So, we couldn’t help overhearing the tuml about the fellow who won the Scripps 86th National Spelling Bee, thereby exposing how Merriam-Webster has mangled a word near and dear to the hearts of us all. And then the matsoh ball hit the fan…
“S’taytsh?” hot di bobe geshrign – “What do you mean?” cried Grandmother (she was offended by the number of the noun), “Who ever heard of one kneydl?? KNEYDLEKH darf men zogn un iberhoypt darf men kneydlekh ESN … Kh’lebn, eyn kneydl!? Di Miriam Weber darf zikh shemen in vaytn haldz arayn!”
Still others were offended by the unorthodox tranSCRIPPStion of the word. So, having nothing better to do, your humble kokhlefl decided to mix in.
First off, the word is indeed also in German (albeit as a dialect word) “knödel”, meaning dumpling. Dos is eyn mol fish… (ie, we’ve now dispensed with that point).
It would have been nice if the young man had given a proper YIVO transliteration of the word (and by the way, it’s kneydl be you Litvak or Galits. The YIVO system is transliteration, so one writes it the same way regardless of dialect, just as one should ideally write Yiddish in the Yiddish alphabet using the standard system, regardless of pronunciation). But apparently, someone somewhere along the way, an emeser khokhem fun der ma-nishtane, decided that k-n-a-i-d-e-l would be the best way to go. We can only hope we never have to eat in that person’s kitchen.
Now as to the bobes dayge, the question of number, well, who ever ate just one?! Nonetheless, in Yiddish there are a few uses for the lonely kneydl. See if you can toss them out among your friends this weekend. You’re guaranteed to have a [matsoh] ball:
A yidl a kneydl, meaning a portly little fellow. In general, things round or fat can be explained through comparison with a kneydl.
Er vil a kneydl un me git im an afikoymen, (not nice): He wants a zaftik girl and he gets a skinny ugly one. A tall skinny guy would be a langer loksh, but be careful with the usage, it might also imply he’s stupid.
Shmeltsn zikh (far nakhes) vi a kneydl in puter. To be happy as a matsoh ball in butter, which plays a bit on “shmeltsn” meaning “to add fat” and “zikh shmeltsn” meaning “to delight in”.
Eydl vi a kneydl: as delicate as a matsoh ball, ie … not very delicate :/ On this one, I’m not so sure that the folk has it right. A matsoh ball can be quite delicate (though I’ve rarely seen one blush). I think now of Henny Wenkart’s outstanding poem in Love Poems of a Philanderer’s Wife (put into Yiddish by Mindl Rinkewich):
Mother’s matzah balls were fluffy, loose,
Shapeless as the pale yellow Griessnockerl of Vienna
Just eggs, fat, water, salt and matzah meal.
The batter a bit soft: chilled firm, then quickly simmered.
I married into German Jews. Here the Pesach soup plates offer
Perfect little prebaked spheres, a hint of nutmeg.
These matzah balls are dense, tough, unforgiving.
Mayn mames kneydlekh zaynen geven pukhne loyz
on a geshtalt vi dos blase gele grisnokerl fun Vin
bloyz eyer shmalts vaser zalts un matse-mel
dos shiterteyg a bisl veykh: biz festkeyt tsugekilt dan shnel untergezidt.
Di makhetonim – daytshe yidn. Do git men oyf di peysekh-teler
fulkum kleyne in foroys gebakene sferes, an ontsuherenish fun mushkat.
Di kneydlekh zayen gedikhte harte un zey zaynen gornit moykhl.
If you’d like the gantse megile on the case of the boy who meant not the hagode but only the Merriam-Webster, check out the Yiddish Daily Forward. The English Forward has some interesting thoughts on the subject as well, both here and here. But the prize for the most risque headline on this topic goes to the Washington Post, who wrote Teen Nails Knaidel, Wins Spelling Bee. Shades of American Pie!
Yiddishist and author Michael Wex can be heard commenting on the kneydl affair as well this weekend on All Things Considered.
Nu, hot a gutn shabes!
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