Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some Basic Yiddish (in Preparation for "A Serious Man")

From Wikipedia:

* bagel: a ring-shaped bread roll made by boiling then baking the dough (from בײגל beygl) (OED, MW)
* blintz: a sweet cheese-filled crepe (Yiddish בלינצע blintse from russian "блины" bliny) (AHD)
* bris: the circumcision of a male child. (from Hebrew brith 'covenant') (OED, MW)
* boychick: boy, young man. (English boy + Eastern Yiddish -chik, diminutive suffix (from Slavic)) (AHD)
* bubkes (also spelled "bupkis"): emphatically nothing, as in He isn't worth bubkes (literally 'goat droppings', possibly of Slavic origin; cf. Polish bobki 'animal droppings') (MW)
* chutzpah: nerve, guts, daring, audacity, effrontery (Yiddish חוצפּה khutspe, from Hebrew) (AHD)
* dreck: (vulgar) worthless material, especially merchandise; literally: "crap" or "shit" (Yiddish ‫דרעק ‬ drek cf. German Dreck) (OED, MW)
* dybbuk: the malevolent spirit of a dead person which enters and controls a living body until exorcised (from Hebrew דיבוק dibbuk, 'a latching-onto') (AHD)
* fleishig: made with meat (Yiddish ‫פֿליישיק ‬ fleyshik 'meaty', from fleysh 'meat', cf. German fleischig 'meaty') (MW)
* ganef or gonif: thief, scoundrel, rascal (Yiddish גנבֿ ganev or ganef 'thief', from Hebrew gannav). (AHD)
* gelt: money; chocolate coins eaten on Hanukkah (געלט gelt 'money', cf. German Geld) (AHD)
* glitch: a minor malfunction (possibly from Yiddish glitsh, from glitshn 'slide', cf. German glitschen 'slither') (AHD)
* golem: a man-made humanoid; an android, Frankenstein monster (from Hebrew גולם gōlem, but influenced in pronunciation by Yiddish goylem) (OED, MW)
* goy: a Gentile, someone not of the Jewish faith or people (Yiddish גוי, plural גויים or גוים goyim; from Hebrew גויים or גוים goyim meaning 'nations [usually other than Israel]', plural of גוי goy 'nation') (AHD)
* haimish (also heimish): home-like, friendly, folksy (Yiddish‫ היימיש ‬ heymish, cf. German heimisch) (AHD)
* huck; sometimes "hock", "huk", "hak". etc.: to bother incessantly, to break, or nag; from hakn a tshaynik (break a china teapot). Frequently used by characters intended to represent residents of New York City, even if not Jewish, in movies and television shows such as Law & Order.[2]
* kibitz: to offer unwanted advice, e.g. to someone playing cards; to converse idly, hence a kibbitzer, gossip (Yiddish קיבעצן kibetsn; cf. German kiebitzen, related to Kiebitz 'lapwing') (OED, MW)
* klutz: clumsy person (from Yiddish קלאָץ klots 'wooden beam', cf. German Klotz) (OED, MW)
* kosher: conforming to Jewish dietary laws; (slang) appropriate, legitimate (originally from Hebrew כּשר kašer) (AHD)
* kvell: to feel delighted and proud to the point of tears (Yiddish קװעלן kveln, from an old Germanic word akin to German quellen 'well up') (OED, MW)
* kvetch: to complain habitually, gripe; as a noun, a person who always complains (from Yiddish קװעטשן kvetshn 'press, squeeze', cf. German quetschen 'squeeze') (OED, MW)
* latke: potato pancake, especially during Hanukkah (from Yiddish‫לאַטקע ‬, from either Ukrainian or Russian) (AHD)
* Litvak: a Lithuanian Jew (OED)
* lox: smoked salmon (from Yiddish לאַקס laks 'salmon'; cf. German Lachs) (OED, MW)
