I was recently asked how Yiddish refers to people who live together without what used to be called “benefit of clergy.” The short answer is, as infrequently as possible. Indeed, as soon as the news gets out, the woman’s older relatives will all nod sagely and whisper that they’d always suspected that the girl shpint nisht ken tsitsis dortn, “isn’t spinning [i.e., knitting, weaving] any tsitsis there”; she’s leading a less than virtuous life. As recently as a few years ago, this expression was a favorite of adult relatives of girls who’d “gone bohemian” in college and were alleged to be living vi got in frankraykh, “like God in France,” or, as my mother used to say, vi um shabbes in holevud, “like it was shabbes in Hollywood.”
The best way I’ve heard of referring to a “significant other” with whom you might be cohabiting but to whom you are certainly not married is as a freg-nisht or freg-nisht-tse. The former is a male, the latter female; the phrase is used by the mekhutonim manqués to describe the one who isn’t their kid. Freg nisht means “don’t ask”; turned into a noun, it takes on the sense of “the-name-and-character-of-the-person-in-question-so-disgust-me-that-I-can’t-bring-myself-to-mention-him-or-her-by-name”: “So tell me, Miss Educated-Home-From-College-Who-Has-No-Further-Use-For-Morals, vus makht der freg-nisht, how’s the Don’t-Ask?” It means “lover,” and were there a choice between two Yiddish translations of the same English novel, Froy Chatterly’s Gelibter wouldn’t stand a chance against Froy Chatterly’s Freg-Nisht.
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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