I am not Jewish and, prior to reading the press release, I didn’t even know that words like putz and schmuck were Yiddish. Despite the funny cover, I was skeptical about whether I was going to read this book. I decided to see what I thought of the Introduction. Michael Wex completely sold the book to me with the first five paragraphs of his Introduction to Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion. In it he describes being hired by the producer of a porn flick in which a wanton woman switches beds with a rabbi’s wife (I guess there’s something for every one, right?). Wex’s job is to provide the dialog while watching the scene when the rabbi jumps into bed. When all he comes up with is Oy vay, the producer questions him:
“Oy vay?” The producer was yelling into my headphones. “Oy vay? Don’t think you can screw with me just because I’m not Jewish. Now let’s do it again and let’s do it right. Tell me what you say when you come.”
I just told him, but he didn’t want to know. The rest was all his fault. “Nu,” I said. “What you really say is nu.”
“Then say it. And don’t say anything else. Just say nu.”
From there, I knew that this was my kind of language book – one where I would learn important things like “I don’t speak Yiddish” and “Where’s the closest rest room,” but would also fill me in on the things I typically want to know – insults and cuss words. Mother, if you’re reading this, once again I’m sorry. You did not raise me to be this way. 😉
Although the sections most appealing to me, such as “Madness, Fury, and Driving,” “Love and Sex,” and “Happiness and Pleasure,” tend to be humorous by nature, I found Wex to make the entire book enjoyable. In fact, my favorite Yiddish phrase of the entire book is found in his “Protective Phrases” section. Where else are you going to find someone who will translate one of your favorite Cartman lines for you? I could not stop laughing as I attempted to say the following out loud (the pronunciation guide is good, but I’m going to need the audio book to figure this out completely):
A KLUG TSE EIKN ALEmen, IKH GAY aHAYM
In other words:
I really enjoyed reading through Just Say Nu. It opened my eyes to how much Yiddish colors American popular culture. I only wish I was half as creative when coming up with insulting or sarcastic things to say. After reading this book, you understand that in Yiddish, they’ve got it down to a science.
To buy this book, click here.