Just the other day, I heard my daughter say “Napoleon Solo.”
If these words mean nothing to you, hurry to your local video store and demand copies of all 105 episodes of the ‘sixties television classic, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Napoleon Solo, played by Robert Vaughn, was its major character, though my daughter, a true child of a child of the ‘sixties, insists that David McCallum’s character, Ilya Kuryakin, was infinitely cuter.
“P’raps so,” I said paternally, “but were you aware, o Sabu [the child’s name], of how deeply Jewish the show really is?”
“Enlighten me, father,” she replied, and after explaining the meaning of the word acronym, I explained the importance of such acronyms in Jewish life:
Invitations to any function always specify that it will begin at such-and-such a time bidiyuk. Bidiyuk, a Hebrew word not much used in spoken Yiddish, means “exactly,” but– given the Jewish propensity for lateness and the fact that “u” and “v” can be represented by the same Hebrew letter–it is taken as an acronym for biz di yidn veln kumen, until the Jews finally turn up. Similarly, you can say that someone who was approached for a donation gave bitsedek, which usually means righteously or charitably. Here it stands for biz tsu der keshene, as far as his pocket, i.e., he stopped short of actual money. There’s also shpek yidish, “bacon Yiddish,” the sort of Yiddish spoken by people who only think they speak Yiddish. It stands for shmuk, puts, kugl–about as much as such people know.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.
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