Saturday, March 03, 2007

On Tchotchke


*That's all I can say. It's terrible science!*

Sez Walter, the linguist. He's up on his soapbox, all irritated.

This, in response to Wikipedia's discussion of the origin of the word tchotchke:

*Tchotchke (originally from Yiddish tshatshke (often spelled in a variety of other ways because there is no standardized transliteration) (trinket), ultimately from a Slavic word for "toys" ― Polish: cacka, Russian: цацки) are trinkets, small toys, knickknacks, baubles, or kitsch. The term has a connotation of worthlessness or disposability, as well as tackiness. For example, an overly ostentatious piece of jewelry, valuable or not, might be referred to as a tchotchke.*

See, Pretty Lady has this fancy Kleenex box habit. Which confession led to a commenter's spurious and unfounded insinuation of a tolerance by Pretty Lady - whose excellent taste seems beyond question to ME at least! -

- for tchotchke.

Walter's birth tongue was Hungarian; his second language is Slovak. (Yep, he's half each.) The Slovak word for *toys* is hracky (haRATCHky). That's Eastern Slovak dialect. Meaning, we're not sure if it's really Slovak or Ukrainian.

AND, while Polish cacka may have multiple uses formally or in slang, in Hungarian, kaka means one thing only: *shit.*

Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian are all Slavic languages. Hungarian is not. Interestingly, Hungarian's only linguistic relative is Finnish. Since these always struck me as hilariously different peoples, especially in appearance, I invented a nice shaggy dog story to explain how such geographically separated tribes ended up sharing a root language. But that's another story.

Walter's main objection is this: If Yiddish is an amalgamation of words from ever so many other languages, what business does Wikipedia have saying any word *comes from* Yiddish? You can say it's originally Slavic, adopted by and widely used in Yiddish, transported to New York, yada yada yada. But you can't say *originally from Yiddish* then *ultimately from Slavic.* That makes no sense at all. Any etymology should start with the ancient tongue and go northwards - or south, as the case may be - from there.

Among the very many reasons I love him so much? This man is Not Boring.

Not even first thing in the morning, when our coffee's barely begun to cool.


prettylady said...

Hey, and I couldn't even spell 'tchotchke' correctly, with a template right in front of me to copy. Well hijacked.

Of course, if Walter knows better than Wikipedia, Walter should get in there and change it. That's the nature of Wikipedia. Information monitor by the Masses.

Chris Rywalt said...

Thanks to being from New York City, I'm using "tchotchke" directly from Yiddish, so I'm not worried about where it comes from.

pepektheassassin said...

My grandson, who is five, and needs sometimes to say "tchotshke!" says instead, "Oh, barnacle!" or. sometimes, when he's really pissed, "Tartar sauce!"

I was curious about the origins of these. I discovered they are early Sponge Bob.

Desert Cat said...

I don't know how accurate this is, given that my grandmother forgot how to speak Polish about twenty years before I was born (except for a few choice 'naughty' words), but in her Polish lexicon, cac was "shit", not cacka.

Granny J said...

Harumph. Credit our modern schools for teaching sloppy reasoning (and reporting!) Nonetheless,it's a wonderful word and addition to
our language.

DNR said...

Prettylady is right! The best thing about open source is that it’s open. Tell him to get in there and change it!

k said...

Well, Pretty Lady, one thing Wiki DID point out is, there's actually no hard-and-fast spelling to it. So it looks like we all get a free pass on that one, for once.

And maybe that's a good thing in its way, Granny J - somehow the Wiki-ness seems to kind of go with the word itself, doesn't it? Murky in all directions, even while it sparkles at us in its actual use.

The fact that Wikipedia is what it is, is what had me grinning extra to myself throughout. However, I courteously refrained from mentioning the *go in and fix it* option until later in the day. Walter said it was too much of a bother. Which echoed...

chris ryalt, you, being actually FROM New York and all, get free rein to all Yiddish you may wish to use. That's one of the lucky bits of all our various regionalities, isn't it? Same way I can have fun with crackerisms to my heart's content. And Chicagoisms, and Southernisms, and Southwesternisms too.

Pepek, SpongeBob SquarePants is one of those cartoons I just know I'd fall inside and never come out. Just like Popeye. So I worship it from afar, never having watched more than a minute or two of the actual show. I didn't know about their special *cowboy cuss* words. Thank you!