High Country: In honor of the High Holidays, learn Yiddish words for modern times in ‘Schmegoogle’
Spark spirited dialogue around this year’s break-fast table with the latest from New York Times best-selling author Daniel Klein.
I’m nowhere near fluent, but do often draw on words I learned to love from my broken-Yiddish-speaking grandparents growing up. Some of my casual conversation go- to’s: “oy vey” for getting annoyed; “schvitz” for breaking a sweat; “verklempt” for feeling anxious; “schmooze” for networking; and “Gittel” when naming my dog, which means “good” (she turns 13 this winter and we most definitely will be celebrating her Bark Mitzvah).
Used by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust, Yiddish is essentially a mash-up of German dialect mixed with words from Hebrew and several other modern languages that is most commonly spoken in the U.S., Israel and Russia. Now, just in time for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 18-20 and Yom Kippur, Sept. 27-28), comes “Schmegoogle: Yiddish Words for Modern Times” by New York Times best-selling author Daniel Klein.
This hilariously useful lexicon of neologisms captures the flavor of life as we live it today, covering subjects including technology, family, dating, anxiety, insults and, yes, even cannabis. More than 200 new terms rooted in real Yiddish are accompanied by funny use-it-in-a- sentence examples and entertaining etymology. Klein defines the title “Schmegoogle” itself as “someone so insignificant that if you Google their name, nothing comes up.”
“The pot-Jewish connection goes way back to the fact that Jews don’t drink alcohol much except for ritual wines, and statistically are much less likely to become alcoholics (some Yale medical study found that Jews don’t get off on alcohol for genetic reasons). Who knew?” explained Klein, who was also a writer for comedians in the 1960s including Flip Wilson and Lily Tomlin, via email. “In any event, Jews still like to get high. Ipso facto, light up a joint. Baruch-a-toke.”
Here are three of my favorite new terms I learned and their entries from the book — sure to spark some spirited dialogue around this year’s break-fast table.
baruch-a toke, n.) The new kiddish when substituting pot for Manischewitz wine.
“Baruch-a-toke? Really? This makes me yearn for the old Talmudic debates about whether or not traditions are changing too fast.”
From the Hebrew baruch atah, meaning we praise you, the opening of most Hebrew blessings, including kiddush, the prayer over wine intoned on Shabbat and other holidays. Toke is land for taking a drag on a marijuana cigarette (aka, a joint).
anti-shpilkes shpritz, n.) A colloquialism for cannabidiol (CBD) oil in a spray dispenser. CBD is a marijuana/hemp derivative sometimes used to treat anxiety.
“Morty gets hysterical every time his son blares Lada Gaga on his speakers. Somebody spritz him with some anti-shpilkes shpritz.”
From the Yiddish shpilkes, denoting nervousness and agitation, originally meaning needles, as in sitting on needles. And from the Yiddish shpritz, meaning to spray.
meshuga-nug, n.) Reefer Madness! Someone who is just crazy about marijuana, and for whom there is no such thing as being too high.
“Call me a meshuga-nug, if you will, but I think I have it all figured out. Like, all of it.”
Meshuga-nugs often consider their preoccupation with pot as providing a rarefied form of enlightenment. Meshuga-nug derives from the Yiddish meshuga, meaning crazy, and from nug, a choice marijuana bud containing the highest concentrations of mind-altering compounds.