Friday, November 30, 2012

Yiddish for Dogs (Janet Perr)

Yiddish for Dogs (Chutzpah, Feh!, Kibbitz, and More): Every Word Your Canine Needs to Know

Yiddish for Dogs (by Janet Perr) is a must-have book for both dog lovers, and those who are curious about Yiddish. Does your dog need to know Yiddish, perhaps they do. Do you need to know Yiddish? Of course, you do. Or at least enough to be able to nod your head intellectually when it is used around you.

I grew up around Yiddish. I did not learn enough to be fluent in it. Just the occasional word, for which there is no English equivalent, such as Oy and Shlep.

Janet Perr in her introduction talks about how she thought her father was making up words, and then later learned that many of them were actually Yiddish words. I also had that experience, though it was more my grandparents and less my father. Perr, at least, had the advantage of knowing that she had a Jewish heritage. My family, on the other hand, had long buried their ancestral roots, and it only though hints and a lot of research that I finally figured it out.

I guess that is part of the reason why I am fascinated by Yiddish. It is part of the heritage that I was not allowed to have while growing up. It is part of the family past that has long been forgotten, yet traces of it remained even after the family did their best to cover up their Jewishness.

The other part of my fascination with Yiddish comes from being a writer. Quite simply, Yiddish has words that we have no counterpart for. Yiddish is spoken from the soul of the European Jew; it is a product of the Jewish experience.

Leafing though Yiddish for Dogs is a delicious trip through the eyes of another culture. And I found it to be a learning experience also; I discovered several new Yiddish words that I did not know before.

For instance, there is a word to describe my rambling, long, what was the point of all this, stories that I sometimes (or maybe it is often) engage in. "Megillah" is such a nice little word for those tales that come out of my mouth, or sometimes off my keyboard. Should I tell the wife that the word exists? Maybe not. She might actually use it against me.

The wife knows no Yiddish. She still thinks that I made up the word "shlep." But I didn't, it is a good useful Yiddish word. And I do end up shleping a lot; what do I look like a mule? I am quite sure that my purpose on this earth is not just to carry heavy boxes.

Not only is Yiddish for Dogs a nice list of useful Yiddish words, the writing of Perr is a delight. She writes from the viewpoint of the dogs, who I can very well imagine using those exact Yiddish words.
For instance, we have all met the dog that has said the following: "What can I say about FRESSING? Obviously my favorite activity. And believe me, I'll eat anything that you put in front of me." He lives right next door to me; he probably lives next door to you too. You know the dog I am talking about--a keg on four legs.

Perr is not only a funny writer; she is also a good photographer and artist. The illustrations of the dogs are a hoot. With the use of collage, Perr has produced a picture for each word that is worth the price of the book all by themselves.

For instance, the dog for the word "Shlemiel" is a cigarette smoking dachshund sitting in front of a no smoking sign; exactly something that a shlemiel would actually do. And the picture of "Plotz" without any retouching sums up the emotional sense of that word quite nicely.

So if you are a dog lover, or have one in the family, check out Yiddish for Dogs. The dogs will thank you, and you will finally understand what they are saying.

Janet Perr. Yiddish for Dogs (Chutzpah, Feh!, Kibbitz, and More): Every Word Your Canine Needs to Know. New York: Hyperion (2007).

[This review originally appeared on Associated Content (Yahoo Voices) on 11/20/2007. The book was brought and paid for by myself.]

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