Author Archives: Matthew Guichard

Insult – Yiddish

Yiddish Insult

Schmuck—a loser, a dope, a fool.

Performer’s analysis: When I was in Germany (during World War II) I saw this word on a sign over a fancy retail establishment. I was stunned to learn that it meant “Jeweler” in German. Go figure.

Collector’s Analysis: Schmuck, which is Yiddish for loser, has entered American language and is widely used in the United States today. Schmuck entered the United States at the turn of the century with the arrival of thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe who came over to fulfill the American Dream. Essentially, Schmuch has been borrowed and ultimately adopted by the English as an insult for someone who is an idiot or a fool.

It also should be noted that schmuck, though it is intended to mean idiot, is derived from the word penis (dick). The use of penis or dick as an insult in the United States is quite common. In the dorms, when someone refers to another person as a “dick”, it more often that not means that person is an idiot and stupid.

Tradition – Italian-American

Italian-American Tradition

Tradition: Although both sets of grandparents passed away while I was quite young, there are still a few traditions that I can remember.   A big family tradition was Sunday Church and dinner.  First we would go to our weekly Sunday Church service. Then it was on to a huge meal and usually the only meal of the day and was served around 1:00 pm.  Most of the family attended.  The women in the family gathered in the kitchen to help prepare the meal.  The meal began with an assortment of appetizers or “antipasto” – roasted peppers, olives, pepperoni, cheeses, ham, fresh bread and butter.   It was followed by a salad made of fresh lettuces, plum tomatoes, chick peas, red onion, and plenty of the best olive oil.  The main meal was, of course, spaghetti with meatballs, sausage and braccioli, (rolled and stuffed pork).  The sauce took hours to make because the secret of it was to slow cook it with all the meat added to it.  (I try and attempt the recipe later on).  The main course was not the end.  Desserts – pies, cookies, pastries, and baskets of fresh fruit and nuts (complete with nutcrackers) were set on the table and coffee was served.  The meal seemed lasted all day.  While the adults gathered around an extended table conversing, joking and laughing, the children were all gathered around a smaller table.  The idea was when you grew up, you could sit at the adult table too!  Older cousins had already made it to that table.

Performer’s Analysis: Back in the Northeast for Italian Americans, Sunday Church and dinner were very common. My husband Lou would even have a 7 course meal on Sundays! These dinners were hosted usually by 1st generation Italians, and as the family spread out, this tradition became more sparse.

Collector’s Analysis: This Italian-American tradition, which seems to be slowly dying as families disperse throughout the country, was common in the Northeast with large Italia-American families demonstrates tradition kept from Italy and even broader in Europe. Its important to note as well that weekly Sunday church and dinner fall under tradition rather than heritage because it is a mode of activity passed down from generation. Michele’s tradition does have some variation to it as well; her husband Lou used to eat a larger, 7-course meal on Sundays. Depending on where in Italy you are from, the meal is different and more or less expansive. In general, the farther north in Italy, the classier the meal.

Tradition – Italian-American

Italian American Tradition

Tradition and Performer’s Analysis: Wine was always a big part of any meal.  My paternal grandparents actually made their own red wine.  I never saw this actually happen but I did get to taste the results of their efforts.  My favorite of their traditions, however, was the jarred cherries that usually appeared around the holidays.  In the summer, fresh, pitted cherries were put into mason jars and covered with brandy.  The jars were sealed and stored in the basement for months.  These were the best cherries we ever tasted. We usually ate the cherries around the holidays and served them on ice cream and whatnot.

Collector’s Analysis: Like Sunday Dinner, Brandied Cherries fall under tradition because they represent a mode of activity and not so-called thoughts on tradition. It’s also important to stress the importance of retaining certain pastimes and activities from the country of emigration. Whether it be the Jews with certain recipes or Italians keeping traditions, there is a sentiment to respect the past.

Annotation: “Raised Italian-American: Stories, Values and Traditions from the Italian Neighborhood” by Joseph J. Bonocore

Tradition – Jewish

Jewish Tradition

Jewish tradition to name a child with the first initial of a dearly departed relative; I named my two sons in this manner.

Matthew Jean-Paul (Myer, maternal, paternal great grandfather, Jean-Paul, paternal grandfather)

Jeffrey Lawrence (Jeanette, maternal, maternal great grandmother; Leonard, maternal, paternal uncle.

Collector’s Analysis: Before collecting this folklore, I had no idea that my name was based on this tradition. While my mother Leslie is not a practicing a Jew, she still continues to use some Jewish tradition. Once again, it highlights the difference between tradition and heritage. Leslie considers herself of Jewish heritage, yet she does not consider herself Jewish.

Recipe – Italian

Italian Recipe

Recipe and Performer’s Analysis: The Italian recipes in my family are rather rare too.  Recipes were never written down common among Italians. Recipes were always passed down by way of spoken word. Whenever I asked an Aunt or Uncle how to make something, I was always told it was just a pinch of this and a pinch of that.  They decided how much of an ingredient was necessary by tasting.   Watching relatives make something was the only thing you could go on.  But since as a child I spent many hours “trying to help” I actually did learn something and I could duplicate some of the recipes from Sunday dinner.  The main event of dinner was the spaghetti sauce and I could always tell a good sauce from a bad one.  The sauce had to start with fresh garlic, (sliced very thin) and sautéed in olive oil.  Plum tomatoes were added and squeezed to get out the juices and then chopped up.  They we added fresh oregano, fennel seed, basil, a bay leaf or two, and salt and pepper to taste.  It was slow cooked for hours to eliminate the acid from the tomatoes and they always added the meatballs, sausage, and braccioli to the sauce and let it all cook together to get the flavor.

Collector’s Analysis: This Italian recipe is interesting because it is unwritten, and spoken in contrast with the Jewish collections I collected that are very specific and orderly. This unwritten recipe is very typical of folklore, because it depends on the performers interpretation. When folklore is passed down through speech, it creates variation and multiplicity.

Annotation: “Raised Italian-American: Stories, Values and Traditions from the Italian Neighborhood” by Joseph J. Bonocore