Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Favorite Words: Mamish, Davka, and Shtark

As a lawyer, linguist, and all-around nerd, I like words. A lot. I especially like fun words: unusual words for normal concepts, foreign slang, anachronisms, and words that are just fun to say.

Mamish, davka, and shtark all fall into both the first and last category above. They are unusual-to-me words for very "normal" concepts, and they move through the mouth in a fun, playful manner.

You should probably also know these words for practical reasons: they come up in conversation a lot. However, if you can't remember the meaning of these words, remember this: the sentence still makes sense without the word. You don't have to know these meanings.

Mamish: Yiddish derivative of a Hebrew word. Means really, very, exactly, "super," truly, "legit." Personally, I prefer mentally defining it as "super" or "legit."
Examples:
  • Kochava is now mamish Jewish because the beit din got a favorable one year post-conversion review from the sponsoring rabbi. (I'm legit Jewish!)
  • It's mamish hot out there! (It's super hot out there!)
  • I'm mamish tired.
Some people pronounce it more Yiddish-like: mamishe ("mamish-sha"). For example, "Mamishe gevalt!" Personally, I would translate that as "For crying out loud!" or "Oh good grief!" but there are endless possibilities.


Dafka / Davka: Aramaic word, originally found in the Talmud. According to the succinct definition at UrbanDictionary, it means "Specifically and emphatically, usually with a contrarian connotation." (That's a fancy way of saying it's a sarcastic word.) Other definitions include precisely, exactly, surprisingly, ironically, "of course" (in the sarcastic sense), "just to annoy me," actually, "precisely this way and no other way."
Examples:
  • "All the best Christmas songs were davka written by Jews." (From UrbanDictionary)
  • She davka only dates men with green eyes.
  • I dafka left my phone there, right on the table.
This article sums it up well: Translatable but Debatable, and includes some fun examples, including a new King James edition including the sentence, “Take now thy son, davka thine only son Isaac, whom thou davka lovest…”


Shtark: Yeshivish word (Yiddish?). Means machmir, strict, holy, exacting, very "frum."
Examples:
  • You look so shtark when you wear a white shirt and black pants.
  • You bought pas yisroel? Shtark. 
  • No shtark bochur eats dairy on Shabbos.
If you want to read some more fun examples of the word "shtark," check out this post at FrumSatire. Troublemaker Twitpacha friend @noahroth once created a great game of "#myrebbessoshtark." If you don't like cynical humor, you probably shouldn't read anything on FrumSatire. That's your warning. Here are some examples of what you will find in this blog post:
@MarkSoFla #myrebbessoshtark she doesn’t use the microphone on shabbos.
@bukin86: #myrebbessoshtark My rebbe is so shtark Hashem needs to work on his yiras my rebbe
@noahroth: #myrebbessoshtark ZZ Top comes to him for beard growing advice.


If you have other uses or "definitions" for these words, I'd love to hear them! What's your favorite "Jewish" word?

14 comments:

  1. I find it really disturbing that anything anyone could say after your conversion could have any effect on your status as a Jew. Either you converted or you didn't, end of story. Does the mikveh now only make you a probationary Jew? They don't find enough hoops before the process, so they need to add more after?

    This makes me ragey.

    I would say mazal tov, but I don't think I could manage it without being bitter/sarcastic. So instead I shall send you general good wishes.

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    1. Yep, that is a very different discussion. I try to put a positive spin on it by feeling that I have extra protection from future challenges because they've taken the time to follow up. I only accidentally found out about the check up. I wouldn't have known otherwise, but I also trust these rabbis to handle conversions respectfully and with kindness.

      But that perspective was very helpful. On the anniversary date, I was all "BWAHAHAHA...good luck taking it back now, bitchez!"

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    2. Wait, how do they check up on you, and how do you accidentaly find out about it? Like standing outside your house with binoculars or something?

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    3. Nothing that weird LOL... They just ask the rabbi via email for an update on how I'm doing, and it came up in conversation. The rabbi and I happened to both be at a shalom zachor the "eve" of my English date of conversion, and I was happy about it, so I gushed to him. He said he was well aware it was the anniversary because he'd gotten "the year update email" from the beit din. He said his response was simply the word "good," and that's it. No window snooping that I'm aware of. At least in my case, I was still involved in the community and I hadn't fallen off the face of the earth. I think that's usually the standard, at least where "sane" batei din are concerned. So now it's done, and they've followed up to make sure nothing crazy happened or I didn't disappear, and that check-up gives me an extra bit of "conversion insurance" from crazy people.

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  2. Another Jewish word I like is "stam": it means "just", "merely", "not special" or "no reason". Why are you late? Stam... (just because, don't want to talk about it). Or: How was the party? It was stam (not a particularly special party). I don't want any stam job, I want a career I like!

    This word has existed for a while, for example in halacha, milk that is not "cholov yisroel" (milked by a Jew) is called "chalav stam" (plain milk), a word that is nicer than "chalav akum" (idolator's milk), especially if you follow R. Moshe Feinstein's heter.

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    1. Just a note: Rav Moshe's ruling is not a "heter." It is a ruling, not an exception to the ruling. As I understand it, he ruled that the FDA milk supervision procedures fulfilled the requirements of the halacha to prevent milk from treif animals from being mixed with cow's milk. Because dairy farmers would be significantly fined (and I believe it is also a jailable crime) if they mix non-cow milk into what is sold as cow's milk. Notably, that ruling would be limited to the US and countries with similar regulatory structures, including effective enforcement of those regulations.

      Some disagree with that ruling and believe cholov yisroel is either the minimum halacha or a voluntarily-accepted chumrah above and beyond Rav Moshe's ruling.

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    2. Just a comment: I've seen the ruling/heter/teshuva in the original, and I think it actually was a heter. He was providing a Heter in order to address the needs of America back in the 1950′s, when there literally were no resources for Cholov Yisroel milk readily available. Rav Moshe himself says to use it only in places where cholov yisroel is not just as easily available for affordable prices, and that someone who is careful,a Baal Yirah, would not rely on his heter. I don't think Rav Moshe himself used this heter.

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    3. What was in Rav Moshe's refrigerator? Cholov Yisroel only. I heard this firsthand from someone who snooped.

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    4. And Rabbi Soloveichik ate Kraft cheese in front of others.

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  3. It's not a single word, but I do like the way you can sprinkle B"H's through a conversation. There is rarely any place where it would be considered bad form to add one and for some people it becomes almost a verbal twitch.

    Another good one is the distinctly Jewish usage of the word "by." You can eat by, daven by, and generally do almost anything "by" somebody which basically means you do it with them or at that place, but after a while, "by" just seems much more accurate. I'm waiting for an internet version. "I view my Maccabeats videos by Youtube." :)

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  4. Cute post. Btw shtark means strong, literally. Mammish "a" gevalt - here the "a" is an article just as in English - "seriously, a disaster" - as opposed to a suffix on "mammish." Also, "mammish" is also used in Israeli Hebrew and pronounced there as "mah-MAHSH."

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  5. I had shtark explained to me as "what Frum people call other Frum people when they want to say that they are very Frum." Great post!

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    1. Unless you think they're *too* frum. Then he or she would be a "Chnyok". In Israel, also, a "dos".

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    2. I haven't heard "chnyok" in years! Also known as a "frummak".

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