816 North

David Knopf - Self-deprication – and Yiddish – are keys for discombobulated writers

Updated: 2013-03-04T03:41:38Z

By DAVID KNOPF

Special to The Star

The comforting thing about being discombobulated and being a writer is you never run out of material.

It’s a circular arrangement, but there’s job security.

The key is to be willing to make fun of yourself and then share it with you, the Public at Large (PAL). It’s really an illusion, but sometimes I feel we know each other and pal around, kind of like Facebook friends.

I found this example of “discombobulate” thanks to Mr. Google, my 24/7 one-click-away reference tool: “ I am sorry that I put my grandmother's teeth in your coffee, I was discombobulated.”

My grandmothers are long gone (especially Martha, who made delicious mandelbrot, the Jewish biscotti), so I don’t know if they had false teeth. But I can identify with the confusion.

For example, yesterday I labeled one newspaper page three ways – page 7, then 6 and finally 8, the correct one. I was discombobulated.

“Discombobulate” isn’t a word you see often, but it’s one I grew up with. We were a family that, at the drop of a hat, could get discombobulated (“thrown into a state of confusion”), be farblunget (“running around like a chicken without a head”) or worse.

To be truthful, it was our usual state of affairs, so hat-dropping wasn’t necessary.

“Discombobulate” is a mildly derogatory term you can use in polite company without offending anyone. It’s especially safe when you use it to describe yourself, at which I’m an old hand.

When my family described itself in derogatory terms, our terms of choice were always forgiving. It was a matter of self-preservation. When being confused or lost is common, you don’t want to go too hard on yourself. It can make it harder to face another farblunget day.

I tend to associate self-deprecating humor with my people, the Yiddish-wielding Jews, also referred to as Hebrews, Israelites, the Chosen People and Crotchety Self-Deprecators of The Promised Land.

Self-deprecating humor works, too, when you drop the “self” and simply deprecate others. It’s not that popular, so it’s best done in your own home, among an ethnic group or race, or with other deprecators, Yiddish-speaking and otherwise.

Making fun of yourself and others really isn’t a Midwest thing, unless of course you watch Letterman, The Colbert Report or The Daily Show in the comfort of your own storm shelter.

I don’t watch those shows because I keep farmer’s hours, but I have all the mockery I need, self and otherwise, to stay entertained.

Sometimes, though, I need to fact-check or verify the spelling of a deprecating word, so I ask Mr. Google if he’ll help.

“What? WHAT? How much will you pay?” he says, irritated at being awakened from sleep mode.

“You take VISA?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says. “Swipe the card. What do you want to know?”

“I want to verify that Yiddish has more funny words starting with ‘sh’ or ‘sch’ than any other language, and I’m not talking about that four-letter one I can’t use in the paper.”

Almost instantly, he refers me to “The Schmooze: Stories with a Yiddish Twist” by Margorie Gottlieb Wolfe of Syosset, N.Y., and “IraSez,” by someone who works at a New Jersey graphic-design firm.

Thanks to Marjorie, I locate such gems as “shtummie” (a dope), “shnorrer” (beggar, moocher or cheapskate), “shlemazl” (a born loser) and a “schlepper” (someone who carries something, moves slowly, bears a burden).

From IraSez, there’s “schlemiel” (a stupid, awkward or unlucky person) and “schmuck” (not a nice word in Yiddish, but in English an obnoxious, detestable or contemptible person).

Go back to sleep, Mr. Google, I have everything I need. I’m no longer discombobulated.

Just farblunget.

You can reach David at davidknopf48@gmail.com and access The Schmooze at www.haruth.com/mw/sh.htm or IraSez at www.irasez.com.

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