* macher: big shot, important person (Yiddish מאַכער makher, literally 'maker' from מאַכן makhn 'make', cf. German Macher) (OED)
* mamzer: bastard (from Yiddish or Hebrew ממזר) (OED)
* maven: expert; when used in a negative sense: a know-it-all (from Yiddish מבֿין meyvn, from Hebrew mevin 'one who understands') (OED, MW)
* mazel: luck (Yiddish מזל mazl, from Hebrew מזל mazzāl 'luck, planet') (OED)
* Mazal Tov: congratulations! (Yiddish מזל־טובֿ‏ mazl-tov, from Hebrew mazzāl ṭōv: mazzāl 'fortune' or 'sign of the Zodiac (constellation)' + ṭōv 'good') (OED, MW:Hebrew)
* megillah: a tediously detailed discourse (from Yiddish מגילה megile 'lengthy document, scroll [esp. the Book of Esther]', from Hebrew מגילה məgillā 'scroll') (OED, MW)
* mensch: an upright man; a decent human being (from Yiddish מענטש mentsh 'person', cf. German Mensch) (OED, MW)
* meshuga, also meshugge, meshugah, meshuggah: crazy (Yiddish משוגע meshuge, from Hebrew məšugga‘) (OED, MW)
* meshugas: madness, nonsense, irrational idiosyncrasy (Yiddish משוגעת meshugas, from Hebrew məšugga‘ath, a form of the above) (OED)
* meshuggener: a crazy person (Yiddish משוגענער meshugener, a derivative of the above משוגע meshuge) (OED)
* milchig: made with milk (Yiddish milkhik milky, from milkh milk, cf. German milchig) (MW)
* minyan: the quorum of ten male adult (i.e., 13 or older) Jews that is necessary for the holding of a public worship service (Yiddish מנין minyen, from Hebrew מנין minyān) (OED, MW:Hebrew)
* mishpocha: extended family (Yiddish משפּחה mishpokhe, from Hebrew משפּחה mišpāḥā) (OED)
* naches: feeling of pride in 1: the achievements of one's children; 2. one's own doing good by helping someone or some organization (Yiddish נחת nakhes, from Hebrew נחת naḥath 'contentment') (OED)
* narrischkeit: foolishness, nonsense (Yiddish נאַרישקייט, from nar 'fool', cf. German närrisch 'foolish') (OED)
* nebbish: an insignificant, pitiful person; a nonentity (from Yiddish interjection nebekh 'poor thing!', from Czech nebohý) (OED, MW)
* noodge, also nudzh: to pester, nag, whine; as a noun, a pest or whiner (from Yiddish נודיען nudyen, from Polish or Russian) (OED)
* nosh: snack (noun or verb) (Yiddish נאַשן nashn, cf. German naschen) (OED, MW)
* nu: multipurpose interjection often analogous to "well?" or "so?" (Yiddish נו nu, perhaps akin to Russian "ну" (nu) or German na='well'; probably not related to German dialect expression nu [short for nun=now], which might be used in the same way) (OED)
* nudnik: a pest, "pain in the neck"; a bore (Yiddish נודניק nudnik, from the above נודיען nudyen; cf. Polish nudne, 'boring') (OED, MW)
* oy or oy vey: interjection of grief, pain, or horror (Yiddish אוי וויי oy vey 'oh, pain!' or "oh, woe"; cf. German oh weh) (OED)
* pareve: containing neither meat nor dairy products (from Yiddish (פּאַרעוו(ע parev(e)) (OED, MW)
* pisher: a nobody, an inexperienced person (Yiddish פּישער pisher, from פּישן pishn 'piss', cf. German pissen or dialectal German pischen) (OED)
* potch: spank, slap, smack (Yiddish פּאטשן patshn; cf. German patschen 'slap') (OED)
* plotz: to burst, as from strong emotion (from Yiddish פּלאַצן platsn 'crack', cf. German platzen) (OED)
* putz: an idiot, a jerk; a penis (from Yiddish פּאָץ pots) (AHD)
