It happens every year. The lines in the Passover-shopping section last night awakened long dormant memories of Roller Derby and kheyder. There was plenty of shoving in both, but the Roller Derby players made a better living than my rebbes, even though they all engaged in behavior that would have landed them in the Haggadah had they done so anywhere else.

The Yiddish version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “He’s in the Jailhouse Now” would be Er zitst in khad gadye itst. As anyone who has ever made it to the end of a seder knows, khad gadye means “one kid”–that’s kid as in baby goat–and is the title of the song that ends the seder. Said to be the earliest known instance of the The-House-That-Jack-Built motif in western literature, Khad Gadye is an allegorical rendering of the history of the Jews and includes events that have still not come to pass.

The one thing never mentioned in Khad Gadye’s catalogue of retribution and deliverance is prison or confinement; its slang meaning has more to do with Poland than with prayer, and provides a clearer-than-usual illustration of the way in which aspects of non-Jewish culture are translated into Jewish religious terms for the sake of a laugh.

Goat in Polish is koze, and koze is also slang for jail. In a humorous reversal of fartaytshn, the translation and explication of the Bible that formed the basic technique of traditional education, a piece of Polish slang is “translated” into a well-known piece of loshn-koydesh, which then takes on the meaning of the Polish slang term — the more incongruously, the better.

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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