Periodically, I’m struck by how clearly the English language mirrors Canada today: full of influences from the myriad cultures who have adopted it as their new native tongue.
My most recent epiphany came during preparations for a family celebration, when someone suggested we clear a coffee table of all the tchotchkes – or knickknacks — that decorated its surface. Tchotchke is a Yiddish word, and I was reminded about how many words from this language, once widely spoken by European Jews, are currently part of the English lexicon.
Growing up outside New York City, where there is a large Jewish population, I heard Yiddish words thrown into conversation regularly, but I’ve discovered that it isn’t merely a regional or ethnic peculiarity. Many of these terms have become integrated into the English language over the years.
For instance, how often do you schlep (carry or drag) groceries home from the market? When you attend a work function or a cocktail party, it’s natural to schmooze (chat, talk, network) with your co-workers and other guests. Movies are routinely dismissed as schmaltzy (overly sentimental), and common expressions are often given a bit of attitude by adding the common Yiddish prefix, schm; think of fancy-schmancy, for example.
Through the decades, immigrants have added spice to our cultural traditions, and they have also made English more interesting. Adding and embracing new words to our language is what keeps it alive and vibrant.