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The Gallivanting Spatula

Words Jews use

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We’re sorry for the delay, but it took more time than expected to sort through your hundreds of delightfully belligerent “suggestions” for The Gallivanting Spatula, our compendium of words only Jews use. (We hope you’ll continue to send your entries, to From this point forward, we’ll update every couple of weeks or so. And you can go here to see the complete list.

Additionally, with each new installment we’ll also induct our favorite suggestion from a reader, who will receive a Gallivanting Spatula mug—emblazoned with Mark Alan Stamaty’s fantastic logo—as a token of our appreciation.

This week’s winner is Ed, who relayed the following: “My mother (72 years old, Jewish, Brooklyn) and her friends have always referred to the gastroenterologist as the ‘gastro-man.’ I thought this was normal and used it myself until someone asked me if my stomach doctor wore a cape and tights.” To be frank, the more popular locution is “GI guy.” But we’re giving this one to Ed on account of the clever superhero joke.

And now, the new words:

Viennese table (noun): A buffet table of desserts (usually parve.) Unrecognizable to Austrians, or anyone else who has not visited Leonard’s of Great Neck. Here is its use in a sentence: “We were going to do the Viennese table, but our catering manager advised us to skip it and do the chocolate fountain instead.” This is not a sentence we made up. Related phrases include “modified Viennese” and “mini-Viennese”—neither of which should be confused with “shmorg (noun)”, which itself has absolutely nothing to do with “shmorg” (verb), go wash your mouth out with soap.

Peoplehood (noun): Mythical state of bliss sought mainly by Jews who are paid by other Jews to think about Jews. Usage: “The Jewish Peoplehood Subcommittee will meet in Room 404, immediately following the plenary.”

Sit-down dinner (noun): See here. Not to be confused with heavy hors d’oeuvres.

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Jon Garfunkel says:

“The comments by now are testimony enough to the screwiness of this whole endeavor, and it’s beginning to sounds like Jewish exceptionalism at its worst (only we Jews say spatula!) At some point the editors need to admit defeat and call in a linguist to explain the delusion that certain words– without Yiddish derivation– are thought to be ‘Jewish’.” — me, posting here last month to the original call for comments. Some humility on your part to these observations would be healthy.

Phyllis says:

So…what is the “non-Jewish” word for spatula??

Viennese table is from the French viennoiserie — which are an assortment of finger-food pastries. Perfect for a buffet, and suggests a Great Neck — Paris connection!

jennifer says:

interesting. i missed the first go-around with this and am sorry. it sounds like maybe some people found it to be an odd project. i will say that i’ve used ‘sit down dinner’ for years and never thought of it as a jewish saying. in fact i heard it initially from someone who most definitely was not jewish. so maybe those who take issue with this project might have a point.

shavit says:

people who take issue with this project should remember that they don’t pay for this site and lighten up …

you might disagree with some of their selections, but it’s a joke. get a grip.

Chana Batya says:

Actually, I recently learned that the Viennese Table is also known as a Venetian Table, by, you guessed it, the Italians, who also have their catered affairs at Leonard’s of Great Neck. Who knows, maybe Leonard himself (is he Jewish or Italian, I wonder?) coined this term, to be mangled by each group according to their unconscious associations…

May I add that I have only heard Viennese Table in the New York area (thank you, Leonard, or Leonard’s, I really don’t know) but the sit-down dinner transcends zip codes, as I have lived in many of these and have heard this all my life as the ne plus ultra of Jewish entertaining.

I recently learned about the schmorg myself…it’s my favorite part of the wedding feast, as I love the kosher sushi with the horseradish-instead-of-wasabi variant, making all sushi taste like gefilte fish.

Marc Tracy says:

Shavit gets a special mug for having a sense of humor.

Jon Garfunkel says:

If people could only complain about things they’ve paid for, then we’d be a very quiet people.

I’m not affected one way or another by this. It’s just my wish that the editors realize the futility of this exercise before they followup with another.

Of course I recognize humor — like Jeffrey Goldberg, in his day job at the Atlantic, prattling on about “The Resistance.” That’s funny stuff.

