Context: The 20-year-old informant from Montclair, New Jersey was telling me how his mother’s grandfather, the informant’s great-grandfather, was a Yiddish teacher for many years. He often spoke fluent Yiddish to his granddaughter, and she picked up many interesting and sometimes hilarious phrases, jokes, and proverbs. I asked him if he could give me a few examples of these Yiddish phrases, and he told me that there is one thing that his grandparents, and sometimes his mother, always say to him. While this proverb always contributes the same meaning, it can be delivered in a multitude of variations, each one more descriptive than the next.
Piece: “So my great-grandfather was a Yiddish teacher, and he taught my mother many Yiddish phrases, which she, in turn, passed down to me. Definitely, the most memorable thing that he used to say was how he would tell someone to leave a room in response to them doing something idiotic or clumsy. Or if a person just said something rude, or like flat out stupid.”
1. Yiddish: “Gay esen a bagel”
English: “Go eat a bagel”
2. Yiddish: “Gay kachen afen yahn”
English: “Go take a shit in the ocean”
Analysis: While these two examples of folk speech seem to be completely different in meaning when first heard, they are actually employed to convey the same message: I want you to leave my presence. The speaker may not actually want the recipient of these words to leave; it may just be a way to bring a certain humorous shame upon the subject. I have noticed an interesting trend in the folk speech of eastern Europeans, such as Germans, Pollocks, and those who speak Yiddish. There seems to be an abundance of humor involving vivid, oftentimes grotesque imagery of the human body engaged in vulgar acts, sometimes even involving bodily fluids. Such a level of vulgarity is only socially acceptable to use if you are speaking to a family member or anyone else that you are very close to. When a father tells his son to “Gay kachen afen yahn” or “go shit in the ocean,” he is using it partially as a term of endearment. This type of folk speech, specifically telling someone to leave a room, exists in many other places around the world, including the United States, where they say, “Go take a hike!”