May 23, 2008

Nu, nu, nu!

Being the grammarian and editrix that I am, I have to make a blog post about this. I choose my words carefully, knowing that people know that I am, in fact, an editor by trade. I'm very careful to make sure my words are not misused in the grammatical sense, and I do what I can. So on my post about the Conversion Debacle, I got a comment from someone who chose to put up ye olde "Anonymous" front, and I went ahead and posted the comment despite my policy of "your words aren't worth sharing if you can't stand behind your thoughts." In this case, it's pretty benign and more exciting for me because I get to defend my use of, well, the word "nu" (נו). In the blog post, I write:

So this is all I have to say -- right now anyway -- on this whole conversion debacle in Israel and Europe and everywhere else that converts are feeling the burn. I feel for them, we're kindred spirits wandering back to the mount together, catching up with the rest of the tribe camped there. I understand the frustration and the hurt, and I understand the want for it all to just go away and for the slippery slope to flatten out and become coarse as sand paper. But for now, we'll forge forth, nu?
The anonymous commenter in turn said, "A first step to advanced yiddishkeit would be the correct use of the term 'nu.' Best of luck with the conversion."

Firstly, I've already converted, albeit through the Reform movement. Not sure if commenter got that, but just in case, there's a clarification. Secondly, let's see if I misused the word "nu." In this instance, I was using it as sort of an "eh?" or "what can you do?"

The first thing I did was consider how I typically use it. I tend to use it in place of a thought like "don't you think?" not to mention frequently using it in place of "right?" or "eh?" or "so?" So to make sure I haven't been living a lie (which I was for the longest time with the word svelte), I did up the Google with: nu define yiddish.

I came up with a website of Common Hebrew and Yiddish Phrases: "This is an exclamation used in the same sense as 'well' 'eh' and 'hey.' " The site then proceeds to list off a ton of examples of usages. You can click the link if you really want to read them all (some are quite amusing). But, of course, being a copy editor, I know to not trust a lick of what I read on the internet and go to a true source -- Leo Rosten's "The New Joys of Yiddish."

According to Rosten, nu is "From Russian: nu, 'well,' 'well now,' etc." On the next page, he lists a massive 19 examples of how the word can be used -- all very different, but all (in my mind) accurate. He notes the different spellings, but all are pronounced "noooo" to rhyme with "cooo." This fellow, after all, is sort of the source for Yiddish for the non-Yiddish speaker. Among his examples:
2. "I saw you come out of her apartment." "Noo-oo?" (So-o?)
6. "I need the money. ... Nu?" (How about it?)
14. "They doubled the rent! Nu?" (What can one do?)
Being one who trusts the written word, not to mention Leo Rosten, I think I didn't misuse the word. (I'm leaning on Number 14/Number 2 here.) It's one of those words that has about a million variations. Perhaps, a variation for every Jew that numbers the planet.

Anyhow, that's my kvetch/spiel for the day, so please feel free to correct me if I'm completely off base or if Leo Rosten is a completely and utterly unreliable source for the Yiddish.

Until Sunday, Shabbat Shalom friends and foes!

BTW: For some humorous Yiddish puns, check out those on this website. I think my favorite is the "trayffic accident" ... ha!

5 comments:

carah said...

Gotta love Yiddish... nu?

Sam Love said...

As a convert-in-progress and a Russian Studies minor, I can tell you that Rosten's definition is spot on--at least from the Russian side of things. In Russian I hear it used most often within the phrase "nu, ladno" which means "well, okay." Also in Russian, "nu" seems to be used more often at the beginning of the sentence than the end. This is the same with the Yiddish I've heard, though since all the Jews I know are Russian or Ukrainian, they are probably more heavily influenced by Slavic languages, and may not representative of the "big picture" of Yiddishkeit.
I think you're on the right track with your usage of it, though I can see where someone might think it was incorrect.

chaviva said...

Oh yes, Carah :)

Thanks for the insight, Sam. And g'luck with the conversion!

צבי ישראל, על במותי חללית said...

better late than never, I guess:

One should also keep in mind he more expressive form of "Nu, Nu" - usually uttered with some sort of disgust expression or an onomatopoeic sound we'd call in Hebrew Tsiktsuk (ts ts).

Also, Nu is a word used in and out in Russian nowadays. Still, it maintains a certain negative disposition. One of he most common Nu expressions(beside nu, ladna) is "Nu, Konyechno" - meaning: but of course!(what'd you think, you half-twat?) which I got to hear quite a lot trekking he Caucasus and asking for directions, somewhat to my discomfort...

chaviva said...

Indeed with the better late than never. Thank you for the comments -- I didn't know there was any kind of negative tone associated with the word or the use in phrasing at all. You've educated me here!

I wish I was better with the Hebrew and could read your blog, though.

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