There’s No Their There

Usually, I feel I can rely on Hamodia to present the news in reasonably acceptable English, an aspect of other frum publications which is often a little shaky. Last week’s edition, however, disappointed me almost as soon as I opened it.

One writer revealed that he didn’t know the difference between “there” and “their.” Although it’s not Hamodia’s place to educate its columnists — one would have thought their elementary school teachers would have done the job.

Then, in another column, the obvious Yiddishism “What will be?” was used, and repeated, just to make the piece more cringeworthy. Even allowing for the fact that the writer intended it to be a quoted comment of yeshivah bachurim, was it really necessary to present this monstrosity of language in a supposedly English-language publication?

I can only assume that he, too, speaka da English long-distance.

Please — despite the admittedly poor English in many secular publications (which I refuse to read) and unfortunately in a number of frum ones, is there really an excuse for our supposedly quality press to relax its standards?

Mrs. Henye Meyer, Salford, U.K.

Mordechai Schiller responds:

As spokesperson-elect of the Hamodia branch of the National Wordworkers Union, I have been subpoenaed to testify in this hearing.

Regarding the first article cited, I searched through the finalized pages and I was unable to find the “there/their” confusion. With apologies to Gertrude Stein, I’d say, there’s no their there. My best guess is that the version you read was rushed out to the printers before Hamodia’s able team of editors and proofreaders got to check it for the local edition. It’s a case of two countries separated by a common language.

Forgive me for saying so, but I am personally offended (hmm, can one be impersonally offended? OK, let’s strike “personally”) by the derogation of Yiddishisms as “cringeworthy.”

I don’t know how it is across the pond, but Yiddish and Yiddish-speakers found safe haven on these shores, greeted by the New Colossus lifting her “lamp beside the golden door.”

Yiddish and Yiddishisms have found a home in America. Numerous words and phrases became naturalized citizens and lost their italics. William Safire cited a list of them from his “lexicographic supermaven” Sol Steinmetz. They include klutz, glitch, kosher, bagel, maven, mentch, shlock, shmooze … and chutzpah.

Safire concluded, “If you don’t know those words, you will have difficulty being understood in English.”

As for “speaka da English,” my eyes and ears tell me that’s not a Yiddishism; it’s a caricature of an Italian- or Spanish-speaker’s dialect.

A 1930 cartoon in The New Yorker showed a dapper man at a newsstand. The mustachioed proprietor, peering through an opening in a wall of English newspapers and magazines, said, “Me no speaka da English.”

I’m pleased to inform you that, for your protection in reading material of questionable grammar, the publishers of the New Yorker now offer a face mask emblazoned with that cartoon.