I have been taken to task, and rightly so, by a number of Russophones (speakers of Russian, that is) for having suggested that the Yiddish mutcheh, “to bother,” may be derived from the German mühe, which can mean “to make trouble.”
How silly of me! As the writers—among them Robert A. Rothstein, professor of Slavic and Judaic studies and of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (and he should know)—all pointed out, a much more likely candidate is the Russian мучение, pronounced muchinyeh and meaning “torment.”
As asserted by the veritable march of Slavs (forgive me, Tchaikovsky!), I had clearly been mistaken, misguided, lost—in a word… farblondjet. Ah, but at least my error offers me the opportunity to expound upon that most wonderful Yiddish word.
It, too, as it happens, is likely sourced in the Slavic, specifically, in the Polish błądzić, “to err,” and zbłądzić, “to wander.” Both those meanings happen to inhere as well in the English “err”s Latin root, errare—as in errare humanum est, “to err is human,” a most appropriate truism to invoke here.
An example of the Yiddish word’s usage would be: Ohn a gee pee es, hob ich engantzen gevoren farblondjet.
Ohn means “without” or “lacking”; hob ich engantzen gevoren means “I was entirely”; and gee pee es means exactly what it sounds like. Its source, of course, is English.
The “far” prefix, used as an intensifier, is common to many other interesting Yiddish words, including farfalen (“hopeless”—literally, “fallen in” or “collapsed”); fardreyt (“mixed up [in the head],” from drey, “turn around”); farmisht (“confused,” from mish, “mix”); and the ever-popular farklempt (“put upon” or “oppressed,” from klem, “to pinch”).
And then there is an interesting Yiddish far-word and an English one that are clearly sourced in the very same root. We speak of the Yiddish farloren, “lost,” used with an object, as in “Ich hob farloren mein galoshes,” something a forgetful child might tell his mother when his boots have disappeared in a pile of them at school.
Wherever they may be, the buried galoshes, if galoshes had feelings, would be not only farloren but, in English, forlorn—which, of course, means “sad” or “forsaken.” Or lost.
The sources of both the Yiddish and English words are the Old English forloren and its cognate, Old High German firliosan (in contemporary German, verlieren).
A lovely Yiddish “far” word is fargangen, “passed on,” not used to mean “died” (we dealt with shtarben and paigert in a previous column), but in the sense of the dissolution of some inanimate thing. Hence, the old Yiddish song, Di Zun Is Fargangen, “The Sun has Set.” Or “Di cholem is fargangen,” “The dream has dissipated.”
And another most pleasant Yiddish word is fargin, from the German vergönnen, “to grant,” and used in Yiddish to mean “not begrudge” – to be happy about the good fortune of another. (To nisht farginen someone means, of course, the opposite.) The Yiddish word has, interestingly, begat a Hebrew slang one, firgun, “selfless delight in another’s accomplishment.”
And if you think it’s farfetched to imagine the English word “farfetched” as deriving from Yiddish – if you think, in other words, that it’s a farfetchteh notion—well… you’re entirely right.