Hey! Remember the Schoolhouse Rock video about interjections? These are expressions
like: “whoa,” “yow,” “ouch,” “oh,” “hooray,” “aww,” “eek,” “rats,” “darn” and “wow.”
Or even “oy!” as in some blog or other.
There is a whole book of them, called Zounds!
by Mark Dunn, and I recently rediscovered it on my shelf. Leafing through it, I
found a surprising number of fairly common ones such as “oy” that stem from
Hebrew, Yiddish, and Yinglish. Well, maybe not all that surprising, considering
the number of movies, TV shows, stand-up bits and songs with Jewish writers.
Anyway, here some English interjections with— gevalt!— a Jewish history (linked
to songs, bands, movies, TV shows, etc. that use them).
There are lots, so rather than overwhelm you, here
are letters “A” through “H” for starters. Stay tuned for the rest.
This magical mumbo-jumbo is probably from the Aramaic
(the language of the Talmud and the Kaddish) for “I create as I speak,” with
the vowels changed to make it rhyme with itself.
It predates Chaucer, but was popularized by Jewish
comics to the point of being able to stand alone as a punchline: “Waiter, taste
my soup.” “All right… where’s the spoon?” “Aha!” Dunn says: “In Yinglish, [it]
expresses emotions from subtle understanding to triumphant exultation.”
Dunn: “Found in both Spanish
and Yiddish … from stopped-dead-in-one’s-tracks to anguished regret and
All right, already
It means, “I still disagree, but will go along to stop
your kvetching.” Dunn: “First heard in the Bronx … since the late 19th century, but did not
become really popular
until after WWII.”
We Jews respond to a blessing with this word, which
comes from the same root as the Hebrew word emunah
or “faith.” But everyone uses it to mean, “Indeed!” or “And how!” Dunn:
“According to the Talmud, the word is to be enunciated with power and
conviction, thus helping to open the doors of paradise.” Amen to that!
A response to a sneeze, it means “good health.” As
it happens, almost all cultures respond to sneezes with a verbal
get-well card. It may have been one of the earliest forms of
a public health policy!
On Shabbat, it means, “hello.” But what about the
rest of the week? Dunn: “a sarcastic or ironic affirmation or statement of
incredulity.” He compares it to “Good grief!” (A more emphatic version, which
means something else, was coined by no less than the Hebrew Hammer).
Found throughout the Psalms, it is a compound word:
hallel, meaning “praise,” plus one of
the Holy Names. A holiday prayer comprised of Psalms, called “Hallel,” and the
great rabbi Hillel also take their names from the same root word. Dunn: “Used
both within and without the house of worship to express joy or jubilation.” (OK,
we’ll link to the sad Leonard Cohen
This was coined not by Jews, but by our haters.
“Hep! Hep!” was a cry used to round up goats, and so by goons— calling
Hep Squads” to initiate pogroms. There was even one international
Hep Riot” in 1819: “The attacks on Jews and Jewish property
spread from there to the whole of Germany … the rioting reached as far as
Denmark and Poland.” This is not from Dunn, but the Jewish Virtual Library. (Dunn
traces “Hip” to “Hep” also, but relates it to the jazz usage— as in “hep-cat”—
and “hooray/hurray/hurrah” back to “huzzah.”)
This is not the
Al Pacino catchphrase from Scent of a Woman. It is a Yinglish catchall.
Here, Dunn cites Yiddish linguist Leo
Rosten as finding “no fewer than 17 meanings: surprise,
envy, scorn, confusion” and also “Oh, big deal!” “Like hell,” “Imagine that,”
“Don’t be silly,” and “I don’t believe it.”
“Save us, please!” is the literal meaning of this
pleading prayer, found in the above-mentioned Hallel. A cycle of Hoshanna prayers
for Sukkot culminates in Hoshanna Rabbah, the “Great Hoshanna,” in which all
seven of these are recited while circling the bimah with the lulav and etrog. Then the word showed up in the
gospels, and then in Christian liturgy and song.
Now, Merriam-Webster has it as any “cry of acclamation and