Small, Bright Ideas

It’s been too long since I posted to Tongue’s Memory. As is usual when perfectionism is a component of writer’s block (and one of my partly composed and discarded posts was exactly about this phenomenon), the writer begins to feel that the longer he has been silent, the more glorious his next piece has to be.

So, to fight this irrational barrier, I share a pair of kleynikaytn. A kleynikayt is a detail, a trifle. Except that the word is more often used ironically, to mean something actually is a big deal. Perfect here, because managing to put out a short, simple little post is actually a big deal to me. As an aside, yesterday I learned the word shmontses, which means ‘trinkets’, or ‘nonsense’, which has a very different feel, but is also bound to come in handy.

Today I am just going to share two pleasing but unconnected tidbits that I have recently encountered in my reading. When I started reading my grandfather’s work I was pleased to discover that, like me, he delighted in alliteration. My guess is that most writers love playing with words in all kinds of ways. In these two instances, he plays with double meanings. I do that, too. Though puns are often derided, when both meanings of a word are intended and fitting, it can be more than just a silly joke.

First, in a story, a woman receives a gift of a beautiful cut crystal glass bowl. She puts it in on the credenza and shpiglt zikh in dem. The verb zikh spiglen can mean “to delight in something,” to look at it with pleasure and pride. It can also mean “to look at one’s reflection,” since a shpigl is a mirror. Here, he clearly means both. The glass reflects, and also sparkles delightfully, and she is proud and happy to have it. The idea that we “see ourselves reflected” in our prized possessions, cuts deeper than in this rather literal example.

Elsewhere, an old woman lends a book (another prized possession) to a young boy. When he rushes through it, she chides him, saying, “An aynfal!” An aynfal (from German origin, ‘in’ plus ‘fall’), is an idea or a notion; even, with the appropriate intensifier, an inspiration. The image is of something coming into the mind from the outside. Here it is used sarcastically. There’s a bright idea. But an aynfal can also mean a ruin, or a collapse, as when something literally falls in on itself. The implication is that rushing through one’s studies too fast is a stupid idea, because notions built on a hasty foundation are bound to collapse.

For my part, I have been frustrated at how long it’s taking me to learn Yiddish. But it also matters how thoroughly one learns as one goes. Which I suppose, even as small ideas go, is rather obvious. Nevertheless, a reminder, if only to my self, can’t hurt.


Self Portrait with Bowl

Self portrait with glass bowl.

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