Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Lingo

America is an awfully big country, and language just isn't the same from one place to the next. I have lived in a couple of different places and I should be used to this by now. I was in Mississippi once and it was days before I understood a word anyone was saying. In Massachusetts I thought a neighbor was complaining that his cow was stolen, but when he said they caught it on the Turnpike going 75mph I figured he had to mean "car."

But I have been genuinely shocked by MInnesotans. Twice.

The second time was last Saturday , when a lady giving me a facial said she liked to -- wait, I better start at the beginning.

A couple of years ago the pastor at our church decided to offer a course in basic Catholicism. Since no one's Catholicism is more basic than mine, I figured I'd take the class. I hadn't read the new Catechism yet, and there were a few things I wanted to nail down once and for all, like how to pronounce "schism." Also "chasm," should he decide to throw that in.

The usual crowd showed up for the course- timid lifers, know-it-all converts, the pastor's mother. One evening we were talking about the Ten Commandments. An elderly lady had a question about the commandment to keep the Sabbath. (I think that's number three, but don't quote me.) She said she was sometimes unsure where to draw the line between a hobby and work.

"Yeah, that's a tough one," said our amiable pastor. "Think of it this way. Suppose you have a garden,and your garden needs some work. Now, if by 'work' you mean hauling boulders and laying bricks, well, that would be real work. But if you just feel like putzing around out there..."

I dropped my pen. But no one else seemed to have noticed anything. Slip of the tongue, I said to myself. I picked up my pen and went back to my notes.

"Well, sure, Father, I can see that," said another old lady. "I like to putz around my garden too, and...."

Now I had to look around. No one was batting an eye! Next thing you knew they were all going on about their favorite plces to putz. I was in a church basement, and I was at a putz fest.

The next day when I took my daughter to her preschool at Temple Israel I nabbed one of the teachers. "OK, set me straight on this," I said, and I told them the whole story. After their initial shock -- "He said that in CHURCH?"-- they explained that the p-word does not possess the literal meaning in these parts that it has back in NY. "You hear it here, they don't know what it means. They think it means 'putter' or something like that."

I still can't believe it, though. I tried to imagine somebody like Father Rutler casually mentioning the need to "putz," and I couldn't do it. Not that I'm going to ask him, either-- he'd be shocked. And rightly so. I mean, look how appalled he was when I told him I belong to a "kick-ass parish" out here.

But he let it slide.

Anyway. on Saturday I was getting a facial from a lovely Hungarian lady and she starts talking about "putzing," too. I winced. Of all the habits I'm likely to pick up out here I hope that isn't one of them. I certainly wouldnt' letmy daughter the term.

Of course I don't let her say "you betcha" either.


chicklette said...

Oh my goodness! This is too funny!! You really need to tell them to look it up in the dictionary. Just suppose that they travel to some place where there are actual Yiddish speakers who know what it really means? You would be doing them a favor.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm confused. I've lived in Texas all my life and have never heard anyone ever use "putz" other than referring to puttering.

Joke said...

Oy, the tsuris!

I'd've gone mental and explained (quietly) to the pastor what the word really meant. After all, this isn't Alice In Wonderland where words mean what we want them to mean.

That said, I recall being at a golf thing with a client where the husband of a Very Famous Lady Golfer said his game improved immeasurably when "my wife started coming out to look at my putts."

Homophones are dangerous.

Then again, Yiddish still hasn't gotten very far beyond the Northeast (excepting the Sixth Borough).


Joke said...

P.S. The word they want is "futz." I'll leave it to the lovely and gracious DIH to explain what a putz is.

bearing said...

Ashley, try this glossary.

bearing said...

I guess you need to learn to speak Yiddesotan.

Seriously, this is a malapropism of the best kind, akin to when one of my friends in college, in mixed company, referred to a farmer in the field wearing out his concubine.

Eric Bateman said...

I found an online dictionary and here is what they had for the word:


NOUN: 1. Slang A fool; an idiot. 2. Vulgar Slang A penis.
INTRANSITIVE VERB: Inflected forms: putzed, putz·ing, putz·es
Slang To behave in an idle manner; putter.

As you can see, there is the last definition - to behave in an idle manner, putter. So yes, enough people use this word for this definition that it made it in the dictionary.

Eric Bateman said...

The saddest thing about Putz is when doing a google search, there are quite a few people with that name - I wonder if Jewish people giggle everytime that person's name is mentioned. There is even a restaurant called Putz's in Cincinnati Ohio - I would guess that not many jews go there for eating :)

Anonymous said...

I feel you. I always heard about putzing around and never gave it another thought until high school. Being a private school it was attended by many Jewish students so I learned what a "putz" was. Language is a living funny thing.

My Thursday Thirteen # 21 is up now. It is the Photo Church Tour Edition Stop by if you get a chance!

Anon for saying a bad word said...

hailing from New Orleans (often referred to as the New York of the South, with our fair share of a Jewish population) I have learned this one early as an obscene name you call somebody you dislike-- like calling somebody a "dick".

Nancy said...

I'm actually glad someone defined this as I'm from Pennsylvania (recently transplanted to Baton Rouge) and I never knew what it meant. I thought it was putter, too.

Adoro Te Devote said...

I've been meaning to comment on this. I read it the other day before beginning work, and coulnd't stop laughing! I've been guilty of using this word myself, although I don't think it's a regular visitor to my vocabulary.

Oh, and the comment about the homophones: putz v putts. I nearly fell out of my chair on that one!

Thanks for the laugh! Believe me, it was and still is needed!

Oh, and Desperate, I still owe you a beer from many moons ago. I haven't forgotten. :-)

Anonymous said...

Good Lord! Please tell your pastor to check the glossary that Bearing linked too. I'm from Cleveland, OH which has a sizeable Jewish population, and even though I'm a cradle Catholic, I know the correct definition of putz! I'm laughing my head off even as I type this! Thanks for the grins and giggles!


Anonymous said...

Wow, Sue! I grew up in Jersey with an entire family from New York/Long Island, and the only thing I ever heard putz used for was to putter around. It wasn't until high school, I think, that I learned what it actually means in Yiddish.

I was shocked, though I still use it occasionally. I mean, to me, it still means, first and foremost, to putter around.

:o) said...

Our priest referred to the rectory as a 'cat-house' because they have three cats during his homily. I was rolling! I did take him aside to let him know that he may not want to use that term and what it meant. He was mortified.

maggie said...

Pennsylvania Putz:

I think "putz" was brought into the midwest from the German through the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, and to New York from Yiddish (a derivative language).

To the Pennsylvania Dutch it was apparently as early as 1902 a word indicating tinkering around the the finery, ornamentations, trim of a building project.

Arguably the Yiddish is also derived from the German "putz" (which means ornament or finery) in an ironice sense.


Below is a list of words the German "putz" translates to in an English/German dictionary online.:

finery -- der Putz
flush-mounted -- unter Putz montiert
furbelows -- der Putz
gaiety -- der Putz
gaud -- der Putz
laying -- der Putz
parget -- der Putz (Architektur)
pargeting -- der Putz (Architektur)
plaster -- der Putz (Architektur)
plastering -- der Putz
rig -- der Putz (Kleidung)
rusticated plaster -- der gefurchte Putz
trim -- der Putz
war paint -- der Putz

More than anyone wanted to know but these things interest me.

Anonymous said...

very funny.