Brett Butler: "Frankly, My Dear..."

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 rage."

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 much?"

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 brenen."
(He should be transformed into a chandelier, to hang by day and to burn by night.)


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