Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ancient Yiddish Proverb

Once again I will steal an idea from Language log, where there has been talk (or type, I suppose) lately about the provenance of various purported ancient Chinese sayings. If you hadn't figured it out yet, their provenance is, in a word, dubious.

I wasn't surprised. I try to keep tabs on who's blogging about Yiddish and what they're saying. Mostly, I find lists of how to say "I love you" in a jillion languages (usually the Yiddish is garbled but recognizable), as well as "Yiddish sayings." Here's some I've found:
If you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm.

If you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your plans.

If you want your dreams to come true, don’t sleep.

The eyes are the mirror of the soul.

To assume is to be deceived.

There is no heart more whole than a broken heart.

Love is like butter: it goes well with bread.

If you play with a cat, you must not mind her scratch.

When you get scalded from hot food, you blow when you're served even cold.

Some of these may in fact be Yiddish sayings - one is clearly a fanciful amplification of one - but I'm fairly sure that most of these are as kosher as smoked oysters. Which aren't kosher. My point here is not to marvel at the amount of misinformation in the world, a state of affairs I have contributed to plenty myself, but rather to point out that Yiddish, like Chinese, has become a coat hook on which to hang pithy, gnomic sayings. I've always felt that if you truly love a subject matter, you hate to see it fetishized, but part of me is relieved that Yiddish has gone from being thought of as funny to being thought of as wise. And part of me is disappointed.

4 comments:

Zackary Sholem Berger said...

The last four are more or less accurate representations of Yiddish proverbs, actually.

Ben said...

No kidding - thanks for letting me know! See, your hashgokhe I trust.

mo said...

Man makes plans, and God laughs.

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