Sunday, August 22, 2010

my new favorite word


yes, thanks to my reading of Philip Roth, I have discovered a new favorite word..."meshuggah"! It's Yiddish for crazy or senseless but it has such a nice sound when you say it.

wikipedia lists the pronunciation as:


I came across this for the first time while reading Philip Roth's "The Counterlife" and he uses "meshugge" which is a variation but still in Yiddish. Mostly, aside from discovering this word and how much I like to say it, the word itself gave me an idea for this blog entry.

The word prompted research. That research led me down other research rabbit trails deeper into the Yiddish language which revealed that Yiddish is only spoken by approximately 1.7 million people worldwide but that it is the official minority language in Sweden. As a high German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin which is actually written in the Hebrew alphabet, I find the language (in translation of course) extremely interesting and definitely necessary to a thorough reading and understanding of the work of Philip Roth.

Oh, and as for the Ashkenazi Jews, well, those are the Jews who are the Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine in Germany from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north. Ashkenaz is the medieval Hebrew name for this region and thus for Germany.

There are many well known Ashkenazi Jews including Freud, Einstein, Kafka, Gershwin, and Anne Frank. These are the German Jews who, to my amazement now, in the 21st century, probably used the word "meshuggah" to refer to their respective political and socio-economic upheavals, or advances or lack thereof in science or of their societys' worldviews.

In all honesty, to imagine for a moment, Sigmund Freud staring down his nose at a patient, saying to himself, "that goy is meshuggah" just makes me giggle and I love it.

Just when you think you can't learn anything from reading fiction.

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