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Lou Charloff
February 13, 2012
by Lou Charloff My father’s generation of Jewish immigrants was incredibly creative and practical in adding to our glorious Yiddish language. Everybody in those days, of course, lived in apartment houses. And the lady whose apartment adjoined yours was to be referred to as your nexdoorikeh. The man who lived above your apartment was, of course, your upstairsnik. The woman inside your apartment, renting a room, was a boardikeh. One year while I was living in White Plains, New York, our JCC sponsored a Yiddish class. The instructor was all right, but she and I would occasionally disagree on matters of vocabulary and grammar. One day, she asked the class how to say a baby’s pacifier in Yiddish. Nobody knew the answer. She told us that the Yiddish word was sharrapke or sharrapnikl (the dictionary says tsumi, but we didn’t have a dictionary.) She went on to explain that while, throughout the world, children learn their language from their parents, within American immigrant communities, children often learn English in the street and bring it home to their parents. One of the first phrases their parents learned this way, she said, was the command pronounced either shaddap! or sharrap! And so Yiddish-speaking mothers began to call their babies’ pacifiers sharrapkes. I have always been grateful for that piece of information.