9/6/2020 2 Comments
I am SOOOO EXCITED to write this blog post!
But... how do you say "excited" in Yiddish?
As you can see, this dictionary is rather unhelpful. It gives three different translations for "excited" - "oyfgehaytert," "oyfgetrogn," and "tseyakhmert." And it doesn't stop there! "To be excited," the dictionary tells us, is "hitsn zikh," "kokhn zikh," "nervirn zikh," "tsekokhn zikh," "tsehitsn zikh," "ontsindn zikh," and "tseyakhmern zikh."
That's 10 different ways to say "I'm excited." How in the world can I possibly know which of those options to choose? This is starting to feel like a multiple-choice pop quiz. And I don't like pop quizzes. Do you?
As I ponder this entry in Uriel Weinreich's classic Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary, my excitement turns quickly into frustration. And that is exactly the point: "I'm excited" can mean "I'm happy" or "I'm upset" or "I'm horny" or "I'm frustrated" or, or, or.... and G-D SAVE MY SOUL if I should open this blog post by telling you that I'm horny or enraged, when what I really want to say is that I'm really looking forward!!!
Now, I'm a resourceful lady, and I'm sure that you're fairly resourceful, as well.
So let's just do a reverse translation. If the English side of the dictionary tells us that "excited" can be "oyfgehaytert," "oyfgetrogn," or "tseyakhmert," then let's just flip over to the Yiddish side and look up each of those words individually.
And here's what we find out.
According to Weinreich's dictionary, "oyfgehaytert" means "excited." NOT HELPFUL!
"Oyfgetrogn" can mean either "indignant" or "on friendly terms." That's a contradiction!
And "tseyakhmert?" Weinreich's dictionary says "excited, upset." OK, so does that mean excited OR upset? Meaning, it could sometimes mean happily excited and other times upset? Or, let's suppose that it's always negative: is it angry upset, sad upset, or worried upset?
TL;DR - I STILL DON'T KNOW WHICH WORD MEANS "I'M EAGERLY LOOKING FORWARD!!!"
Let's be real for a minute.
Let's not get excited.
Weinreich's dictionary was published in 1977 - that's almost 45 years ago. That's 11 whole years before I was even born, and a good 20 years before the rise of internet search engines.
Thankfully, today, we have a number of better dictionaries. The most useful, for our purposes, is the Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary, edited by Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath.
So let's see what this newer dictionary says for "excited" --
Okay, now we're getting closer!
Unlike Weinreich, Schaechter-Viswanath tells us which of these words for "excited" means "angry excited," "joyful excited," or "sexually excited."
But now we have another problem.
Weinreich gave us three different adjectives (plus 7 verbs) to mean "excited."
Schaechter-Viswanath gives us three adjectives for "angry excited," three adjectives for "joyful excited," and five adjectives for "sexually excited"..... and that's not even touching on verbs!
The unfortunate truth is that, to a certain extent, beginners are going to struggle with this. Even advanced students will struggle. The world of Yiddish synonyms is vast and, well, extremely nuanced. No single dictionary is going to give us the level of nuance and context that we need to choose "the perfect word."
But I'd like to offer you an additional resource, one that works in tandem with a dictionary while infinitely extending its range of powers.
That resource is JOCHRE.
What is JOCHRE?
Glad you asked, friendly blog reader!
JOCHRE is a free, fully searchable online database containing thousands upon thousands of Yiddish books. Look up, say, "oyfgehaytert" and you'll get 738 results from Yiddish novels, poems, biographies, academic tomes, and more. Look up a word like "grin" (green) or "shvarts" (black), and you'll get over 8,000 results.
The beauty of JOCHRE is that, unlike a dictionary, it lets you see these words in context. And let's be real: it's gonna be a huge amount of work to look up every word for "excited" to see how they're used in context, in order to figure out which one is precisely the right one to use in a given setting.
If you're looking for a "quick and dirty" translation of a word, JOCHRE won't help.
But it's absolutely FASCINATING for diving into the language in a far deeper and way more nuanced way than one could ever do with a dictionary alone.
Confession: I've spent hours just playing around on JOCHRE, looking up words like "eynhorn" (unicorn), "yam-meydl" (mermaid), and "vampir" (vampire), out of pure curiosity and intrigue, just to see what I'd find.
Why don't you try the same? Pick a word, or a topic, that you're curious about, and just see what pops up. Have fun seeing these words in context, and let it not only add nuance to your vocab, but also expand your literary awareness. You'll discover FANTASTIC texts by FANTASTIC authors who are TOTALLY OBSCURE, because their names don't end with "olem aleykhem" or "ashevis singer" or "eretz."
So what are you waiting for?
Go forth and HAVE FUN exploring the world of Yiddish nuances! And let me know in the comments what all you find out.
Ikh kuk shtark aroys! (I'm excitedly looking forward to it!)