32nd Friday in Ordinary Time

One of my favorite songs is Jan Bart’s “Freg ba gott kein kashes nit” in which a desperate father pleads with his son to stop asking so many questions.

Yes, I’m a Yiddish buff, a humble disciple of Leo Rosten. One time I found myself in a queue with my son when I told him to “stop kvetching”. A lady standing behind us beamed, “I haven’t heard that word in decades.”

As it goes, kvetch is a pretty light word. Rabbi Joshua Neely of Beth Israel in Owings Mills, wrote in this month’s Jewish Community Center newsletter:

Colorful language is a familiar part of Jewish culture and many of the Yiddish words that still survive are best left unprinted.

I know whereof he speaks. The real translations of shmuck and dreck, for example, are distinctly anatomical and scatological, respectively. But let’s go on.

When Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lamented that he wished G-d had created us with two mouths so one could busy itself with Torah while the other looked after our worldly affairs, he was rebuffed by his colleagues: A second mouth would be just as likely to slip up.

Swearing in stereo? I know a few Catholics who are quite accomplished in that. I don’t do so bad myself, either. On Father’s Day, I received a card that read, “Dad: the leading cause of second-hand swearing.”

Apart from Yiddish, the most distinctive treasury of swear words undoubtedly belongs to the citizens of Montreal. Not content with the anatomical and scatological, the denizens of Upper Canada have aggressively repurposed the vocabulary of the sacristan. When an altar server up north says câlice he isn’t talking about something he forgot to set out on the credenza.

So ingrained is this habit in the subconscious of the Montrealais that most have no idea what a câlice or a ciboire actually are. In 2006, the Archdiocese ran an ad campaign to remind them.

Tabernac! If I don’t watch myself in the sacristy this Sunday, I’ll be throwing a loonie in the swear jar.

Advertisements