The language of early "kinoh" (movies) was as lily-white
as the other public media. Then "Gone With the Wind" introduced the first piece
of profanity: the meaningless intensive word "damn." This single utterance in
the 1939 mega hit caused a public uproar that would be unheard of today. Risky
language has gradually gotten worse in movies and TV.
A new report by the Consumer Care Alliance found that 8% of frustrated consumers
say they have cursed at a customer-service rep in the past year; 28% said they
have given a "geshrie" (yell) or raised their voices. (Remember Howard
Dean's dinosauric yell?) It is part of a growing trend dubbed "customer rage."
(This is in addition to "road rage," "school rage," "sports rage," "cell-phone
rage," and "work/desk rage.") California, by the way, is the birthplace of "road
In Yiddish we say,
"Vos ahfen lung iz ahfen tsung" or "Vos iz in kop iz ahfen tsung!"
(What's on his mind is on his tongue.)
The phenomenon called "ping-ponging" is partly to blame for the growing ranks of
irate customers. Life has gotten much more complicated as people deal with an
ever-exploding number of services and companies. We don't have one phone; we
have three. We have cell phones, computers, fax machines, digital cameras, and
high-powered laptops. In a recent New Yorker cartoon by Marisa Acocella, a woman
asks a salesperson at a phone shop, "Do you have a phone that doesn't do too
In the 1970s, "der koyne" (the customer) would write a "briv"
(letter) of complaint when he had a problem. Now, the majority of customers try
to resolve "di problem" over "der telefon"-- and often wind up
getting bounced from agents because the first-line contacts aren't empowered to
resolve more serious complaints.
Many want someone "betn mekhile" (to apologize); others simply want a
chance to vent and tell their side of the story. And 90% of the "broygez"
(angry) customers reported that they shared the unhappy story with a friend.
Ken Garfield said, "...cursing robs society of what little gentility it has
left, and that restraint won't return until we start showing it in public."
According to Dr. Paul (Hershl) Glasser, Associate Dean, Max Weinreich Center, "sheltn"
or "shiltn" means "to curse, to damn."
"Zidlen" is "to cuss, revile, hurl insults at." Although "curse" in
English can mean either, the two are not interchangeable.
Unlike Jewish comedians like Buddy Hackett, who delighted in shocking his
audience with foul language, and Don Rickles (the "Merchant of VENOM"), one
clean comedian, Brian Stine, bills himself as "the Rebel Without a Curse."
James A. Matisoff ("Blessings, Curses, Hopes, and Fears - Psycho-Ostensive
Expressions In Yiddish"), says that "Yiddish curses are often given a humorous
twist, which serves to blunt their effect--one cannot easily laugh and be
bitterly malo-petitive at the same time." His examples:
"A ziser toyt zol er hobn - a trok mit tsuker zol im iberforn!"
("May he have a sweet death - run over by a sugar truck.")
Of a hypocritically pious Gentile one might sneer:
"Mitn kop in drerd un di fis in kloyster!"
("With his head in the ground and his feet in the church!")
Or, if somebody has made you a present of a fountain pen, which you accept, only
to find that it leaks terribly, so that every time you use it you befoul your
person, one may curse the giver:
"Oy, zol im nor azoy rinen fun noz, vi's rint mir fun der kvalpen!"
("Oh, may his nose only leak on him the way this fountain pen leaks on me!")
Nahum Stutchkoff's Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language offers these curses:
"Shteyner zol zi hobn, nit kayn kinder."
(She should have stones and not children.)
"Azoy fil ritzinoyl zol er oystrinkn."
(He should drink too much castor oil.)
"Got zol im bentshn mit dray mentshn; eyner zol im haltn, der tsveyter zol im
shpaltn un der driter zol im ba'haltn."
(God should bless him with three people: one should grab him, the second should
stab him, and the third should hide him.)
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of "Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers
Weapons of Mass Instruction? Yiddish Trivia." (To order a copy, contact her at
Wolfeny@webtv.net.) Although mild mannered, she once used this curse:
"Migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter, by tog zol er hengen, un bay nakht zol er
(He should be transformed into a chandelier, to hang by day and to burn by