Is the New York Times Trying to Clean Up Yiddish?

After an interview with the New York Times, The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg was asked by Times editors to replace the word 'tuchus' with a 'more elegant' word.

Natasha Mozgovaya
Natasha Mozgovaya
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Natasha Mozgovaya
Natasha Mozgovaya

Yiddishisms have become an inseparable part of American jargon. Oprah claimed to have made up the word shlumpadinka, sparking a retort from a Jewish blogger who likened Oprah's claim to Al Gore's assertion that he invented the internet. President Barack Obama uses the word chutzpah and during the election even had the sense of humor to use the term schvartze during a meeting with Jews. Comedian Jon Stewart freely speaks "Yinglish" a combination of Yiddish and English and Stephen Colbert, who hosted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on his program on Wednesday, exclaimed "Holy Shtetl".

But is Yiddish jargon under attack from one of the world's leading newspapers? Jeffrey Goldberg, an influential Jewish journalist for The Atlantic Magazine, wrote on his blog that when he was interviewed by the New York Times recently, he was asked to change the word tuchus to something "more elegant."

"I don't necessarily believe you solve all of America's problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen by freezing settlement growth. On the other hand, there's no particular reason for Israel to make itself a pain in the tush either," was how Goldberg was quoted in the interview with the New York Times' Helene Cooper.

Goldberg had originally used the word tuchus instead of tush. But several hours after the interview, Cooper called Goldberg and told him that New York Times editors wanted him to suggest a different word to replace tuchus. Goldberg asked Cooper what she thought would be a suitable replacement and she came up with tushie.

"I responded by questioning whether the word tushie could be considered more elegant than the word tuchus," Goldberg wrote on his blog. "I also told her that I could not allow myself to be quoted using the word tushie because I am no longer four years old."

In the end, Goldberg and Cooper settled on tush to replace tuchus. But Goldberg's friend Mark Leibovich called Goldberg a coward (with a more vulgar term) for using the word tush. Leibovich himself used the phrase "pain in the tuchus" in a Washington Post article in 2002.

On his blog, Goldberg wrote a list of words of Jewish origin that he promised to not use in the New York Times, including putz, mamzer, shlong, shtup, knish and shvantz.

But the attempt to clean Yiddish from American English could run into challenges, particularly in New York City. Jewish words have penetrated spoken English via Hollywood and from the presence of large Jewish communities in cities throughout the U.S., mainly the Big Apple.

English words of Yiddish origin fall into two main categories: curses and insults, like the ones Goldberg promised not to use, and food terms, like kosher, bagel and blintz.

The word shlamazel, also used in spoken English, won a special recognition several years ago when a group of language experts elevated it to second on the list of words most difficult in the world to translate, behind only a word from the Tshiluba language, spoken in southeastern Congo.

Many Yiddish terms have become part of everyday spoken English in the United States.Credit: Archive



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