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Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won't Do) Paperback – September 9, 2008


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Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won't Do) + Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods (P.S.) + Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Rep Blg edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061657328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061657320
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is not your bubbe's—or Leo Rosten's—Yiddish. Translator, novelist and performer Wex follows his witty and erudite Born to Kvetch with a colorful, uncensored guide to the idiomatic, use of Yiddish in such areas as madness, fury, and driving, mob Yiddish, insults and thirteen designations for the human rear (in declining order of politeness). Wex is knowledgeable about the biblical and Talmudic roots of some colloquial phrases; for example, he points out that tukhes (ass as he translates it) may be derived from Tuhkhes, one of the places where the Israelites sojourned on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. While most of Wex's discussions of words and phrases are brief, he provides lengthier sections on five key, highly nuanced Yiddish words: nu (Well?), shoyn (already, right away), epes (something, somewhat), takeh (precisely) and nebakh (alas). Wex's advice on the complex usage of these words can help even the greenest Yiddish speaker. The book could have given more attention to regional dialects and there are a few organizational quirks. Still, Wex offers both fun and instruction for the non-maven. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“More than just a dictionary, Wex’s book waxes on the possible Biblical origins of certain phrases and offers useful phrases as well. Wex’s parents must be kvelling.” (New York Post)

“This treasure trove of linguistics, sociology, history and folklore offers a fascinating look at how, through the centuries, a unique and enduring language has reflected an equally unique and enduring culture.” (Publishers Weekly)

“All the wonderful elements of Yiddish language and culture are represented here. Highly recommended” (Library Journal)

“So you enjoyed Michael Wex’s Born to Kvetch, a North American introduction to Yiddish…? Even if you have no social connection with the haredi Ashkenazic community, you will probably also enjoy Just Say Nu - Yiddish for Every Occasion…. [I]t’s a delight.” (Jerusalem Post)

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Oy, Shprintse, what a book! It's a lecture on Yiddish, no doubt, and also on religion as the essential part to understand what's going on in the language. And it's so funny on such a high level that one may think the jokes will be missed -- but that's what I feared when I read "Born To Kvetch" already which has turned into a hit instead. Wex is not resting on the success of BTK (don't even think of Dennis Rader or the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company). JSN risks to introduce its own transliteration on top of YIVO's. But, hell, it works and turns pronunciation into fun! This is not a Yiddish for Dummies. Kvelling on scholarship, life and love, Just Say Nu manages to unite science, fun and understanding of a language that -- and this book proves it -- has SURVIVED hell.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Rachael Kafrissen on November 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
With Just Say Nu, Michael Wex has again given us something rare in popular literature about Yiddish, a laugh out loud synthesis of scholarship and humor. It's an entry point to Yiddish that I wish had been around when I started studying the language as an undergraduate.

In fact, Just Say Nu should probably have been published before Born To Kvetch. It covers the basics that Kvetch (which covers much more advanced cultural contexts of Yiddish life) skipped over. Just Say Nu literally starts at the beginning, covering the nuances of language basics (like greetings and interjections) and delves into the many non-verbal aspects of Yiddish conversation.

Just Say Nu will give the you the conversational tools to handle any Jewish situation, whether it's running into Rabbi Goldberg at the burlesque house or getting your pain in the ass brother or sister to pass the milk at the table.

I only have one quarrel with Mr. Wex. He claims that Yiddish is unique in that it can diminish human misery without providing a concomitant increase in happiness. Yiddish brings me closer to the entirety of Jewish experience, both the good and the bad, the cursed and the blessed, the happy and the reserved. Just Say Nu, and the richness of Yiddish within it, did indeed provide an increase in happiness.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Eliezer ben Avrohom on December 29, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book with all of the idioms of "real" Yiddish, that you will never learn at a YIVO class. The author describes the "zaftike" expressions of "poylishe yidn" with great talent. Frankly there were one or two places where his etymology is suspect (at least to me) and his transliteration system takes some getting used to (even for those of us who speak Yiddish fluently.) Notwithstanding these minor shortcomings it is an excellent work that deserves to be in the bookshelf of every serious Yiddish student, teacher, and speaker. Alot of these expressions are dying out even among the Yiddish-speaking Orthodox communities, where subtle language shift is taking place, and some of the racier expressions are never used by them in any case. Familiarizing yourself with these idioms will make it a helluva lot easier to read Isaac Bashevis Singer (and others) in the original.

