Lexical Luxury

by Mark Chmiel

Take such words as “A poor man.” How many expressions are there in English for poor? You can say: “a poor man, a pauper, a beggar, a mendicant, a panhandler,” and this exhausts all that can be said about it. But in Yiddish you can say: “A poor schlemiel, a begging schlimazel, a pauper with dimples, a schnorrer multiplied by eight, a schlepper by the grace of God, an alms collector with a mission, a delegate from the Holy Land, a messenger from a Yeshiva, a miracle worker without a following, a Rabbi without a congregation, a poorhouse resident, a hungerman, a flying wanderer, a warden for his own needs, a squire with a hole, a barefoot count, an owner of a cabbage head, a bag carrier, a house-to-house visitor, dressed in seven coats of poverty, a crumb-catcher, a bone-picker, a plate licker, a daily observer of the Yom Kippur fast,” and more.

–Isaac Bashevis Singer, quoted in Florence Noiville’s Isaac B. Singer: A Life, p.86.

 

–Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary, edited by Gitil Schaechter-Viswanath and Paul Glasser

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