I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially when the said horse is a brand new traffic sign in New York that proclaims "Leaving Brooklyn? Oy vey!". I'm all for, not just the revival of Yiddish, but let's have Yiddish everywhere. BBC Radio 4 Long wave test match commentaries in Yiddish for the benefit of Norm and the zillions of South African and Zimbabwean nice Jewish boys who grew up totally besotted with cricket. Yiddish theatre festivals at Hay on the Wye and Stratford on Avon. Hollywood movies automatically issued on DVD with a Yiddish sound track option. Satellite navigators that don't just do a Yiddish speech option, but actually sneer at you, using such terms as Shlemiel! Shmendrik! if you don't do what they say. Yiddish supplements in The Guardian-- I'm sure Seumas Milne could find any number of Bundists with a suitably ferocious anti-zionist take on everything. Well, a person can wish....
But, you know, I don't think Oy vey is quite the right phrase. My dad would certainly have said Kim git aheim. In fact, in his endearing way, he never hesitated to speak a completely idiosyncratic English that was a literal translation of Yiddish. So he'd wave off visitors saying, Come good home.
And I hate to disagree with Marty Markowitz, the president of the borough of Brooklyn, whose campaigning got the sign put up. For all I know, he's been speaking Yiddish from birth, and has at least a degree or two in the subject. In his view:
"Oy vey," Markowitz said, is an original Jewish "expression of dismay or hurt."
"The beauty is, every ethnic group knows it," he said, and motorists seeing it know it means "Dear me, I'm so sad you're leaving."
Well, not just dismay or hurt. I mean, a good Oy vey! is a positively operatic expression of a disaster you have just realised is happening to you or anyone you care about. So I can see nice Jewish passengers and drivers catching a glimpse of the sign and suddenly being appalled by thinking any one of these:
I left the gas burning on the hob
I forgot to bring the chicken leg for Selma
I didn't tell my daughter about that nice doctor who's going to be there
I forgot to tell the caterers not to sit the Schwartzes and the Weisses together
What if I forgot to book for my hairdresser before Yomtov?
Those of you familiar with normal levels of Yiddish-saturated worrying will no doubt be able to supply loads of examples of your own.
And at the thought of all those Brooklyn commuters suddenly being struck by a new level of previously unacknowledged worrying....all I can say is...
HAT TIP: M.E