Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Born to Kvetch

Busy, busy, busy; tired, tired, tired. Grading, writing conference papers, trying to publish stuff, teaching, commuting... Oy vey.

Yeah, I know -- no one wants to hear it. But it's my blog, and I reserve the right to kvetch when necessary.

* * *
Speaking of which, I've been reading a book called Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods, by Michael Wex. It's a mixture of cultural history and light sociolinguistics, with some reference to Jewish theology as well as migration patterns in the Jewish diaspora thrown in for good measure. I'm interested in this stuff partly because it's part of my interest in dialects and slangs (see several recent posts, including this one).

I would review the book more properly, but I am, as previously mentioned, too busy and tired (and the second half of the Sox vs. the other Sox beckons). So here is Michael Wex explaining the Yiddish word "kvetch" -- complete with some surprising, er, digestive connotations:

Yet the entry for kvetshn (the verbal form) in Uriel Weinreich's Modern English-Yiddish Dictionary reads simply: "press, squeeze, pince; strain." There is no mention of grumbling or complaint. You can kvetch an orange to get juice, kvetch a buzzer for service, or kvetch mit di pleytses, shrug your shoulders, when no one responds to the buzzer you kvetched. All perfectly good, perfectly commong uses of the verb kvetshn, none of which appears to have the remotest connection with the idea of whining or complaining. The link is found in Weinreich's "strain," which he uses to define kvetshn zikh, to press or squeeze oneself, the reflexive form of the verb. Alexander Harkavy's 1928 Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary helps make Weinreich's meaning clearer. It isn't simply to strain, but "to strain," as Harkavy has it, "at stool," to have trouble doing what, if you'd eaten your prunes the way you were supposed to, you wouldn't have any trouble with at all. . . . A really good kvetch has a visceral quality, a snese that the kvetcher won't be completely comfortable, completely satisfied, until it's all come out.

All rightie then: something slightly wicked to dwell on next time you're stuck listening to someone kvetching about all their non-problems!


Ms. World said...

Don't you have a holiday coming up in a few months? You academics are living the good life (vacation time wise). Hope you are well!

electrostani said...

Ms. World,

Yes, it's true about the vacations (though you might be surprised how hard some of us work during our vacations)

But anyway, a few months is a long time from now. Til then, I must kvetch.