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All the Tea in Chainik

A Yiddish etymological journey leads from Rudy Giuliani to Chinese teakettles, the Three Stooges, Russian hackers, and back again

Avi Shafran
August 22, 2018
A Chinese tea setShutterstock
A Chinese tea setShutterstock

Listening to presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani ramble on about legal matters and digress into philosophical speculation about the meaning of truth, one was sorely tempted to ask him to cease and desist from hocking unz a chainik—a Yiddish phrase that any New Yorker, even one of Italian ancestry, would surely recognize.

Hock mir nisht keyn chainik” means, in effect, “spare me your prattle.” Literally, of course, it means, “Don’t bang on a teakettle” or, possibly, “Stop knocking on my teakettle”—the kitchen utensil being employed metaphorically, as it is in Russian, to mean “head.”

Chainik is of Slavic origin, and the Romanian ceainic is pronounced the same way as the Yiddish word, as are the Russian чайник and Polish czajnik. Although the word may sound like a large Asian country, and there is reportedly much tea in China, that nation has no relation to those words; and the Chinese word for teakettle, 茶壺, sounds nothing like them.

As to hock, it figures as a description of speech in other Yiddish expressions as well. As in tzu hakn in der velt arayn, literally, “to chatter into the world,” or talk to no purpose; and in tzu hakn ligns, “to speak drivel,” or “tell lies.” Rudy, please have the president phone home.

America was probably introduced to the term hock a chainik by the immortal Three Stooges, who used it several times in their films. In the 1938 less-than-masterpiece “Mutts to You,” Larry, the Stooge who may or may not have inspired Art Garfunkel’s choice of coiffure, is disguised as a Chinese laundryman. Pretending to speak Chinese, he utters a stream of Yiddish double talk, ending with “Hak mir nisht keyn chainik”; adding, for good fortune, “and I don’t mean efsher (maybe)!”

Which recalls the old Chinese good advice (OK, OK, OK, it’s Yiddish): Always “faing on fun onfaing,”—“start from the beginning.”

Hocking, as we were, about legal matters pertaining to the president, a peripheral subject would be “hacking,” as in what certain Russian interests have been doing to other nations’ computer systems in recent years. And in recent hours: Microsoft recently disclosed that six web domains had been created by Russia-based hackers to mimic websites belonging to the Senate and conservative think tanks.

The origin of the use of “hack” to mean illegally entering a computer network is unclear. It may have come about simply as a reflection of the need to “hack away” at passwords and security measures in order to gain such entry. If you have a far-fetched theory of some Yiddish connection, I’m afraid I must ask that you hock mir nisht keyn chainik.

Ah, but there is a Hackish connection to that last word. According to the hacking community, chainik is a common term, particularly among Russian cyberinfiltrators. It is used to mean a hacking newbie or rube. As in, “That Dmitri, he’s such a complete chainik. Doesn’t know a git from a gulag.”

From Hackish, the word, at least in Russian, has evolved to mean any neophyte. In fact, the Russian translation of the popular “For Dummies” book series uses chainik in place of “dummy.” Really. I hock you not.

An interesting, if unconvincing, suggestion of how the word came to be so used has to do with skiing novices. A new survivor of the beginners’ slope, the theory goes, is wont to proudly pose for a photo with one hand on his waist and another holding a standing pole, bringing (at least to a highly imaginative mind) the image of a teakettle.

Moving, though, from whiteouts back to the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained the president’s revocation of John Brennan’s security clearance as having been necessary because of the former CIA director’s “erratic conduct and behavior.”

A classic case, some might say, of the pot calling the chainik black.

Rabbi Shafran, whose latest book is “It’s All In The Angle” (Judaica Press), blogs at

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