The Vortsman: Yiddish Anglicisms

There are lots of lists around — and at least one book I know of — that detail the penetration of Yiddish words into English; they’re usually designated as “Yinglish.” Even the hallowed Oxford Dictionary, to great jubilation last year, added “rugelach” — bad transliteration and absence of the singular rogele or rugele notwithstanding.

What interests The Vortsman, though, is the penetration of English words into Eastern European Yiddish among those who did not emigrate to the goldene medine.

In the course of translating literally hundreds of letters sent from parents and other relatives to their recently-immigrated family members in the U.S., I have found certain words that turn up repeatedly.

My guess is that the writers of the letters had picked up the words from those they’d received from these shores. Or, perhaps, from U.S. Yiddish newspapers that found their way to the “old country.”

Leading the hit parade of Anglicisms (Anglish?) in both shtetl and big-city Yiddish was “piktshe” in place of bild or even fotograf. Since family photos flowed in both directions, it’s more than likely that the U.S. letter writers had noted that they were enclosing a piktshe and awaiting one in return.

The second most-frequently encountered English word is leter meaning, of course, “letter.” In a batch of letters that The Vortsman now has in hand, those from the family’s father use the Yiddish word, briv, while the younger siblings refer to receipt of that same leter.

Slipping a sociological cap atop the linguistic one, The Vortsman adds that four other English words crop up frequently in these letters: dzhob (job), shap (shop), yunye (union), and strayk (strike).

Readers of the SoCal ARBETER Ring/WORKMEN’S Circle e-briv (emphatically NOT e-leter) need no sermonizing about the working-class nature revealed in these words that U.S. immigrants shared with their families in der alter heym, the old home…