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The New Joys of Yiddish: Completely Updated Hardcover – October 2, 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

On the other hand, the revised edition of Rosten's 1968 The Joys of Yiddish, now the de facto standard reference on this topic, is designed as a lexicon of Yiddish words and phrases that have been, are becoming, or should be incorporated into the English language. The work explores the nuances and complexities of language, clarifying the interrelationship between Yiddish and English (Yinglish, according to Rosten). The lengthy alphabetical listing not only presents multiple spellings, pronunciation guides, definitions, and cross references but also illustrates usage with background information, anecdotes, and jokes, as well as breezy erudition in the form of tidbits of cultural history, Talmudic and biblical references, tips on pronunciation, and thoughtful commentary. These illustrations demonstrate Rosten's enthusiasm and love of the Yiddish language, qualities that distinguish his work as an ongoing, best-selling classic. In consultation with Rosten's daughters, Lawrence Bush, an editor, has updated the original, retaining its spirit and adding hundreds of new entries. The revision incorporates additional material on modern Yiddish literature and culture and updates on changes in American Jewish life and faith. Also included as an appendix is an English-Yiddish dictionary. Both reference works are highly recommended for language collections. Marilyn Rosenthal, Nassau Community Coll. Lib., Garden City, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Completely updated it's not. And who would want that anyway? What this new edition does is add fascinating bits of commentary to the late Leo Rosten's 1968 lexicon about how Yiddish has become part of colloquial English. More than ever, Yinglish is part of how we speak, not only in everyday words like shtick, shlep, mishmash, etc., but also in the wry shtetl idiom: melancholy, ironic, furious, schmaltzy, smart. Rosten says that language is culture, and in some ways editor Bush's new footnotes give a quick overview of Jewish American life in the last 30 years, including the changes in the role of women, the rise of Reform and other denominations, the comeback of Jewish mysticism, and the rising rate of intermarriage. Bush also adds some notes about the history of Yiddish and its current revival in academia, as theater, on the Internet, and in Israel. Most readers, though, will still grab this for the jokes and the stories, to read aloud and remember and to laugh about for years. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; Upd Sub edition (October 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609607855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609607855
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
First of all you may make the mistake I made and think that just because Leo Rosten's name is emblazoned in huge letters on the cover that this book was authored by him. He is deceased. In his absence the book has been completely gutted, the innuendo removed, the vulgarity lightened. The idea in the beginning was subversive. Bring to light the Yiddish language that had been excluded for so long from the European tradition, and let the gritty coloring of yiddish words speak for themselves. Instead of busying himself with a contrived story of yiddish culture, the first Joys of Yiddish really was just words. And the words were so good that they literally spoke for themselves. Just saying them and mulling them over was enough to expose the truth of where they came from, as well the lies of those who sought to repress them. This new book, The New Joys of Yiddish has swung completely the opposite direction. Now the book is filled with a contrived culture bound representation of Yiddish where Yiddish is all things Jewish. The author's daughters along with their hired script-nurse have recast the book in terms of modern Jewish identity politics, with Yiddish playing a lead role. If you are interested in such things, if for example you need to know that cockamammy is not Yiddish but sounds like a colorful Jewish expression, read on. I for one was saddened by their wholesale destruction of a great book that was keeping the candle burning for one of history's most subversive languages.
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Format: Paperback
There's no need to repeat the deservedly fine comments already posted about Rosten's book. I simply wish to recommend buying any edition PRIOR to this 2001 revision by Lawrence Bush. While Bush does preserve Rosten's witty text intact, he spoils things by adding agenda-driven footnotes throughout. Bush castigates Rosten for making Reform jokes (please! I was raised Reform, and I found them funny) and ruins the humourous "shadchan" (matchmaker) entry by going on at length about Jewish domestic abuse (a problem to be sure, but no more so than in any other ethnicity). Lighten up, Bush! Finally, he inserts commercials for Reconstructionism and Jewish Renewal, which are valid expressions of Judaism but are post-1950s American in origin and NOT a part of the old Yiddish culture Rosten celebrates. Stick with Rosten's original text if you can find it.
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Format: Hardcover
"America ganef!" my Grandma would exclaim upon encountering a pleasant surprise. (See JOY page 115.) That's my reaction seeing this old friend renewed, broader, more current and more liberal in its Jewish scope, and more lively and attractive because of the illustrations and layout. Yet it is still the warm, friendly, funny book I remember from nearly 30 years ago.
Somehow the New Joys of Yiddish has more meaning for me now that nearly all those family members I remember using Yiddish often - some relying on it almost entirely, others just when they used a forceful, colorful, close-to-the heart expression (which was very often) - are gone. The book evokes memories of those good people to whom we owe so much - if only for having had the wisdom to select this country for us and our children.
The book is like a warm and witty friend whose conversation brightens your home and is rarely pedantic. (At a couple of places, such as his seven page exposition on the messiah, he does go on too long.)
Two types of people will find this book enjoyable: those who read the original edition and those who didn't.
So to the Rosten family and Larry Bush - mazal tov!
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Format: Paperback
I used to have an old 70s paperback of the original version of "The Joys of Yiddish", but I eventually got rid of it because I found it a bit too superficial in its coverage. Being a language nerd I wanted to come to grips with Yiddish as a real language, and not just be able to drop the odd word into my conversation.

So I was in a bookshop on my lunch hour and this revised edition was sitting on the shelf beckoning to me and smiling. I gave in. It wasn't the definitions that got me, nor was it the occasional softpedalling when it came to etymology. The late great Israeli dissident Israel Shahak observed that the entry on "shaygets", which Rosten says is of "Possible Hebrew origin", obscures the fact that it's certainly derived from the Hebrew word "sheqets", which is used in the Torah to refer to things that are unclean - which in turn means that "shaygets" has a nastier and murkier edge than Rosten was willing to admit. (However, Webster's New World Hebrew-English dictionary, which is explicitly about modern Hebrew, defines "sheygets" only as "1. non-Jewish youngster; 2. [slang] cheeky fellow or young Jew with a non-Jewish appearance", so perhaps the word has lost some of its sting over the centuries. Then again, my Pocket Ben-Yehuda Hebrew-English Dictionary, dating from 1951, defines "sheqets" as an "unclean animal". Go figure.)

Elsewhere, I am forced to quibble with Rosten's suggestion that "shamus", meaning a cop or detective, is derived from the Yiddish "shammes". "Shammes" is pronounced (according to Rosten) SHAH-mes, but "shamus" is pronounced SHAY-mus, exactly like the Irish name "Seamus", which Rosten mentions as a possible origin but appears not to agree with.
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