Glossary of non-English words in The Second Mango

Some of them seem like English to me, because they were a constant part of my upbringing and remain a constant in my life! But, I realize that many Gentile (non-Jewish) readers would like more information about some of those words. It was my hope that I had incorporated them organically, so that they could be understood in context the way one would understand invented words in any other fantasy novel. But why not give people the opportunity to learn more?

The conceit of The Second Mango and its sequels are that Perach, the setting, is a Hebrew-speaking haven of tropical agriculture, and that up north, several countries away, there’s a country whose primary language is Yiddish. “Perach” itself means “flower” in Hebrew, and is a reference to Perach’s being based on South Florida, where I grew up. (Florida also means “flower”, in a way.)

What follows is an informal glossary, starting with Chapter 1 of The Second Mango and continuing to the end of the book. I don’t claim to be an expert in Judaica, but I’d like to offer what I have.

Aba – Dad in Hebrew (Mom is Ima)

Malka – Queen (with Malkeleh meaning “little queen”, commonly used for a little girl in one’s life, even if she’s not royalty–the way my dad used to call my little half-sister “Princess.” Rivka’s use of Malkeleh as a pet name for the queen is therefore a pun.)

By the way, the -eleh ending for a name to make a diminutive is a Yiddishism. Shira turns into Shiraleh, for example. And the cat was “ketzeleh” to my grandmother.

So “Malka Shulamit bat Noach” is “Queen Shulamit, daughter of Noach”, Noach being her deceased father. “Bat” is the “daughter of” name syllable. For “son of” it’s “ben.”

The celibate sisters are made up, by the way. They’re an imagined offshoot of Judaism that doesn’t exist, wearing robes based on Buddhist nuns. Our clergy, as Rivka says in chapter 2 about her own homeland, are rabbis. Literally, it means “teacher.”

Ir Ilan means Oak Town in Hebrew.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, the Day of Atonement. It’s right after our new year’s and it’s where you get to get yourself scrubbed clean, spiritually, and promise to do better. There is fasting involved.

Shtik drek = “piece of shit” in Hebrew. “You can’t put that in a book!” my grandmother protested. “But she’s a warrior,” I tried to explain…

Nudnik – a Yiddish insult that’s hard to define. A lot of these are gonna be like that. The first syllable rhymes with wood.

Putzveytig – Yiddish for “pain in the dick”. (You’ve heard of “putz”, right? And veytig = vey is woe or pain or something like that.)

Which reminds me… “Oy vey” = literally, Oh woe, so Oy vey iz mir is “oh, woe is me.” Sounds overdramatic, right? When you’ve grown up hearing it in another language it just blends in, though.

Mensch = a very decent man. Like, male feminists who actually mean it and aren’t just trying to speak over women or get a date. Or my brother-in-law, who feeds the cat when we’re on vacations. He is a really good guy.

Shabbat (or Shabbos, in Yiddish — Shabbat is Hebrew) is Friday night and Saturday morning. The Jewish Sabbath, involving compulsory rest, special food, candle-lighting, going to shul (temple), and supposedly, marital sex 😛

Seder – the ritual meal associated with Pesach (Passover), a really awesome holiday about freedom and human rights and cleaning matzo crumbs off of everything. Matzo are big square crackers that have no flavor unless you put things like chopped apples or horseradish dip on them, but fortunately, that’s built into the ritual. Yay!

Afikomen – after the seder (see above), the parents hide a matzo wrapped in a napkin (to cut down on the crumbs) somewhere in the house. Then you find it and get a prize. My dad once hid one for me in an orchestral score and then hummed it as my clue.

Kippah (Hebrew)/yarmulke (Yiddish) – those teensy hats that Jewish men wear in shul and at holidays and weddings.

Mammeh – Yiddish for “Mom”. (Dad is “Tateh”, and they’re both the same words in Polish, which makes sense — Yiddish is in a lot of ways Polish + German written in Hebrew letters.)

Kasha varnishkes – buckwheat and butterfly pasta. I don’t know what else to say about this besides OM NOM BUCKWHEAT.

Halvah – a sweet desserty thing that is so unbelievably sweet that thinking about it makes me sick. It’s shaped like a brick and you break off little pieces and then die of sugar.

Challah – special bread that you make for Shabbat dinner. It’s got egg in it, so it’s golden, and it’s braided, so it’s really beautiful.

Howdah – this is NOT Hebrew or Yiddish; this is one of those things you use to ride an elephant with. Since Shulamit’s father died by falling off an elephant I needed to use the word. I just didn’t want anyone thinking it was Hebrew or Yiddish! Although…. I doubt they have their own words for it, so they’d also probably just say howdah like we do in English.

Nu – it’s Yiddish, and it’s kind of like “So?” It’s a prompting word. Like if you’re waiting for someone to answer you and they’re just staring into space.

Borscht – Eastern European beet soup. It’s BRIGHT POIPLE.

Schmendrick – another one of those undefinable Yiddish insults

Maror – horseradish. Well, “bitter herbs”, anyway.

Schreckliches chazzer – dirty pig, in that order. Yiddish.

Fartumult – I asked my grandmother for a word for confused and shocked. This isn’t one I heard growing up or anything.

Paskudnyak – Yiddish, an insult, and I’m told it’s from Russian.

Ketubah – contract you sign when you get married

Feh – exactly what it sounds like. Snorting dismissively. (Yiddish.)

Kaddish – prayers for the dead. I said them for my dad.

Ay yay yay – just an exclamation

I hope this helps! There will be another one of these for book two, I guess.

About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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5 Responses to Glossary of non-English words in The Second Mango

  1. I was telling some people about the dirty pig insult I found in the glossary of your book, and one friend said she’d need the phonetic spelling.

  2. Deb Kent says:

    shtick dreck is yiddish, btw. 🙂

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