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Interjections! With A Jewish Past

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Hey! Remember the Schoolhouse Rock video about interjections? These are expressions like: “whoa,” “yow,” “ouch,” “oh,” “hooray,” “aww,” “eek,” “rats,” “darn” and “wow.” Or even “oy!” as in some blog or other.

There is a whole book of them, called Zounds! by Mark Dunn, and I recently rediscovered it on my shelf. Leafing through it, I found a surprising number of fairly common ones such as “oy” that stem from Hebrew, Yiddish, and Yinglish. Well, maybe not all that surprising, considering the number of movies, TV shows, stand-up bits and songs with Jewish writers. Anyway, here some English interjections with— gevalt!— a Jewish history (linked to songs, bands, movies, TV shows, etc. that use them). 

There are lots, so rather than overwhelm you, here are letters “A” through “H” for starters. Stay tuned for the rest.  



This magical mumbo-jumbo is probably from the Aramaic (the language of the Talmud and the Kaddish) for “I create as I speak,” with the vowels changed to make it rhyme with itself.  

It predates Chaucer, but was popularized by Jewish comics to the point of being able to stand alone as a punchline: “Waiter, taste my soup.” “All right… where’s the spoon?” “Aha!” Dunn says: “In Yinglish, [it] expresses emotions from subtle understanding to triumphant exultation.”  

Dunn: “Found in both Spanish and Yiddish … from stopped-dead-in-one’s-tracks to anguished regret and dismay.”  

All right, already
It means, “I still disagree, but will go along to stop your kvetching.” Dunn: “First heard in the Bronx …  since the late 19th century, but did not become really popular until after WWII.”  

We Jews respond to a blessing with this word, which comes from the same root as the Hebrew word emunah or “faith.” But everyone uses it to mean, “Indeed!” or “And how!” Dunn: “According to the Talmud, the word is to be enunciated with power and conviction, thus helping to open the doors of paradise.” Amen to that!  

A response to a sneeze, it means “good health.” As it happens, almost all cultures respond to sneezes with a verbal get-well card. It may have been one of the earliest forms of a public health policy!  

Gut Shabbes
On Shabbat, it means, “hello.” But what about the rest of the week? Dunn: “a sarcastic or ironic affirmation or statement of incredulity.” He compares it to “Good grief!” (A more emphatic version, which means something else, was coined by no less than the Hebrew Hammer).  

Found throughout the Psalms, it is a compound word: hallel, meaning “praise,” plus one of the Holy Names. A holiday prayer comprised of Psalms, called “Hallel,” and the great rabbi Hillel also take their names from the same root word. Dunn: “Used both within and without the house of worship to express joy or jubilation.” (OK, we’ll link to the sad Leonard Cohen song, too.)  

This was coined not by Jews, but by our haters. “Hep! Hep!” was a cry used to round up goats, and so by goons— calling themselves “Hep Hep Squads” to initiate pogroms. There was even one international “Hep Hep Riot” in 1819: “The attacks on Jews and Jewish property spread from there to the whole of Germany … the rioting reached as far as Denmark and Poland.” This is not from Dunn, but the Jewish Virtual Library. (Dunn traces “Hip” to “Hep” also, but relates it to the jazz usage— as in “hep-cat”— and “hooray/hurray/hurrah” back to “huzzah.”)

This is not the Al Pacino catchphrase from Scent of a Woman. It is a Yinglish catchall. Here, Dunn cites Yiddish linguist Leo Rosten as finding “no fewer than 17 meanings: surprise, envy, scorn, confusion” and also “Oh, big deal!” “Like hell,” “Imagine that,” “Don’t be silly,” and “I don’t believe it.”

“Save us, please!” is the literal meaning of this pleading prayer, found in the above-mentioned Hallel. A cycle of Hoshanna prayers for Sukkot culminates in Hoshanna Rabbah, the “Great Hoshanna,” in which all seven of these are recited while circling the bimah with the lulav and etrog. Then the word showed up in the gospels, and then in Christian liturgy and song. Now, Merriam-Webster has it as any “cry of acclamation and adoration.”

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