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The Gallivanting Spatula

Words Jews use

Jeffrey Goldberg & Alana Newhouse
October 12, 2010
(Mark Alan Stamaty)
(Mark Alan Stamaty)

Not long ago, Tablet editor Alana Newhouse asked Jeffrey Goldberg, of The Atlantic, when he would be able to travel to New York from Washington to finish a Tablet Magazine project. He hemmed and hawed; she sighed.

“Well, whenever you’re finished gallivanting around Washington, come up here so we can finish,” she said, wearily.

“ ‘Gallivanting’?” Goldberg asked. “Who says ‘gallivanting’?”

“Jews,” Newhouse responded.

“Only Jews?” Goldberg asked.

“Only Jews,” Newhouse said.

“Like ‘appetizing’ as a noun?” Goldberg said.

“Yes,” Newhouse said. “And ‘mauve.’ Or ‘sideboard.’ ”

“And ‘drapery,’ ” Goldberg added.

“We could make a list,” Newhouse said.


As with everything else in Jewish life, Philip Roth got here first—in this case, with Portnoy’s Complaint:

The novelist, what’s his name, Markfield, has written in a story somewhere that until he was fourteen he believed “aggravation” to be a Jewish word. Well, this was what I thought about “tumult” and “bedlam,” two favorite nouns of my mother’s. Also “spatula.” I was already the darling of the first grade, and in every schoolroom competition, expected to win hands down, when I was asked by the teacher one day to identify a picture of what I knew perfectly well my mother referred to as a “spatula.” But for the life of me I could not think of the word in English. Stammering and flushing, I sank defeated into my seat, not nearly so stunned as my teacher but badly shaken up just the same … and that’s how far back my fate goes, how early in the game it was “normal” for me to be in a state resembling torment—in this particular instance over something as monumental as a kitchen utensil.

“Spatula,” we eventually decided, didn’t actually meet the requirement of our new Jewish lexicon; the list we have in mind does not feature Yiddish words, real or faux, nor will it include words such as “spatula” that have been confused, in the past, for Yiddish. (Though “tumult” might count.) Still, in honor of Roth—whose 31st book was published last week—we decided to name this project “The Gallivanting Spatula.”

Here, then, is the beginning of the list, which we’ll update each week. We invite readers to suggest additions (phrases—for instance, “a tumor of the size of a grapefruit”—as well as individual words, are welcome.) We feel no need to ask for corrections, knowing that these will come with or without an invitation. You can email us at [email protected].

Appetizing (noun only): “I have to pick up the appetizing for the Men’s Club sukkah event.”

Federation (noun): “Federation’s Peoplehood Committee is commissioning a study on unaffiliated Jews in the Greater Metro region.”

Gall stones (noun): It is a well-known medical fact that non-Jews, while not immune to gall stones, do not discuss gall stones, publicly or privately.

Livid (adjective): “Irma is livid with the caterer.”

Luncheon (noun): Not “lunch,” which is an ecumenical term. “Join us for the kick-off luncheon of the American Friends of the Weizmann Institute.”

The Arabs (noun): “There could be peace if the Arabs would stop teaching hate in their textbooks.” (“Arabs” without the article “the” is used by non-Jews.)

Traipsing (verb): Fatigued gallivanting.

Jeffrey Goldberg, is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, a columnist for Bloomberg View, and a Tablet Magazine contributing editor. Alana Newhouse is Tablet Magazine’s editor-in-chief.