* schav: A chilled soup. (AHD)
* schlemiel: an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt (Yiddish shlemil from Hebrew שלא מועיל "ineffective") (OED, MW)
* schlep: to drag or haul (an object); to make a tedious journey (from Yiddish שלעפּן shlepn; cf. German schleppen) (OED, MW)
* schlimazel: a chronically unlucky person (שלימזל shlimazl, from Middle High German slim 'crooked' and Hebrew מזל mazzāl 'luck') (OED).[3] In June 2004, Yiddish shlimazl was one of the ten non-English words that were voted hardest to translate by a British translation company.[4]
* schlock: something cheap, shoddy, or inferior (perhaps from Yiddish shlak 'a stroke', cf. German Schlag) (OED, MW)
* schlong: (vulgar) penis (from Yiddish שלאַנג shlang 'snake'; cf. German Schlange) (OED)
* schlub: a clumsy, stupid, or unattractive person (Yiddish ‬זשלאָב zhlob 'hick', perhaps from Polish żłób) (OED, MW)
* schmaltz: melted chicken fat; excessive sentimentality (from Yiddish שמאַלץ shmalts or German Schmalz) (OED, MW)
* schmatta: a rag (from Yiddish שמאַטע shmate, from Polish szmata) (OED); also means junk or low-quality merchandise: "Don't buy from Silverman; all he sells is schmatta."
* schmeer also schmear: noun or verb: spread (e.g., cream cheese on a bagel); bribe (from Yiddish שמיר shmir 'smear'; cf. German schmieren) (OED, MW)
* schmo: a stupid person. (an alteration of schmuck; see below) (OED)
* schmooze: to converse informally, make small talk or chat (from Yiddish שמועסן shmuesn 'converse', from Hebrew shəmūʿōth 'reports, gossip') (OED, MW)
* schmuck: a contemptible or foolish person; a jerk; literally means 'penis' (from Yiddish שמאָק shmok 'penis', maybe from Polish smok 'dragon') (AHD)
* schmutter: clothing; rubbish (from Yiddish שמאַטע shmate 'rag', as above) (OED)
* schmutz - dirt (from Yiddish שמוץ shmuts or German Schmutz 'dirt') (OED)
* schnook: an easily imposed-upon or cheated person, a pitifully meek person, a particularly gullible person, a cute or mischievous person or child (perhaps from Yiddish שנוק shnuk 'snout'; cf. Northern German Schnucke 'sheep') (OED)
* schnorrer: beggar (Yiddish שנאָרער shnorer, cf. German schnorren 'to beg or steal (usu. a small item of a consumable good) of a friend'[5]) (OED, MW)
* schnoz or schnozz also schnozzle: a nose, especially a large nose (perhaps from Yiddish שנויץ shnoyts 'snout', cf. German Schnauze) (OED, MW)
* schvartze: term used to denote black people; can be used derogatorily. (from Yiddish שוואַרץ shvarts 'black'; cf. German schwarz). (OED)
* schvitz: schvitz or schviting: To sweat, perspire, exude moisture as a cooling mechanism (From Yiddish). . (OED)
* Shabbos or Shabbes: Shabbat (Yiddish Shabes, from Hebrew Šabbāth) (AHD)
* shammes or shamash: the caretaker of a synagogue; also, the 9th candle of the Hanukkah menorah, used to light the others (Yiddish shames, from Hebrew שמש šammāš 'attendant') (OED, MW)
* shamus: a detective (possibly from shammes, or possibly from the Irish name Seamus) (OED, Macquarie)
* shegetz: (derogatory) a young non-Jewish male (Yiddish שגץ or שײגעץ sheygets, from Hebrew šeqeṣ 'blemish') (AHD)
