Above all, Yiddish - the Yiddish of the shtetl, the Yiddish of the Garment District - is a social language of community and commensality. Listen to its rhythms: questions answered with more questions; the elaborate, pardon-me-for-breathing apologies; the self-neutralising curses. The terrible mock - lig in drerd! - apotropaics. The awful, majestic fluency of the thing. It scolds and remonstrates; praises; tells stories; keeps you in your place; addresses our common humanity; abjures, in its very bones, privacy. Polite English maintains, wherever possible, an even surface upon which nothing - success, failure, disease, injustice - ever impinges. Confronted with the even keel so treasured by the English tongue, Yiddish has nothing whatever to say. It is only at home with the truth: the world is a very odd place populated by fools and incompetents (but few morons or thugs), where the quotidian virtues - a nosh, a klatsch, glik, kholems - take centre stage, where we might as well be honest because in the end we got bubkes and we shouldn't let it utz us.Ah. Leo Rosten, sir, we salute you. For bringing us the delights of Mr H*Y*M*A*N K*AP*L*A*N. This piece amuses.
Our two most famous "Prazidents" he listed as "Abram Lincohen" and "Judge Vashington." The principal parts of the verb "to fail" he gives as "fail, failed, bankropt"; those of "to die" as "die, dead, funeral." The opposite of "new" is "second hand," and the comparative degrees of "bad" are "bad," "worse," and "rotten." His wife, he says, suffers from "high blood pleasure." One of Kaplan’s sentences in a business letter to an uncle reads, "If your eye falls on a bargain please pick it up"; and when a classmate presumes to ridicule the sentence, Mr. Kaplan’s triumphant rejoinder is "Mine oncle has a gless eye." When in a burst of eloquence Kaplan uses a "beauriful" word (the word is "megnificent"), an admiring Mr. Bloom asks him after class, "How you fond soch a woid"? "By dip tinking," answers Mr. Kaplan, striding out like a hero.Why is it that the books about Hyman Kaplan are funny and witty yet the 70s British sitcom "Mind Your Language" ploughing the same furrow was racist, unfunny and generally crap?