Now that Thanksgiving has passed, there’s no doubt that we’re well embarked on what my parents used to call shikker-tsayt, “season of the drunk,” a temporally fluid festive period observed by selected members of the dominant European and North American faith community. According to the Shulkhan Arukh ha-Mom, the strictly oral code of Jewish law composed by my mother and revealed only to members of my immediate family, the season was much longer than that just described: “From Labor Day—herst, Michael?––from Labor Day to nitl [that’s Yiddish for Xmas], they’re shikker all the time.” The din, the law derived from this proposition? Try never to go outdoors.
As Purim and Simchas Torah have taught us, though, love of the biterer tropn, “the bitter drop,” transcends all ethnic and religious boundaries and even terrestrial life itself: The Angel of Death is described as having a tipoh shel moroh, “a drop of gall,” at the end of his sword. Widespread misreading of moro as an adjective instead of a noun led to the loss of shel in tipo shel moro; the resulting tipo moro is perfectly good Hebrew, but means biterer tropn, “bitter drop, ” rather than “drop of gall or bile.”
It’s a characteristically Yiddish way of looking at fun. The image rests on the resemblance between the typical attitude of the Eastern European drinker–head back, mouth wide open, face about to flush and change color—and that of a dead person under the sword of the malekh ha- moves.
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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