Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Yiddishology: Untranslatable Yiddish Words -- Machatenesta, Mechuten, Machatonim


The Wexler Oral History Project of the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts is a growing collection of in-depth video interviews with people of all ages, exploring Yiddish cultural topics and issues of modern Jewish identity.  

The Project is particularly interested in how Yiddish language and culture inform Jewish identity, and how they, along with Jewish values and practices, are transmitted across generations.

Some of the interviews focus on the intricacies and colorful delights of the Yiddish language. There are words in Yiddish for which there is no simple word for word translation into other languages. To get an accurate translation in English, for example, you may have to construct a phrase, sentence, or paragraph to convey the same meaning.

In this video excerpt from the Wexler files, Milly Guberman Kravetz relishes the flavor of the Yiddish word machatenesta, and renders it into English. Can you define machatenesta (or mechutenista)?

The English translation is the mother of a child's spouse. The male counterpart is mechutan, actually a Hebrew word for the father of a child's spouse, and the parents of a child's spouse are mechutanim, also a Hebrew word. These latter two words have migrated into Yiddish as mechuten and machatonim. They are all derived from chatan, the Hebrew word for groom.

Since the Yiddish pronunciation of chatan is chosson, we could playfully ask why the spouse's mother isn't called a machossonesta and the parents machossonim in Yiddish, but we're not going to go there.

Enjoy!

(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:  THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS.  YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)


4 comments:

  1. I think the word is in fact "mechutan" with a taf, not a "saf", due to the dagesh chazak following the kubutz (tnua ketana). So even if your orientation is Ashkenazis you would pronounce it "mechutan", Yiddishized into machetonim, not machesonim. Playfully, of course :)

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    1. I always thought that mechutan was plural for in-laws.

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    2. but the expression 'machesonim' is loaded with meaning.

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    3. i like 'machusomim; because it has hidden meanings that only a 'schnoor' can comprehend.

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