by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel
Even as a young girl, I always had a fascination with words and their meanings. I’d listen to my grandmother and mom chatting and if I overheard a “big” word I wasn’t familiar with, I’d ask “what does that mean?” One of the words, zaftig, I’d hear several times, especially when they were chatting after grandma attended her ladies’ club meeting and she’d be describing someone that just got elected to a club position. If mom wasn’t sure which lady it was, grandma would say, “she has red hair and is a bit zaftig”. Having grown up in the Bronx, I soon realized this was a saying copied from a popular Yiddish word to describe a plump woman. Nobody would say she was fat, but used this expression instead. Nowadays, one might say “heavy-set” as a polite form to describe a somewhat overweight person.
When we look closer at our English language, we realize that with so many idioms and expressions, someone learning our language might have a difficult time understanding some of them. For instance, how about the words diddly-squat? Every time I’ve heard it used in films or in person, it signifies something of little importance or lack of caring. I don’t give a diddly-sqat if someone else wear’s the same dress to the prom as me. How often have you used the expression, doohickey, when you can’t think of what something is called like a part of something larger? Or another word that is popular is a thingamajig when a replacement part is needed and I just take it to the hardware store for the clerk to help me locate it. I have no name for what I need, but just show him this doohickey and he miraculously finds it and tells me its proper name, too. One of the words I distinctly remember hearing many years ago I think can be attributed to the singer, Cher. She would say, “I hate to sound a bit snarky, but this is how I feel”, then went on a tirade about something that annoyed her with the new crop of musicians invading the industry. The word is clearly understood to me as sarcastic or a bit rude criticism about something that annoys you. If someone says you are a snarky personality, don’t take it as a compliment as it means you are always finding fault with things and complaining incessantly. Lastly, don’t get into a kerfuffle over not knowing many of these words right off the bat. Eventually you will hear them being used and now know their meaning. By the way, kerfuffle is a British expression meaning to make a commotion or fuss. But you knew that, right?