* shemozzle (slang) quarrel, brawl (perhaps related to schlimazel, q.v.) (OED). This word is commonly used in Ireland to describe confused situations during the Irish sport of hurling, e.g. 'There was a shemozzle near the goalmouth'. In particular, it was a favourite phrase of t.v. commentator Miceal O'Hehir who commentated on hurling from the 1940s to the 1980s.
* shicker or shickered: drunk (adjective or noun) (Yiddish shiker 'drunk', from Hebrew šikkōr) (OED)
* shiksa or shikse: (often derogatory) a young non-Jewish woman (Yiddish שיקסע shikse, a derivative of the above שײגעץ sheygets) (AHD)
* shmendrik: a foolish or contemptible person (from a character in an operetta by Abraham Goldfaden) (OED)
* shtetl: a small town with a large Jewish population in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe (Yiddish שטעטל shtetl 'town', diminutive of שטאָט shtot 'city'; cf. German Städtl, South German / Austrian colloquial diminutive of Stadt, city) (AHD)
* shtick: comic theme; a defining habit or distinguishing feature (from Yiddish שטיק shtik 'piece'; cf. German Stück 'piece') (AHD)
* shtup: vulgar slang, to have intercourse (from Yiddish שטופּ "shtoop" 'push,' 'poke,' or 'intercourse') (OED)
* spiel or shpiel: a sales pitch or speech intended to persuade (from Yiddish שפּיל shpil 'play' or German Spiel 'play') (AHD)
* tchotchke: knickknack, trinket, curio (from Yiddish צאַצקע tsatske, טשאַטשקע tshatshke, from obsolete Polish czaczko) (OED, MW)
* tref or trayf or traif: not kosher (Yiddish treyf, from Hebrew ṭərēfā 'carrion') (AHD)
* tzimmes: a sweet stew of vegetables and fruit; a fuss, a confused affair, a to-do (Yiddish צימעס tsimes) (OED, MW)
* tsuris: troubles (from Yiddish צרות tsores, from Hebrew צרות tsarot 'troubles') (AHD)
* tukhus: buttocks, bottom, rear end (from Yiddish תּחת tokhes, from Hebrew תחת taḥath 'underneath') (OED)
* tummler: an entertainer or master of ceremonies, especially one who encourages audience interaction (from Yiddish tumler, from tumlen 'make a racket'; cf. German (sich) tummeln 'go among people, cavort') (OED, MW)
* tush (also tushy): buttocks, bottom, rear end (from tukhus) (OED, MW)
* vigorish (also contraction vig): that portion of the gambling winnings held by the bookmaker as payment for services (probably from Yiddish, from Russian vyigrysh, winnings) (OED)
* verklempt: choked with emotion (German verklemmt = emotionally inhibited in a convulsive way; stuck)
* yarmulke: round cloth skullcap worn by observant Jews (from Yiddish יאַרמלקע yarmlke, from Polish jarmułka, ultimate etymology unclear, possibly Turkish) (OED, MW, AHD)
* Yekke: (mildly derogatory) a German Jew (Yiddish יעקע Yeke) (OED)
* yenta: a talkative woman; a gossip; a scold (from Yiddish יענטע yente, from a given name) (OED, MW)
* Yiddish: the Yiddish language (from Yiddish ייִדיש yidish 'Jewish', cf. German jüdisch) (AHD)
* yontef also yom tov: a Jewish holiday on which work is forbidden, eg. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach (from Yiddish יום- טובֿ yontef 'holiday', from Hebrew יום טוב yōm ṭōv 'good day') (OED)
* yutz: a stupid, clueless person ([1] [2])
* zaftig: plump, chubby, full-figured, as a woman (from Yiddish זאַפֿטיק zaftik 'juicy'; cf. German saftig 'juicy') (OED, MW)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Roderick Jaynes' "Foreword" to "The Ladykillers"

