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If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Say It in Yiddish: 12/07/09
I'm a language geek. If I had infinite time and money I would spend them learning as many languages as I could. One of the languages that has fascinated me more as long as I can remember is Yiddish. It used to be a vibrant language but post Holocaust it has dwindled to a dying language relegated mostly to academics and the elderly. There is a revival effort afoot and hopefully it will take hold.
In the meantime, Yiddish is mostly a language of phrases and insults passed down through different business cultures. Schmuck, chutzpah, spiel... I could go on. I bet you know them. I bet you've used them. They are all Yiddish.
If you want to go beyond the basics, Lita Epstein has compiled a bunch of insults and other phrases in her book If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Say it In Yiddish. She has transliterated everything to her best approximation to how she learned them. If you're on the west coast you'll see some oddities in her spelling. Properly written, Yiddish is written with the Hebrew alphabet but uses a mostly Germanic grammar and lexicon.
Epstein's book is a fun introduction to Yiddish but it won't take you beyond memorizing a few funny phrases.