Friday, January 15, 2010

Still Another 5 Words

A language is the soul of its people. This is nowhere illustrated more profoundly than in the Yiddish language, the language of Jews of eastern and central Europe and their descendants. A tongue full of wit and charm, Yiddish embodies deep appreciation of human behavior in all its colorful manifestations. The word Yiddish comes from German Judisch meaning Jewish. But it is not the same as Hebrew, even though it is written in Hebrew script.

Here's what Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer had to say about the language in his 1978 Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

"Yiddish language - a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics ...
There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love. The Yiddish mentality is not haughty. It does not take victory for granted. It does not demand and command but it muddles through, sneaks by, smuggles itself amidst the powers of destruction, knowing somewhere that God's plan for Creation is still at the very beginning ...
In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of frightened and hopeful Humanity."

Many of the everyday English language words such as bagel, klutz, and kibitz are terms from Yiddish. Today let's start our list of five words with another Yiddishism.


schnorrer (SHNOR-uhr) noun

One who habitually takes advantage of others' generosity, often through an air of entitlement.

[From Yiddish, from German schnurren (to purr, hum, or whir), from the sound of a beggar's musical instrument.]


pettifogger (PET-ee-foguhr, -fo-guhr) noun

1. A petty, quibbling, unscrupulous lawyer.

2. One who quibbles over trivia.

[Probably petty + obsolete fogger, pettifogger.]

"The nitpickers, the whiners, the pettifoggers are everywhere. And they are so numerous and so noisy that they threaten to block our view of and drown out the clarion call of the squirrels." Bill Kraus, Without Health Care Reform, Forget It, Capital Times, 15 Dec 1993.


Aesculapian (es-kyuh-LAY-pee-ehn) adjective

Relating to the healing arts; medical.

[From Aesculapius, the god of medicine and healing in Roman mythology.]

"These apparitions, as is the nature of their kind, vanished as soon as the crowing of the Aesculapian cock announced that the intellectual day of Europe was on the point of breaking." Draper, John William M.D., LL.D., History Of The Intellectual Development Of Europe: Chapter IV. Part II, History of the World, 1 Jan 1992.


flatulent (FLACH-uh-lent) adjective

1. Of, afflicted with, or caused by flatulence, the presence of excessive gas in the digestive tract.

2. Inducing or generating flatulence.

3. Pompous; bloated.

[French, from Latin flatus, fart.]

"It's well known that a flatulent episode can range from a barely detectable rumble to a propulsive burst sufficient to attain low Earth orbit, depending on general health and recent visits to all-you-can-eat salad bars." Kluger, Jeffrey, What a gas, Discover Magazine, 1 Apr 1995.

"The trial of Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate during Washington's lovely spring of 1868 alternated between flatulent speechifying and blistering invective." John Burnett, Bob Edwards, Andrew Johnson Impeachment, Morning Edition (NPR), 21 Dec 1998.

Flatulent speechifying is now the order of the day in our Congress and it has trickled down through the entire political world even reaching down to the local level. What a concept! Trickle-down flatulence!



piacular (pie-AK-yuh-luhr) adjective

1. Making expiation or atonement for a sacrilege.

2. Requiring expiation; wicked or blameworthy.

[Latin piacularis, from piaculum, propitiatory sacrifice, from piare, to appease, from pius, dutiful.]

"Dogs were also favourite piacular victims, as in the Lupercalia (February 15)." Foot Moore, George, History Of Religions: Chapter I, History of the World, 1 Jan 1992.


What is the most famous number in history? The one that is both irrational and transcendental, and pursued since ancient times in Babylon, Egypt, India, and beyond, the one with a feature film made around it, the one that appeared in the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial, the one that has been calculated to billions of decimal digits? Of course, we are talking about pi, everyone's favorite number that continues to consume both countless hardcore mathematicians as well as ordinary mortals!

March 14 (3.14) is Pi Day.

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