“Sit-down-dinner” is used commonly by non-Jews to describe what might be served after a wedding.

I always call it the Vietnamese table. “Do you think there’s going to be a Vietnamese table?”

Jamie D. Rosen says:

A little of this goes a long way. What’s next: a clever web-site on “in-phrases of the Latinos!,” which reveals that the special code word Latinos use for the game played by the Yankees and Dodgers is “baseball,” and their exclusive word for the meal you have been breakfast and dinner is “lunch.” This does not do a lot of good for impressions of exclusiveness to have obsession over “special” Jewish words for what are words everyone else uses too. What is the point here? Include me out, to use a “special” Jewish term.

Marcos El Malo says:

@Jamie D. Rosen:

What, you don’t think the Latinos have their own ethnic vocabulary here in the U.S.? What a sheltered life you must lead, Jamie. This reminds me of certain non-Latino Americans who favor English as our official language, for fear that the Latinos will usurp English words like “patio” and “ranch”, or even worse, begin changing geographical names in the Southwest, such as Florida, Los Angeles, many streets in L.A., including the famous Jewish Blvd. of Pico., etc., etc.

What’s so wrong with a little bit of humor to leaven our Jewish pride? Why must pride always be unleavened? And why would you want to hide the famous, if at times unpleasant sense of exclusiveness? (I myself have felt it from my father’s side of the family because my mother was of the goyim.)

Part of the humor here (I hope I’m not spoiling the joke by spelling it out) is that many words we might think of as being special to American Jews actually are not. Gallivanting is not really exclusive to Jews, nor is Spatula. Yet how can a Gallivanting Spatula be anything *but* Jewish? My thinking is you should relax, you’ll live longer. And if you cannot relax, maybe find other pastures upon which to nosh. Or as the kids say, GTFO!

(What sort of person posts a comment to something he is disinterested in to state “include me out”? No, really, I’m asking! Is moishe kapoyr the right word?)

petroglyph says:

Yeah, this is ridiculous. I come from the South — not exactly a ton of Jewish people there (sadly). I’ve heard many of these phrases many times.

Why not just vet these with a panel of non-Jews before posting them and looking silly? Or put them up and have people weigh in? “Sit-down dinner”? Come on.

bitter herb
palm frond
cud (as in chews its)

My word is “ALREADY,” as in “Come on already” or “Quiet down already.”
I’m from NYC and always used it that way and never thought about it until my non-Jewish brother-in-law once asked me: What is ‘already” doing at the end of your sentence? I stopped in my tracks to think.
Nu kvar…so what is the answer. It must be from the Yiddish and clearly expresses impatience or even exasperation.
Anyway, only Jews and New Yorkers use the word that way.

As for spatula. That’s the only word I have heard used by all non-Jewish Americans.

Alexander Diamond says:

I’m totally confused. I never knew, until now, the the famous singer Spatula Clark is Jewish. Was it a secret?

Rachel says:

I thought the word “disheveled” was Yiddish until I was 14. Never had I heard a non-Jew (or perhaps anyone who wasn’t my mother) use the word and it has a pretty Jewish feel to it.

“Gastro-man” should very rightly have one this week, I can’t imagine a people that talk about their insides (especially the gastro area) more than the Jews.

Jews are obsessed with their inards: A German says”I’m so thirsty, I must have beer”, an Italian says “I’m so thirsty, I must have wine” A Jew says “I’m so thirsty I must have diabetes!”

pamela says:

Dear Jeffrey and Alana,
Thank you so much for such a thought-provoking website, I really enjoy it. The thing that I like about it the most is that it often makes me laugh out loud. Just the comments on this article are funny, as are some of the words entered in the competition. My hometown of New Orleans also has a vocabulary of it’s own; for instance, the words lagniappe (a little something extra), neutral ground (the median in the middle of a boulevard), and banquette (sidewalk), are just three of hundreds that I could think of. I’m sure we have a few that are unique to the Jews of New Orleans as well!

Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more from this post. I’m very glad to see such excellent info being shared freely out there.


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The Gallivanting Spatula

Words Jews use

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