by Roderick Jaynes

I begged them not to do it.

Having heard that 'the boys' - as, given Joel and Ethan Coen's advancing age, it is becoming increasingly ludicrous to call them –had determined to remake the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, I reflected that I, uniquely perhaps among that utterly charming movie's millions of devotees, had entree with the prospective vandals and might, as their film editor of long standing, be able to prevail upon them to forgo this particular outrage.

The very idea of someone remaking what has always been a favourite movie of mine would have been discomfiting under any circumstances; that the remake would be executed by two people whom I knew first-hand to have sensibilities too coarse to absorb, much less recreate, the delicate comedy of the original made me feel as if a particularly massive python were wound round my chest, applying its everywhere-muscled body to the task of squeezing the breath from my more intermittently muscled own. My feeling of helplessness acted as bugle-boy to that old reservist Colonel Rage, and my query to the two bejowled enfants terribles as to their motives was raggedly bout de souffle (to swerve briefly into the Norman lane); respiration and speech were mortal enemies, and the brothers stared, awaiting the battle's outcome.

When I finally issued with sufficient clarity the word 'But' and, some moments later, the word 'why', they informed me with a puzzled air that the Walt Disney Studios were offering them perfectly good money to do an updating of the Alec Guinness vehicle which was, after all, 'just some English movie' that 'nobody under eighty-five' had ever even seen. Well: the yoking of two dismissive antecedents to the word 'English', and the implicit reference to my own age (overstated, incidentally, by two years), tapped in me new abscesses of anger. I likened the boys - unfairly, perhaps, in light of the fact that both now use reading glasses and grunt audibly when rising from chairs - to especially limber prostitutes whose improble disport would offend lovers of film, ordinary Brits proud of their patrimony, and the shuddering shade of Sir Alec, and asked whether there were anything they held sufficiently dear that they would not consider swapping it for a mess of pottage. After consideration Joel replied, 'What's pottage?'

Finding myself torn between the impulse to educate (always, with the lads, an exercise in frustration) and a desire to retract a figure of speech that I recognized as inapt as soon as uttered (evoking, as pottage-trading does, rashness and naiveté rather than heartless calculation), I decided to tack. I appealed to their proprietary feelings about their own films, asking how they would take it if someone with a sensibility quite unlike their own were to remake one of their efforts, preserving its title and the bones of its story while violating its spirit. Ethan, nodding, seemed impatient to reply: they were 'way ahead' of me, he said; 'our lawyer always puts it in that we get a shitload of money if there's a remake.'

Twice repelled, I considered folding my tents, but love of Cinema stirred me to one more assault on the fortress of Ignorance be it ever so stoutly defended. I suggested to the boys that the original movie was a finely hand-painted teacup: its value, I pointed out, was not limited to serving as vessel from which tea might be slurped. Although one could contrive a facsimile that would serve equally well in that regard, the copy would in all likelihood not retain the signal virtue of the original: to wit, that the sheer virtuosity of its workmanship can sustain the rapturous contemplation of the connoisseur. I believe I laid out the simile with cogency and force, but Ethan replied that though I, 'as an English guy,' might know more about tea, so far as my position could be discerned it was not that of the Walt Disney Studios, and I, therefore, would do well to get stuffed - which, while not Ethan's exact word, does share some of its letters, notably 'f and 'u'.

This gives me occasion to observe that in formal expression, as in colloquial, there are differences between British English and American, and that they reflect in the verbal realm my differences with these Calibans in the cinematic. In writing, British English tends to preserve archaisms of spelling more often than does headlong American; it will linger in history's curiosity shop to admiringly finger the bric-a-brac, and is less slave to those hard-eyed taskmasters Economy and Efficiency. British writing is the more sinuous, accommodating subordinate clauses and qualifiers and second thoughts and even digressions that in circling and probing the subject not only meticulously plot its outline and painstakingly colour it in, but also form a pleasing picture of their own path to that end. American writing, on the other hand, seems impatient to state the case and move on. Implicitly, for the British the means of expression are themselves of interest, while for the Americans all that's of interest is the matter expressed. And if one mode of expression is as good as another, why not remake a classic? Perhaps, then, my efforts to dissuade were doomed; certainly, they were unsuccessful.

And as a result, there is this Foreword; regrettably, there are also the other pages of this book; sadder still, there is the film derived therefrom. Yes, I edited the movie - defensively, as it were, so that hands more heedless than mine would not. I was able to excise but a few of the cruder jokes which are to be found in the script that follows and fewer still of actor Marlon Wayans' rank extemporizations which, mercifully, are not. Thank me for what I was able to cut; for the rest, thank those responsible.

Hayward's Heath, May 2004

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ma and Pa Kettle

On the O Brother "making of" documentary on the DVD, Joel and Ethan acknowledge the influence of Ma and Pa Kettle movies on their imaginations--Ma and Pa and Homer's Odyssey.

Here are three YouTube clips of Ma and Pa K at work.

The Intro to the Screenplay of "O Brother"

Joel and Ethan offer a pitch perfect parody of an academic (existential) essay.

INTRODUCTION [to the Screenplay for O Brother Where Art Thou?]

Men it was, in the original Odyssey, that the Cyclops crushed and flong aside. In its modern retelling, the movie film O Brother, Where An Thou?, it is a frog. The revision signals times different, changes deep.

