September 10th, 2008

iAm iSaid

The Joys of Yiddish

I see the word "kvell," as I did in today's Merriam-Webster Word of the Day, and I think smilingly of Worf's First Adventure by Peter David where young Worf is surprised "kvell" isn't a Klingon word.

Here's today's write-up about "kvell":
kvell \KVEL\
verb: to be extraordinarily proud : rejoice

Example sentence: "Critics kvelled over the violinist’s triumphant return to the stage where she had made her debut many years ago."

We are pleased to inform you that the word “kvell” is derived from Yiddish “kveln,” meaning "to be delighted," which, in turn, comes from the Middle High German word “quellen,” meaning "to well, gush, or swell." Yiddish has been a wellspring of creativity for English, giving us such delightful words as "meister" (“one who is knowledgeable about something”), "maven" (“expert”), and "shtick" (“one’s special activity”), just to name a few. The date for the appearance of "kvell" in the English language is tricky to pinpoint exactly. The earliest known printed evidence for the word in an English source is found in a 1952 handbook of Jewish words and expressions, but actual usage evidence before that date remains unseen.

Maurice Sendak in the New York Times

From the New York Times, Maurice Sendak's Concerns, Beyond Where the Wild Things Are:
Maurice Sendak’s 80th year — which ended with his birthday earlier this summer and is being celebrated on Monday night with a benefit at the 92nd Street Y — was a tough one. He has been gripped by grief since the death of his longtime partner; a recent triple-bypass has temporarily left him too weak to work or take long walks with his dog; and he is plagued by Norman Rockwell.

Or, to be more accurate, he is plagued by the question that has repeatedly been asked about Norman Rockwell: was he a great artist or a mere illustrator?

“Mere illustrator,” he said, repeating the phrase with contempt. It’s not that Mr. Sendak, who has illustrated more than 100 books, including many he wrote, is angry that people question Rockwell’s talent; rather, he fears he has not risen above the “mere illustrator” label himself.

Never mind that Mr. Sendak’s originality and emotional honesty have changed the shape of children’s literature; that his work is featured in museums; that he has designed costumes and sets for operas, ballets and theater; that he has won a chest full of awards and prizes including a National Medal of the Arts. As the playwright Tony Kushner, one of his collaborators, said, “He’s one of the most important, if not the most important, writers and artists ever to work in children’s literature. In fact, he’s a significant writer and artist in literature. Period.”

Mr. Sendak protested, “But Tony is my friend.”
Other details at the link, like how Sendak survived a heart attack at age 39 and didn't tell his dying mother because he didn't want to worry her.