The Three Stooges speak Yiddish

Wikipedia explains the Yiddish phrase “Hakn a tshaynik”  (you can pronounce it as “Hawk-en ah chainig”) like this:

. . . (literally “to knock a teakettle”; Yiddish: האַקן אַ טשײַניק), meaning to rattle on loudly and insistently, but without any meaning, is a widely used Yiddish idiomatic phrase. It is most often used in the negative imperative sense: Hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik! (literally “Don’t knock a teakettle at me!”; Yiddish: !האַק מיר נישט קיין טשײַניק), in the sense of “Stop bothering me!”

The article adds this:

The phrase became familiar to many Americans without contact with Yiddish speakers by appearing in popular Three Stooges short films. In the 1936 film A Pain in the Pullman, when caught sneaking out of their rooms without paying rent, Moe tries to explain to the landlord by saying, “Well, we were just on our way to hock the truck so we could pay you,” to which Larry kicks in, “Hey, hock a chynick for me too, will ya?”, earning himself a swift kick in the shin. In 1938’s Mutts to You, Larry, disguised as a Chinese laundryman, pretending to speak Chinese, utters a stream of Yiddish doubletalk, ending with “Hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik, and I don’t mean efsher (maybe)!”.

I sometimes use the negative imperative phrase, but here’s that bit from Mutt’s to You showing Curly saying it. Talk about cultural appropriation—we have a white guy pretending to be Chinese and speaking Yiddish! Is that kosher?

Here’s what Larry says, as given in the YouTube notes:

“Ikh bin ah China boychik fun Slobodka un Ikh bet dir ‘hak mir nit ah chaynik’ and I don’t mean efsher”. The phrase is Yiddish for “I am a Chinese kid from Slobodka and I beg you don’t hassle me and I don’t mean maybe.”

Moe then says, “He’s from China—East Side.” The Lower East Side was, of course, the area of Manhattan where, decades ago, an area where you’d hear Yiddish:

“Moe Howard”‘s real name was Moses Harry Horwitz, and “Larry Fine”‘s real name was Louis Feinberg. They were, of course, both Jewish. (So was Curly, who was Moe’s real-life brother and named Jerome Lester Horwitz.) They changed their names to make it in show business, but you can’t take take the Yiddish out of the boy.

It is surprising that they used the phrase in their comedy shorts.

21 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, the cultural appropriation!

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I wonder, maybe they were afraid of faking a little Chinese but you would’t think so back then. So use what you know.

  3. Michael Fisher
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I have a couple of pairs of comedy shorts for the beach!

    Badum Tish!

  4. Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Some of the finest physical comedy on the planet, too bad it’s verboten nowadays.

  5. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I am told that in “You Nazty Spy” in which Moe plays a Hitler-like dictator, he says obscenities in Yiddish.

    The film went into production after Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” but was released before it. (Wikipedia says “It was released nine months before the Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator, which began filming in September 1939. You Nazty Spy! was filmed on December 5-9, 1939.”)

    On the Yiddish, Wikipedia reports,

    The exclamation “Beblach!” used several times in the film is a Yiddish word meaning “beans”.
    “Shalom aleichem!”, literally “Peace unto you” is a standard Hebrew greeting meaning “hello, pleased to meet you”.

    In Moe’s imitation of a Hitler speech, he says “in pupik gehabt haben” (the semi-obscene “I’ve had it in the bellybutton” in Yiddish). These references to the Nazi leadership and Hitler speaking Yiddish were particularly ironic inside jokes for the Yiddish-speaking Jewish audience.

    Yiddish sequence here

  6. Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Chaynek. One of the few words in Yiddish that comes from Chinese. I remember hearing it — and using it, in my neighborhood in Philadelphia. Maybe no coincidence, since Larry grew up in the same neighborhood some years earlier.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Sasha Baron Cohen did something similar by lacing a lot of Hebrew into the supposed “Kazakh” language spoken by his character Borat.

  8. Flamadiddle
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Whatever about the Yiddish, the cop’s “Oirish” accent is truly dreadful!

  9. Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the classic scene in the movie “Blazing Saddles” when Mel Brooks, dressed in full Native American garb, complete with warpaint, takes a look at the young future Sheriff Bart, whose wagon train they have surrounded and says in Yiddish:

    Shvartses! (Blacks)
    (To the man raising a tomahawk): No, no, zayt nisht meshuge! ((Don’t be crazy!)

    And with his arms up, he announces:
    Loz im geyn! (Let them go!)

    As they go, he says:
    Cop a walk, it’s alright. Abi gezint!(As long as you’re healthy!)

    (To his men): Hosti gezen in dayne lebn? (Have you ever seen such a thing?) They’re blacker than we are… Woof!

    It’s hilarious, even if it is a cultural appropriation of sorts.

  10. mfdempsey1946
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    In a scene from one of their movies, the Marx Brothers must pass for Russians, so they utter dialogue using their idea of what Russian sounds like.

    Once, while screening a print of the film (I’m not sure which one it was), some college friends and I got an idea.

    We re-played the scene in reverse. Sure enough, the Marxist Russian speech proved to be the English-language soundtrack printed backwards.

    And in “The Great Dictator,” we find Chaplin’s Adenoid Hynkel using a parody of both Hitler and the German language by shouting gibberish like “Demokratcia shtunk”, which an urbane translator then renders into English in dulcet tones as “Democracy is unacceptable.”

    Would either of these japes draw fire from today’s humorless, purer-than-thou ragers against “cultural appropriation”?

    Assuming that they even know about these bits of comic fun that arise from how “foreign” languages sound to those who do not know them — all too probably. Some people love their own self-righteousness so much that they never tire of finding new ways to destroy even the most pleasures and to poison life.

  11. Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Charlie Chaplin used Esperanto for the signs outside the shops of those oppressed by The Great Dictator making it, I suppose, a stand in for Yiddish.

    This, I think, translates as ‘secondhand clothes’:

    • kps
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      Literally, ‘wear-things not-new’.

      vest- wear, root from Latin, -aĵ- thing suffix (circumflex accent missing from the sign), -o- noun suffix, -j plural suffix.

      mal- negating prefix, -nov- new, root from Latin, -a- adjective suffix, -j plural suffix.

      (The ĵ is pronounced like English ‘j’, and j like English ‘y’.)

  12. Michael Fisher
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    This is sort of related from the NYT today, headline “A Black Actor in ‘Virginia Woolf’? Not Happening, [the] Albee Estate Says”

    Seems a reasonable decision by the estate of the author given the references in the play [which I don’t know] to the appearance of the character. Would this incident have even been considered newsworthy prior to the recent explosion of ‘identity politics’? I guess the NYT is feeding the monster for clicks/subs

  13. Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for the trip down memory lane Jerry.

    Carl

  14. Doug
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    In the Woody Allen movie “Sleeper,” there’s a scene with a group of gentiles using what they think is Yiddish. One says “Shut up and eat your shiksa.” When the movie played on ABC in the 70s with the line intact, I thought “That one got by the censor.”

  15. busterggi
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    It may be more surprising they didn’t sneak more in.

  16. Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    For one of the movie posters advertising “Blazing Saddles”, Mel Brooks is rendered as the Indian chief and his headband misspells Kosher LePesach (kosher for Passover) in Hebrew.

    In Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”, he obsequiously​ addresses the Spanish Countess, “And you must be the Don’s sister, the noted Spanish countess and mieskeit.” Yiddish for ugly.

  17. Whitt Staircase
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Sort of on topic, I recall as a youth learning a few crypto-Yiddish words like furschlugginer by reading Mad magazine.


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