When is a Hebrew youth not a Yiddishe fool?

I thought I’d write something about Benny’s latest comment on the correct literal translation of takhshit (jewel):

Benny said:

“Raphael, you have translated the word takshitim incorrectly. It does not mean brats but rather what we really were to mommy and daddy – jewels. I too, for many years, misunderstood daddy when he used to say to me -” du bist a naar”. For years I thought he was calling me a fool and for years I felt hurt by this. It was only after I came to Israel, and learnt Hebrew, that I understood that he was calling me a youth who didn’t yet understand. To this day I regret not having being able to sit down and talk to mommy and daddy.” (My emphasis).

The Yiddish word for a “youngster” (youth) is bokher בחור, which is also one of the Hebrew words for “youngster” bakhur. There is a perfect one to one semantic correspondence (of meaning) between the Hebrew bakhur בחור and the Yiddish bokher בחור, . There are two other Hebrew words for “youngster”: tza-ir and na-ar/no-ayr. It’s the Yiddish naar/nar that we are directly concerned with.

As far as I can gather from Yiddish-English dictionaries and other sources such as Rosten’s “The joys of Yiddish”, the Yiddish nar/naar means “fool”, and never “youngster” or “youth”. Yiddish borrowed the Hebrew word na-ar “youngster” and changed its meaning to “fool”. Na(a)rishkeit is Yiddish for “foolishness.”

One of the perils of translation is “false friends” (faux amis). A word in the target language (Yiddish) may look like the word of the source (original) language (Hebrew), or it may have derived from the source language  – as Yiddish naar/nar is derived from Hebrew na-ar. Sometimes the target language may change the meaning of the word it borrowed from the source  language. When Yiddish borrows from Hebrew, it usually changes only the pronunciation, and not the Hebrew meaning. Naar is a rare occurrence of a change in meaning; which is enough to make an Afrikaner Jew naar (Afrikaans for “nauseous”). (See my piece on the Afrikaner Jew and the origin of Yiddish).

In my French teaching, I often had to deal with these faux amis. Here are some examples:
Joli (French) means pretty or attractive.
Jolly (English ) means joyeux, jovial, or amusant.

Agonie (French) refers to death pangs or mortal agony.
Agony (English) means severe physical or mental pain, but not necessarily just this side of death: angoisse, supplice.

Here is a Judisch/Jewish false friend:  the German word Judisch -“Yiddish” (language) is often translated (badly) into English as Jewish (language). There is no such language as “Jewish”, but there are languages that originated from the Jews; Hebrew and Yiddish, for example.

Here is my reply to Benny’s comment, which I quoted at the beginning:

“Bennie, you are right about takhshit(im). Thanks for pointing that out. There is this thing about words, especially spoken words. Behind a word – the dictionary meaning of the word (the semantic meaning) – is a speaking body: body “language”. For example, a person can say the word “treasure” to you, but the tone of voice, look and gesture of the person who is saying “treasure” could mean the sarcastic opposite. I never ever got the impression that I was anybody’s treasure at home. It seemed to me that some of my other brothers and sisters felt the same. I’m glad you’re on my bog to correct me when  I (predictably) tokhshit.”

One thought on “When is a Hebrew youth not a Yiddishe fool?

  1. Pingback: Walking backwards to the Cross: Passivity and Suffering in the Passion of Christ « OneDaringJew

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