It is less "cutesy" than "Born to Kvetch", which I also recommend highly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Wex points out that in Yiddish one tends to go for the negative more than the positive. And in fact this work which aims to help us learn how to speak Yiddish also provides insight into the 'Yiddish mentality and culture'. It has a small dictionary at the end, and also a small grammar section. It has sections on 'Greeting and Meeting' ' Stages of Life'
'Food and Drink' 'Family Life' 'Protective Phrases' 'Madness, Fury and Driving' 'Health and Illness' ' Love and Sex' ' Happiness and Pleasure'.
It has much humor and taken small bits at a time, as nosherei it is a truly enjoyable and instructive work.
However in the spirit of the book I will register a few complaints. How after all could one learn to speak Yiddish without learning how to complain? The spelling is not the spelling, and the pronunciation not the pronounciation of the world of my childhood. That does not make it wrong, it makes it irritating for me. I too found myself again and again less interested in new words and concepts then in my memory of old ones. And also, perhaps above all learning the 'meaning' of 'words and phrases' I heard in childhood but did not know the meaning of.
I was surprised at how many Yiddish words I know because of my knowing Hebrew. And it seems to me Wex does not emphasize enough the Hebrew origin of much in Yiddish.
On the whole however I will do what should be done here, and 'fargennen' ' praise and compliment this wonderful 'sefer'.
And this of course said with the memory and knowledge in mind of what happened to the great share of those for whom Yiddish was truly their mameloshen. May God preserve their memory and their souls.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven B. Rubinson on June 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
But seriously, folks....

Now I finally know something about the history behind some of the yiddish words I heard from relatives and at the synagogue.

The appendices were the part I read first. For movie trivia buffs, there is an appendix that includes an explanation of the Yiddish spoken by Ed Begley Jr. in the movie "A Mighty Wind", among others. Even one early Daffy Duck cartoon (my personal role model) contains a Yiddish sign.

The language explained ranges from common usage to graphic descriptions, especially in the chapter on love and sex, so parts of this book may be unsuitable for children. A few superstitions are well-explained, as are perspectives on other religions, especially Christianity.

The author's Liberal political bent is also reflected in some of the comments he makes in his book. While I disagree with Mr. Wex's politics, his comments are examples of free speech. Ironically, Mr. Wex is from Canada, yet most of his political comments are regarding the US. He's the Neil Young of Yiddish!

His book "Born to Kvetch" is now in my wish list.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews


More About the Author

Author of Born to Kvetch, columnist, bon vivant and raconteur, Michael Wex has been called "a Yiddish national treasure;" Born to Kvetch, the bestselling book ever written about Yiddish, was hailed by The New York Times as "wise, witty and altogether wonderful."

A native of Lethbridge, Alberta, Wex has worked in virtually every area of contemporary Yiddish. Some of his songs have been recorded by such klezmer bands as Sukke, The Flying Bulgars, and 2007 Grammy winners, The Klezmatics.

Wex's teaching and lecture activities-a unique combination of learning, stand-up comedy and probing investigation into the nature of Yiddish and Yiddishkayt-have taken him from Toronto to Budapest, and to many points in between. His approach is so unique and appealing that his annual series of classes at Klezkamp (a yearly Yiddish cultural event in upstate New York) has been renamed Wexology-and not at Wex's instigation. The only complaint ever heard is that people are enjoying themselves so much that they forget to take notes.

You can find Michael Wex at www.michaelwex.com

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