Chutzpah is chutzpah, in any language

Outraged by Bush? Then pepper your vocabulary with Yiddish, that most expressive tongue

Freelance writer Jamie O’Neill is a frequent contributor to CN&R.

If you’ve been putting off learning Yiddish, there is surely no time like the present. Yiddish, more than most languages, has an enormous capacity for expressing outrage, and it is hard to imagine a time when the need to express outrage has been more pressing.

For instance, there’s a word in Yiddish that describes the extraordinary gall of some of the people who support the Bush administration so blindly, and that word is chutzpah. As a case in point, let’s consider the rather common complaint from the right that people who criticize Bush policies only kvetch (another Yiddish word, a synonym for complaining) on the sidelines, but offer no solutions.

Now, that’s rich, and it takes a lot of chutzpah to pitch that argument. The Bush administration digs a deep hole, then critics take note of the hole being dug, and the answer to such criticism is to say, “OK, fix the problem we made if you’re so smart.”

Meanwhile, the people who dug the hole we’re in keep digging faster and deeper, ignoring the people who are yelling at them to stop digging. Not only do they ignore the warnings, they actively denigrate anyone who tells them to stop digging by suggesting that it’s the people who say they should stop digging who are somehow the ones who are making the hole deeper.

See, that’s chutzpah.

If you want another example, you can look at the comments by the Republican National Committee chairman, a guy named Ken Mehlman, who is trying to knock down possible Democratic candidates for the next presidential campaign season even before any of those candidates have announced an intention to run. Speaking of Hillary Clinton, he said, “Americans don’t elect angry candidates.”

Chutzpah. It’s a bit like having a bunch of vandals come into your home, wreck your furniture, steal your credit cards, run up a big debt, kidnap some of your children and ship them to a godforsaken foreign location, give your money to people at a country club you can’t afford to join, and then expect you not to get a little angry about the home invasion.

It’s been awhile since an administration has done so much to anger so many otherwise docile American voters. The English language is no longer adequate to express the outrage. Nor does the aforementioned little home-invasion analogy even begin to cover the scope of the current outrages. To make that analogy more exact, you’d have to add a growing list of other depredations and assaults against your home and hearth; you’d have to say that these Republican home wreckers have peed in your groundwater, tried to sell off your parks, indebted your grandchildren, exported your job, flooded your basement, raised your environmental temperature, sold out the rules that protect your rights and your privacy, distorted your values, and tried to deny your wife autonomy over her own reproductive rights.

Who could get angry about such petty offenses?

The Yiddish word for trouble and pain is tsores. Add in the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Scooter Libby/Dick Cheney troubles over outing a CIA operative, the warrantless domestic spying, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, the disappearance of billions upon billions of dollars unaccounted for in Iraq, and you’ve got enough tsores to trouble someone in a coma—which, by the way, seems to be the condition of much of the shell-shocked American public, a body of voters who don’t seem so much angry as just plain numb.

And why shouldn’t they be numb after five years of “leadership” by a potzevateh (a dimwit, someone who is out of it) who has taken the nation on a shpatzir (a walk in the desert without a destination). Here’s a shtunk (lousy human being) and a shlemiel (a clumsy bungler) who has offered nothing to the less fortunate while protecting every privilege for the richest one percent of the nation, a group of schmucks (numskulls) who just can’t seem to get enough, no matter how much they’re given.

The whole thing is just tzufi (too much, and too costly), and it’s gotten to be such a shudden (big mess) that even the plyoots (loudmouthed blowhards) on talk radio can’t shtup (push, shove, etc.) their excuses and spin at us very successfully anymore.

Dick Cheney, the vice president, is surely a tuches un a halb (a backside and a half) with similarly outsized baitsin (testicles), and though there are eizels and dumkops (fools and dimwits) who defend him, the fact remains that a chazer bleibt a chazer (a pig remains a pig).

With that weapons-of-mass-destruction story, he sold us a fortz en russell (a fart in a barrel), but then er macht zack nisht visindicht (he pretends he doesn’t know he is doing something wrong). Er toig nit! (He’s no good.)

All those Halliburton goniffs (thieves) are only after the gelt (money, gold). But, alas, gelt gait tzu gelt (money goes to money), and the country is plagued by genaivisheh shtiklech (crooked actions or doings).

That Bush, though. He’s got genevishe oigen (shifty eyes).

Genug iz genug (enough is enough). Got in himmel! (God in heaven) and a klog is mir! (woe is me).

Oy vey.