The Cyclops' incarnation in O Brother, Where An Thou? is as a one-eyed itinerant Bible salesman; he discovers a frog cached in a shoebox belonging to two amiable rustics whom he is in the process of robbing. The scene, though trite, is striking for the fact that the imprisoned frog instantly earns the viewer's identification. But - why not? Thumping blindly inside its shoebox, the panicked frog embodies the modern condition. Modern man, no longer possessing the simple confidence of the Greek sailors - indeed, bereft of mission altogether - hops fretfully about, banging his nose against traits so obscure their very nature is enigma. And too like box- bound frog, he is alone. Though he may hear muted thumps from other boxes far away, it is only desperate surmise that they betoken the strivings of creatures like himself. His impressions of the outer world are filtered and untrustworthy. All that he really knows is the darkness close by. All that is indubitable is his own anxiety.

Or perhaps there is one other certain thing. If the present inspires anxiety, the future inspires dread. Somehow in his smallness and ignorance yet he knows his fate. One day the lid shall be lifted from his shoebox and the light shall pour in - signaling not, however, that freedom has been attained. No, the fresh new air now flooding in shall prove to be the medium of a being beyond his imaginings who shall engulf him in a great godlike grip, and squish him utterly. All dread is, at bottom, dread of being squished. If evidence for this is needed, consider our primal reaction to the sound of the frog being squished in the movie film. It is the sound, once familiar in restaurants with hard tables, of ketchup being squirted from a sputtering plastic bottle - a red cylinder whose cone- shaped cap bears, at its pierced pinnacle, congealing dribs that tell of spurts and squeezings past.

The sound of blurted ketchup at once fascinates and repels us. We used, in company with our fellows, to confront that sound. The familiar ketchup dispenser was at one time found on formica tabletops in every roadside diner and on stainless-steel counters at every ballpark concession stand; wherever men gathered and ate meat, there was its simple silhouette. The disappearance of these bottles with their intimations of mortality coincided (and no coincidence!) with the decline of the whoopee cushion, whose pseudo-gastric mutterings likewise foretold the final eruption. This, literally, is man's end: expelled air jostling squeezed-out innards as they compete for egress at every bodily opening. This, the flap and flutter of air and liquid and solid, is the sound of man's fate.

More and more, lately, we have tried to deny it. Disposable ketchup packets whose contents may be silently dispensed have everywhere replaced the communal bottle. Toothpaste tubes no longer retain the print of daily press of thumb that, accumulating and overlapping on the old wax-lined metal tube, would display its history and by extension predict its demise. No medicine cabinet now swings open to reveal tube tail upcurling like fin of sounding whale. And no more do we use garbage bags of brown pulped paper that soak up the damp and rot of their moldering contents. No; everything we handle now springs out, pops back, or is quickly swathed in plastic so that we need not witness its depletion and decay, so that we may tell ourselves that our own journey does not spend us, does not bring us closer day by day to death.

We lie. Death is ours. Art shall discover this lie. But we have changed over the millennia that separate us from the bard whose story we obsessively retell. His expeditionaries were small only in relation to giants and the gods; modern man is small, as it were, absolutely. He is frog. His world is dark. And his art, when it is honest, shows him tinged with fear.

In its day the whoopee cushion was laughed at; so do we seek to conquer our fear. No doubt the movie film O Brother, Where Art Thou? will likewise be laughed at, but it is the story, bleak and true, of man in our time.

Carson's Movie Abstract is a quarterly of movie synopses compiled for professionals in the humanities. The foregoing, from the Fall 2000 issue, is reprinted with permission.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hitler Memorabilia, Ethan Coen

At the Oscars last weekend Steve Martin made a joke about Meryl Streep's fondness for Hitler memorabilia.

Ethan Coen (on the left) seemed to have enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Big Lebowski" Action Figures

I think these are a much better concept than SNL's Philadelphia action figures. Apparently no Nihilists are available.

"The Stranger"

Ethan: I don’t remember how the idea [for The Stranger in Big Lebowski ] came to us. But we’ve always liked to create a certain distance that takes us away from reality by enclosing the story in a frame.
Joel: The Stranger (Sam Elliott) is a little bit of an audience substitute. In the movies adaptations of Chandler it’s the main character that speaks offscreen, but we didn’t want to reproduce that though it obviously has echoes. It’s as if someone was commenting on the plot from an all-seeing point of view. And at the same time rediscovering the old earthiness of a Mark Twain.
--The Coen Brothers Interviews (102-103)