Monday, March 27, 2023

By no means does the English language have a monopoly on expressions employing body parts. “She has been walking around with a heavy heart, ever since she heard about her best friend’s lab results,” and “He always seems to have a chip on his shoulder,” serve as two examples. The Yiddish language is much the same. It too employs body parts in many of its expressions, thereby, adding color to its culture. The following expressions say it best:

Eizener kop (egghead): If a clod can be referred to as a “blockhead,” then a brilliant person can be referred to as an “egghead.” To possess an “eizener kop” is the highest of Yiddish compliments. The 18th century scion, Rabbi Azriel HaLevi Horowitz of Lublin, merited the moniker “der eizener kop,” because of the immense knowledge he amassed.

Fahrkrimter noz (nose out joint—literally, a crooked nose): There is a YouTube video of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin retorting to the late German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who opined the need for a Palestinian state. After delivering a spellbinding oratory, Prime Minister Begin concluded by remarking “… and if the Chancellor doesn’t like what I have to say and wants to walk around with a fahrkrimter noz, then let him walk around with a fahrkrimter noz.”

Bain in hahldz (royal pain—literally, a bone stuck in one’s throat): I once heard the following being said about someone, “There are occasions when he is a muhlach (angel) and there are occasions when he is a bain in hahldz (common parlance for a royal pain).”

Fahrlaygteh hent (folded arms): Fahrlaygteh hent is strong body language. It has been said that one who stands with fahrlaygteh hent, subconsciously, sends a message of distancing oneself from others—in that, folded arms form a barrier. It has also been pointed out that one who sits with fahrlaygteh hent is even worse body language. It signals that there is no intent of budging to be useful to others.

Hinnehrsheh feeslech (rickety—literally, hen-like legs): After twenty years of faithful service, it was decided to replace the refrigerator in my childhood home. Rather than discard it, the old Frigidaire was placed in the basement to be used when extra refrigeration was needed. My mother issued the following warning: “Treat it gently! Ess shtayt oif hinnehrsheh feeslech (as in, it’s on its last legs—literally, it is standing on hen-like legs.)”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” Translated into Yiddish, it would have fit perfectly among aphorisms such as eizener kop, fahrkrimter noz, bain in hahldz, fahrlaygteh hent and hinnehrsheh feeslech.

Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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