Save the Deli

Just Say Nu: A shmear of Yiddish

I normally reserve this site strictly for deli or deli related subjects, but I’m going to diverge a bit today in order to promote a worthy friend’s work.

Deli is Yiddish cuisine, and the language of Yiddish is integral to the deli business. Those truly in the know are fluent in Yiddish or at least it’s related expressions and idioms. For most of us, kvetch, putz, gonif, and bissel will suffice. Until now.

Following up on his New York Times Bestseller “Born to Kvetch”, my friend and deli lunch companion Michael Wex, has just released the wonderful “Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won’t Do)”. The book is a guide to Yiddish you can whip out of your pocket, whether in traffic, bed, or from the receiving side of the deli counter.

Here’s the description from Wex’s own site:

Just Say Nu – a cross between Henry Beard’s Latin for All Occasions and Ben Schott’s Schott’s Original Miscellany, the book is a practical guide to using Yiddish words and expressions in day-to-day situations. Along with enough grammar to enable readers to put together a comprehensible sentence and avoid embarrassing mistakes, Wex also explains the five most useful Yiddish words – shoyn, nu, epes, takeh, and nebakh – what they mean, how and when to use them, and how they can be used to conduct an entire conversation without anybody ever suspecting that the reader doesn’t have the vaguest idea of what anyone is actually saying. Readers will learn how to shmooze their way through such activities as meeting and greeting; eating and drinking; praising and finding fault; maintaining personal hygiene; going to the doctor; driving; parenting; getting horoscopes; committing crimes; going to singles bars; having sex; talking politics and talking trash.

And from today’s review in the New York Times:

What’s Yiddish for double-dipping? With verve, élan and something only a non-Yiddish speaker would call chutzpah, Michael Wex returns to the linguistic mother lode that yielded “Born to Kvetch,” his brilliant cultural history of Yiddish. This time around, in “Just Say Nu,” he gets down to the everyday business of putting Yiddish to use. When a tipesh (moron) dawdles in front of you on the highway, selecting the right curse matters. Mr. Wex, like a Yiddish sommelier, knows just the expression for this or any other occasion.

Wex in his element. At Pancer’s. With meat.

Here’s an extract from the book itself:

Nakhes, often spelled “nachos” in English, is probably the best-known of all Yiddish words having to do with pleasure. If a phrase like

NAkhes FIN KINder

pleasure that you get from your children

hasn’t yet entered English, it isn’t for want of trying. Nakhes pops up often enough on T.V. and in movies to suggest that even people who keep Christmas are familiar with it. It means “delight, pleasure,” but it means so much more than “delight” or “pleasure.” Uriel Weinreich glosses it as “(spiritual) pleasure,” by which he means only that you can’t get any nakhes from a body rub (though the rub itself can be a mekheiyeh). The pleasure to which nakhes refers is intangible, unquantifiable; it takes place in the mind, rather than the body, and is entirely a matter of disposition or point of view: graduation ceremony means nothing to you until a child of yours is one of the graduates.

So, NU, what are you waiting for?

Just Say Nu on

Audio CD: for those who can’t or don’t want to read

Buy Born to Kvetch from

The Yiddish World of Michael Wex

6 Responses to “Just Say Nu: A shmear of Yiddish”

  1. Ziggy Says:

    Hey David, I love your pictures from the old country, but I just want you to know I had breakfast with your friend Reb Wex at my store. He was in Houston doing a book signing and a lecture. He is a real Yddishe Mench! who’s Geshictas are so funny. I told him I am going to come up there one day to go Fressing all over Canada. I will make a copy for you of the 1986 Delicatessen dealers of greater New York Program for their anual dinner. I was just a yunger Kint then. Zeit Guzinte, Ziggy

  2. damske kabelky Says:

    ROFL, this shit is so funny. I have to share it.

  3. Raadhika Batra Says:

    OMG! Its like you understand my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the content home a bit, but other than that, this is helpful blog. A wonderful read. I will certainly be back.

  4. Seva Sen Says:

    I like this post very much. I will definitely be back. Hope that I can read more insightful posts then. Will be sharing your knowledge with all of my friends!

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