by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
THE JOYS AND WOES OF WORK
Dear Will Shortz:
Q. What’s the 6-letter Yiddish word meaning to work”?
Q. What’s the 12-letter Yiddish word meaning “worked to death”?
Arnold Fine (“I Remember When”) writes about workers on Essex Street in Lower Manhattan, where both sides of the street were lined with pushcarts. “In one sense it was like a horizontal department store. On one pushcart they sold vegetables, on the other fish, and on the next children’s underwear (“untervesh”).”
Carol Burnett talks about her work on stage. She called on a handsome (“shane”) man (“dzhentlman”) from the audience. He was dressed in a nice suit and tie (“kravat”). He stood up and said, “Miss Burnett, I’m not twenty-five but it’s my birthday (“geboyrn-tog”), too, and I’d like a hug because I’ve always found you to be a most attractive lady.”
Burnett knew she could have some fun with him, so she shouted, “No kidding? What’re you waiting for? Get up here!”
The audience (“der oylem”) was laughing as he made his way onstage. He came for Miss Burnett with his arms outstretched for THE HUG. She held him back with her hands and said, “Now wait a minute, not so fast! We hardly know each other!” He backed off, a little red in the face (“ponem”).
The audience was having as much fun as Miss Burnett, so she continued.
“So, how old are you today?”
“Forty. And what’s your name?”
“Thank you for the nice compliment, Bob. And you want a hug?”
He started for Miss Burnett again and she held him off again, much to the audience’s delight. “Sooo, tell me, Bob, have you ever thought in terms of an older woman?”
He took a couple of steps back, and the audience howled.
“What’s the matter, Bob?”
“Oh, no! Bob, are you trying to tell me youre involved with someone else?”
“Sort of…” The audience was eating this up.
“Sort of? I don’t understand, Bob. What do you mean, ‘sort of’?”
There was a short pause.
“I’m a priest.” (Source: “This Time Together - Laughter And Reflection” by Carol Burnett)
Oh, the joys of work!
Miss Burnett tells another story about working with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. Who can forget the sketch when Tim played the dentist (“der tsondokter”), fresh out of dental school, and Harvey was his very first “patsyent.” Tim kept accidentally shooting himself with novacaine, first in his “hant” (hand), then in his “fus” (leg), and finally winding up with the needle between his eyebrows (“bremen”). The entire audience was exploding’; there wasn’t a dry eye (or seat) in the house.
And the final story about work comes from Leo Rosten’s book, “The Joys of Yiddish.” Rosten is explaining the meaning of the word “bren”—someone of great energy, vivacity, competence and optimism; a “fireball.” He tells a story about a man who drives a “oytobus” (bus) in New York City.
On his first day as a bus driver, Maxey Eckstein handed in receipts of $65. The next day his take was $67. The third day’s income (“hakhnose”) was $62. On the fourth day, Eckstein, a bren, emptied no less than $283 on the desk before the cashier.
“Eckstein!” exclaimed the cashier, “This is fantastic. That route never brought in money like this! What happened?”
“Well, after three days on that cockamamy route, I figured business would never improve, so I drove over to Fourteenth Street and worked there. I tell you, that street is a gold mine!”