Oys businessman! I’m sick of the business world, much of which now seems to be run by people who behave like adolescents— or even fully-grown children––who are busy doing any one of a number of nothings:
ER TSELEYGT ZIKH VI BAYM TATN IN VAYNGORTN
He’s lying around like he’s in his father’s vineyard
when his cell phone begins to ring. Typically for someone
VOOS TIT NISHT KA’ HANT IN KALT VASER
(who doesn’t dip a finger into cold water [thoughtfully provided in a bowl beside his couch in the vineyard],
he looks at the ringing apparatus, cups both hands around his lips and yells, “Ma! Der cell phone klingt, my cell phone’s ringing!” His mother, who’s somewhere in the basement doing battle with her darling’s soiled linens, finally loses it and yells back up:
NU, NAIGEH-TSURA’AS, KRENKST TSE KVETSHN DOOS KNAIPELEH?
Nu, are you too sick to push the button, you plague of psoriasis?
The medical motif is particularly strong in such a sentence. In such contexts, krenkst means “Are you suffering from some serious but unspecified disease that renders it impossible for you to perform the action that I’m about to name [and is usually something difficult like answering the phone, opening the door or doing the dishes]?” The questioner already knows that the answer is no; the fact that the verb krenken (“to be ill”) is being used tells everybody that the person to whom you’re speaking is in perfect physical health.
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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