For Jews, kvetching is a way of understanding the world. It is rooted, like so much of Jewish culture, in the Bible where the Israelites grumble endlessly. They complain about their problems, and complain as much about the solutions. They kvetch in Egypt and they kvetch in the desert; no matter what God does, it's wrong. In Yiddish Jews found the perfect language for their complaints. In kvetching they made complaining into an art form.Yiddish was the main spoken language for Jews for over a thousand years and its phrases, idioms and expressions paint a comprehensive picture of the psychology that helped the Jews of Europe to survive unrelenting persecution. In Born to Kvetch Michael Wex looks into the origins of this surplus of disenchantment, and examines how it helped to create the abundance of striking idioms and curses in Yiddish. Michael Wex takes a serious but funny look at the language that has shaped and was shaped by those who spoke it. Featuring chapters on the Yiddish relationship to food, nature, God, death and even sex, he allows his scholarship and wit to roam freely from Sholem Aleichem to Chaucer and Elvis Presley. A treasure trove of linguistics, sociology, history and folklore -- an inspiring portrait of a people, and a language, in exile.
Fortunately, despite its title and cover photo, this is not a kitschy book about a folksy language spoken by quaint, elderly Jews. It is, rather, an earthy romp through the lingua franca of Jews, which has roots reaching back to the Hebrew Bible and which continues to thrive in 21st-century America. Canadian professor, translator and performer Wex has an academic's breadth of knowledge, and while he doesn't ignore your bubbe's tsimmes, he gives equal time to the semantic nuances of putz, schmuck, shlong and shvants. Wex organizes his material around broad, idiosyncratic categories, but like the authors of the Talmud (the source for a large number of Yiddish idioms), he strays irrepressibly beyond the confines of any given topic. His lively wit roams freely, and Rabbi Akiva and Sholem Aleichem collide happily with Chaucer, Elvis and Robert Petrie. Academics, and others, will be disappointed at the lack of source notes, and a few errors have crept in (the fifth day of Sukkot is not Hoshana Rabba, for instance). Overall, however, 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.