di_glossia (di_glossia) wrote in linguaphiles,
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Are Yiddish Anti-Catholic Expressions a Reflection of Jewish Worldview?


I recently acquired a copy of Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods by Michael Wex. I've long been interested in Yiddish because of its relationship to both German and Arabic, especially after I learned earlier this year that the German name for the language (Jiddisch) came from the word for Jewish (jüdisch), that connection never having been clear to me in English.

I was surprised to read that, according to Wex, Yiddish is full of distinct anti-Catholic expressions and phrases. For example, this paragraph on the phrase "a mamoshes vi der goyisher got" says:

"No one who has ever described an argument or exuse that doesn't hold water as having a mamoshes vi der goyisher got, as much substance as the god of the gentiles, thought that god might be Zeus. The only goyisher got who matters is Jesus, and an expression that means "It's as close to the real truth as the notion that the blood of Jesus has set us free," tells us a good deal about the oppositional nature of a language like Yiddish..." (18)

Could someone, preferably a speaker or student of Yiddish, please explain to me whether this is simply an outdated interpretation of Yiddish idioms or whether the Yiddish language truly emphasizes a better than thou view towards Gentiles? If so, could you tell me what the environment is like for a non-Jew learning Yiddish?

Thanks in advance!


Edit: This was another interesting passage:

"Someone that has a mamoshes vi der goyisher got can also be said to be nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn, it didn't climb up and it didn't fly. Any Jew who grew up in a traditional Yiddish-speaking environment will interpret the phrase pretty much the same way: what didn't climb was Jesus, who didn't climb up into heaven and who sure didn't fly there. There's a variant interpretation, according to which it's the cross onto which Jesus didn't climb, but this has no effect on the meaning- the climax of all four gospels, the point of the whole New Testament, has just been reduced to a joke, the Yiddish equivalent of "and pigs can fly."

While the denial of Jesus's divinity would be offensive enough to Christians, its use as the gold standard of unbelievability makes it dangerous for a non-Christian minority. The very existence of such a phrase tells us most of what we need to know about how and why Yiddish came into being and about why it was never really German. Each individual word of nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn would be comprehensible to a German-speaker, but it's unlikely that the German would ever guess what it really refers to, even if he or she caught the meaning of "bullshit." And that's the point: Yiddish started out as German for blasphemers, as a German in which you could deny Christ without getting yourself killed any more often than necessary. From day one, once they started to speak "German" to one another, the Jews were speaking German aftselakhis German to spite the Germans, a German the Germans wouldn't understand- the argot of the unredeemed." (20)

Reader Note: Nisht gestoygn un nisht gefloygn in German is: (ist) nicht gestiegen und nicht geflogen

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