May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

By Rabbi Shawn Zell

Many an article has been written about the great blessing the United States has been to our people. I am not aware however, how much ink has been expended describing just how much the goldeneh medineh (golden land, a synonym for the United States) “enriched” the Yiddish language. With the forbearance of speakers of proper Yiddish, I should like to provide a sampling of non-bona fide Yiddish words that have wiggled their way into mameh loshen (mother tongue, a synonym for Yiddish) particularly in the greater New York area, thereby creating pidgin Yiddish.

Lendler (landlord): Rather than employ the Yiddish aygehnteemer (owner), our Eastern European ancestors used the Yiddish version of “landlord.” Because many of our people arriving in the New York area were apartment dwellers, “landlord” was a term frequently used and frequently misheard as “lendler.”

Tenner (tenant): A tenner is the counterpart to the lendler. I surmise that the reason newcomers didn’t use lokkahtor (tenant) was because being a tenant in the Old Country typically referred to one who leased land on which there was a business of sorts. In the Old Country, such a lessor was referred to as a rehndahr.

Paintner (painter): The letter “n” following the “t” is no mistake. It was inserted to refer to the one who put a new coat of paint on the walls of an apartment, as opposed to one who painted works of art. Why our ancestors didn’t resort to the Yiddish mahlyehr (house painter) is beyond me. A lendler with a heart could be counted upon to “paint” his tenner every few years.

Shop (factory): Our Eastern European immigrants could easily have used the Yiddish “fahbreek.” To do so, however, would have handed a hollow victory to the factory owner, in that these factories were nothing more than “sweatshops” lacking sanitary and safe conditions for the worker. It was in these shops that our people worked long hours for a pittance. “Shop” was a short form for “sweatshop.”

Mahntns (mountains, as in Catskill mountains): To escape the oppressive heat, our ancestors would scrimp and save to be able to spend a week or two up in the mahntns. Why our ancestors simply didn’t employ “behrg,” the Yiddish term for “mountains,” I’ll never know. Understandably, mahntns meant renting a kochlayn (literally “cook alone” or “cook for yourself”) rather than checking into a resort hotel. And yes, you brought your own pots, pans and dishes, etc.

Having just celebrated this country’s 147th birthday, let’s reflect on the terms: lendler, tenner, paintner, shop and mahntns, five examples of pidgin Yiddish courtesy of New York area regional English. In my upcoming article, I look forward to getting back to writing about bona-fide Yiddish vocabulary words.


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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