The Yiddish curse is a unique species of verbal assault that can be either profligately baroque in execution (“May you inherit a hotel with one hundred rooms and be found dead in every one!”) or delivered with lethal economy (“Get killed!”). According to its rules of engagement, it never suffices to simply state the obvious: Aunt Rose doesn’t merely look sick, but more tellingly, Shaynera menchen haut me gelicht in drerd (“They’ve buried nicer looking people than that”). Part of the genre’s charm is to be found in the warmth of the language, in the soulfulness of Yiddish that simultaneously sharpens the insult’s bite while mitigating it with a subtext of familial connection. Being the lingua franca of pre-WWII European Jews, Yiddish was a brickbat wielded mainly at one’s own kind. Whom else could one abuse so fearlessly?
The titles of the suite’s six movements constitute a sampling of popular Yiddish invective: