I finished my new novel “The Frumkiss Family Business” (due for release in Canada at the end of September) a couple of weeks ago and am laying low until it’s time to start editing…..
You call this a vacation? I’m so tired that I don’t even know how to describe myself. Am I oysgemutshet un oysgematert, “run down and weary, exhausted and exhausted?” Don’t ask me. Mutshet comes from Yiddish’s Slavic component, matert from the German; there is no real distinction between them because we’re all too tired to remember the difference.
Maybe, though, I look like a hon nokh tashmish, “a rooster after the hens have been trod.” Anyone who’s spent any time on a chicken farm or read Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale knows that a rooster will service any number of hens in a single night, thus giving the rooster’s owners a chance to sleep in the next day. Using a word like tashmish makes the expression cute. Tashmish is the generally accepted shorthand for tashmish ha-mite, use of the bed, the standard rabbinic euphemism for sexual intercourse found in commentaries and legal codes from Talmudic times to today. It’s usually translated as “conjugal duty” or “nuptial rights.” Although man is obliged to “pay” these to his wife on her return from the mikve, it’s absurd to discuss conjugal duties or use vocabulary of this type when talking about poultry; Yiddish pretends that the rooster is a pious Jew who is busy with the punctilious performance of a religious duty, a Jew–for the sake of this idiom—who is always losing sleep because he has so many mitsves to fulfill: the shabbes tables of America depend on his exhaustion next morning.
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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