After twenty-five years in an apartment previously occupied by Glenn Gould, I’m about to move into a beautiful, roomy house in one of Toronto’s most impeccably gentile neighborhoods, ten minutes by foot from the nearest shul. Looking the place over while the previous owners were still in residence reminded me of one of my mother’s favorite terms of opprobrium: shlimazlnitseh, a bad housekeeper, the female embodiment of domestic clumsiness and ill luck.
It wasn’t that the departing balebosteh couldn’t be bothered, she just couldn’t get it together to look after things the way she would have liked to. This aspect of helplessness helps to distinguish the shlimazlnitseh from the dreaded shlumperkeh, also known as the shtinkerkeh, who is as close as Yiddish comes to an idea of Jewish trailer-park trash, although it often means little more than a neighbor whom your mother dislikes.
Dishes piled high in the sink, mould sprouting from the unwashed floor, the shlumperkeh is a working-class Emma Bovary, in love with her own leavings. Everything is too much for her, housework is beneath her; the shlumperkeh hot ken mol nisht ken koyekh, she never has the strength or the energy to do what she’s supposed to–despite the fact that not having anything else to do is an essential pre-condition of true shlumperkism: “I have to take the kids to soccer, don’t expect me to clean the house!” The shlimazlnitseh is incompetent; the shlumperke just doesn’t care.
Meanwhile, I’m scrubbing like it’s Pesach in January.
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.
[phpbay]yiddish, 4, “”, “”[/phpbay]