Blessings, Curses, Hopes, and Fears: Psycho-Ostensive Expressions in Yiddish

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In this delightful book, the author enumerates and classifies the formulas Yiddish speakers use to express their emotions. It is a rarity among scholarly books, for it brings joy while it teaches; it makes us smile, sometimes roar with laughter, while it develops the most rigorous linguistic argumentation. The author analyzes the many kinds of Yiddish psycho-ostensives -ranging from blessings and thanks to lamentations and curses. To a person who mentions something horrible you can say: Zalts dir in di oygn, fefer dir in noz! ( Salt into your eyes, and pepper into your nose! ). Or to a child you might tenderly murmur: A gezunt dir in yeder eyverl! ( A health to all your little body-parts! ). The author illustrates how these formulas can be used to fulfill social conventions, to keep away evil, to show off-or even to deceive the listener. Comments [1999] I have known and profited from this book for many years, and its interest for linguistics and Yiddish studies has grown steadily. The book will have three audiences: specialists in Yiddish; linguists, psychologists, and anthropologists who are interested in the emotional side of language; and general linguists familiar with Matisoff's outstanding contributions, both witty and insightful, in other linguistic fields. -William Labov, University of Pennsylvania Matisoff's book was pathbreaking, innovative, and crucially important when it was first published and remains so today. It is as relevant as it was then, if not more so. Matisoff is a consummate scholar and also an excellent writer: clear and weighty but also whimsical and witty. -Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University