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Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods (P.S.) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2006/8/15
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A delightful excursion through the Yiddish language, the culture it defines and serves, and the fine art of complaint
Throughout history, Jews around the world have had plenty of reasons to lament. And for a thousand years, they've had the perfect language for it. Rich in color, expressiveness, and complexity, Yiddish has proven incredibly useful and durable. Its wonderful phrases and idioms impeccably reflect the mind-set that has enabled the Jews of Europe to survive a millennium of unrelenting persecution . . . and enables them to kvetch about it!
Michael Wex—professor, scholar, translator, novelist, and performer—takes a serious yet unceasingly fun and funny look at this remarkable kvetch-full tongue that has both shaped and has been shaped by those who speak it. Featuring chapters on curse words, food, sex, and even death, he allows his lively wit and scholarship to roam freely from Sholem Aleichem to Chaucer to Elvis.
Perhaps only a khokhem be-layle (a fool, literally a "sage at night," when there's no one around to see) would care to pass up this endearing and enriching treasure trove of linguistics, sociology, history, and folklore—an intriguing appreciation of a unique and enduring language and an equally fascinating culture.
“Wise, witty and altogether wonderful....” (New York Times)
“Required reading.” (New York Post)
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And Michael Wex is a whole lot funnier than Maurice Samuel. You will be laughing uncontrollably (WARNING: may cause embarrassment if you read this on the subway in the morning, as I did) while you learn more than you ever wanted to about the Talmud, the yiddish word for toilet paper and the REAL meaning of kvetching.
Don't hesitate, buy it today and be cursing your friends in yiddish tomorrow.
Mr. Wex has done Yiddish a great service and has written a book that avoids both of these pitfalls. Beneath the humor - and this is a very funny, well written book - is a very serious examination of Yiddish as a language inextricably tied to its religion. Very few people could have written a book as insightful as this one and still made it entertaining. Mr. Wex has the background - a Yeshiva bocher turned secularist - and mindset to carry it off with aplomb.
Some people might complain that the examination of Yiddish language and culture in this book is too harsh and well... kvetchadik. But there is pride for a language and culture long gone throughout this book. More than any book on Yiddish that I've read, this one rings true. The description of the culture of Chasidic education of children is particularly unflinching and mordantly accurate. Footnotes would help this book a great deal. But this is a fine achievement. Now if only they wouldn't have put someone else's photo next to the NY Times review. ;)
This is what Lambert has to say about the lead idea of the book.
"Yiddish, Wex argues, is most comfortable when it's complaining. It's "a language that likes to argue with everybody about everything." He explains this as consistent with the Mishnaic scholars (who "disagree 99.8 percent of the time") and the principle of "aftselakhis"-"the impulse to do things only because someone else doesn't want you to." The kvetch, or complaint, is thus the basic unit of Yiddish thought, as developed over hundreds of years of Diaspora living: "kvetching becomes a way of exercising some small measure of control over an otherwise hostile environment."
It is rare when we find a book which not only enriches our thought but makes us laugh outloud.
While the book has the initial impression of being rather funny, the reader soon grasps the intillectualism that resonates throughout the book, delving into the human element. It connects many around the world, as one instinctively travels to the roots of a culture, intertwined with its ancestry as far as Biblical times.
It is a fascinating book that should appeal to most people with an open and inquisitive mind, particularly when many of the phrases, the thought processes, and the humor which connects them have been used for so many decades. Kvetching, complaining so to speak, is more than a word, or a statement...it represents a way of thinking, a necessary reflex, a defense mechanism to gain advantage on an issue or an argument.
It is informative, easy to read, enjoyable, and with the bonus of cultural and historical humor.
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