Who is like El? Al2O3 (satyadasa) wrote in linguaphiles,
Who is like El? Al2O3

Etymology of "tszuj" / Yiddish question

A friend's recent post on spelling bees prompted a conversation in which she asked me how to spell zhoozh. I've only seen a few episodes of Queer Eye, so I'd never heard of it, but a Google search pulled up the spelling tszuj, which I liked better, and which turns out to have an interesting etymology.

A Queer Eye-related web site claims that Carson Kressley picked up the Yiddish word, meaning "to finesse, tweak, rearrange, and make better" working for Ralph Lauren ( Lifschitz here in the Bronx). Thanks to my acquisition at Prospero's Books in Kansas City of a reprint of Harkavy's 1928 Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary, I was able to look up possible etymologies of this. I think the most likely is זשוזשען zhuzhen "to hum, buzz," given the "zhoozh" pronunciation, though for a while I was looking at "tsh-" words like טשוטשקע tshutshke "puppy" and טשוטשיּק tshutshik "kid." If it's זשוזשען zhuzhen, then tszuj ultimately comes from the Slavic bit of Yiddish; the Russian verb for "to buzz" is жужжать zhuzhat' and the German words brummen and summen seem unrelated. If it's from this, it's clearly onomatopoeic anyway, so perhaps questions of origin are moot.

Another possible origin is צאַצקע tsatske "trinket", the origin of tchotchke, and there seems to be a related verb צאַצקען זיּק tsatskhen zikh "to adorn oneself," but where would the u sound have come from? Or for that matter the zh sound?

Can anyone here who knows more Yiddish contribute?

Cross-posted to personal journal.
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