can’t even catch my breath between gleichvertels!’ Blah, blah, on and on.”
Louise: “Yep, a comic genius alright. Witticisms pour out of him like turds from a goat.”
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