H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
Hungarian words that it is unintelligible to Germans.20 Transported to the United States, it has taken in so many English words and phrases, and particularly so many Americanisms, that it is now nearly unintelligible, as spoken in the big cities of the East, to recent arrivals from Russia and Poland. Such typical Americanisms as sky-scraper, loan-shark, graft, bluffer, faker, boodler, gangster, crook, guy, kike, piker, squealer, bum, cadet, boom, bunch, pants, vest, loafer, jumper, stoop, saleslady, ice-box, and raise are quite as good Yiddish as they are American. For all the objects and acts of everyday life the East Side Jews commonly use English terms, e. g., boy, chair, window, carpet, floor, dress, hat, watch, ceiling, consumption, property, trouble, bother, match, change, party, birthday, picture, paper (only in the sense of newspaper), gambler, show, hall, kitchen, store, bedroom, key, mantelpiece, closet, lounge, broom, table-cloth, paint, landlord, fellow, tenant, bargain, sale, haircut, razor, basket, school, scholar, teacher, baby, mustache, butcher, grocery, dinner, street and walk. In the factories there is the same universal use of shop, wages, foreman, boss, sleeve, collar, cuff, button, cotton, thimble, needle, machine, pocket, remnant, sample, etc., even by the most recent immigrants. Many of these words have quite crowded out the corresponding Yiddish terms, so that the latter are seldom heard. For example, ingle, meaning boy (=Ger. jüngling), has been wholly obliterated by the English word. A Jewish immigrant almost invariably refers to his son as his boy, though strangely enough he calls his daughter his meidel. Die boys mitdie meidlach haben a good time is excellent American Yiddish. In the same way fenster has been completely displaced by window, though tür (=door) has been left intact. Tisch (=table) also remains, but chair is always used, probably because few of the Jews had chairs in the old country. There the beinkel, a bench without a back, was in use; chairs were only for the well-to-do. Floor has apparently prevailed because no invariable corresponding word was
Note 20. During the war I visited Lithuania and Livonia while they were occupied by the Germans. The latter could not understand the Yiddish of the native Jews, but there were in almost every town a few Jews who had been to the United States and could speak English, and these were employed as interpreters. Among the Germans, of course, there were many English-speaking officers. [back]