Friday, March 4, 2011

Abraham Cahan

So, I jokingly said in class that I was going to require you to use a Yiddish word or two in your response to Cahan's "A Sweatshop Romance." Now, I am going to stick to that! Do a search for "Yiddish/English Dictionary" or for "Yiddish phrases." I am sure you'll find some good ones. Now, tell me about "translation" in the short story. To what degrees does the story concern translation and how might it be considered a kind of translation? I want you to describe this in terms of the "world of the text" as well as the world "beyond" it, the one in which is was written and published. Don't kvetch about it . . . just enjoy this opportunity to share your thoughts about Cahan's story!


  1. ALTER COCKER: An old and complaining person, an old fart.
    BEI MIR BIST DU SHAYN: To me you're beautiful.
    FERTUMMELT: Befuddled, confused.
    FRESS: To eat like an animal, i.e., quickly, noisily, and in great quantity.
    MEGILLAH: Long, complicated and boring.
    OY VEY: "Oh, how terrible things are". OH VEZ MEAR means "Oh, woe is me".
    SHMOOZ: To hang out with, a friendly gossipy talk.
    Source :
    Despite the story originally being written and published in English, its focus on a small Jewish community implies that some of the dialect might be different were it translated into the original Yiddish. In other words, there are most likely Yiddish phrases and words that would be used in place of some of the English used to tell the story. Alongside this linguistic translation, there is also a cultural translation occurring in the text. By using the lives of this small group of Jews as the main action in the story, Cahan is also able to make cultural statements regarding the Jewish population, especially the Jewish immigrant population. He describes cultural views on marriage and family through the interpersonal relationships of the characters. He also describes the attitude of many Jewish immigrants through the posturing and conviction of some of the main characters. Despite obvious attempts at assimilation, this cultural translation allows the reader to see the ways in which the characters have kept certain beliefs and practices from their homeland.


    A broch! - Oh hell! Damn it!! A curse!!!

    A broch tzu dir! - A curse on you!

    A brocheh - A blessing

    A chorbn - Oh, what a disaster (Oh S**T! an expletive)

    A foiler tut in tsveyen - A lazy person has to do a task twice

    A pish un a fortz iz vi a khasene un a klezmer! - A pee without a fart, is like a wedding without a band!

    Since the story is all in English originally, I think that there is less mistranslation because the author pretty much wrote what he meant.
    Cultural things like the wedding processes and traditions may be a little confusing to the outsider.
    The wife of the shop translated American power and wealth as having people work for her. She may not have been that wealthy, but she translated her position as the station to act posh.

  3. LUFTMENSH: A dreamer, someone whose head is in the clouds.
    BALABUSTA: The wife of an important person or a bossy woman.
    BOBBEMYSEH: Old wive's tales, nonsense.
    POTCHKA: To fool around; to be busy without a clear goal.
    SHLIMAZL: A chronically unlucky person, a born loser

    The story was written in English to express some traditions of the immigrant culture. If it were translated into Yiddish I’m sure many phrases would be different, but the meaning would probably be about the same. I agree with Angelica that the Balabusta was trying to translate her status through her bossing the employees around. Unlike Cahan’s other works where language was heavily infused with Yiddish this story has none, suggesting that Cahan wasn’t trying to write a language piece but possibly a cultural piece. There are many customs of the culture that are shown in this story. I would view this as a cultural translation story.

  4. While Cahan may have been writing specifically about a group of Jewish immigrants, telling the story in English allows any English-speaking person to enjoy the story despite their cultural background. This story doesn't have to be about Jewish immigrants. Just switch around the cultural shtik and it could be the story of any immigrant group as they struggle to assimilate into American society. There's an iberzetsn of American ideals in here for everyone: Don't be a luftmensh like Heyman. Show some ambition if you want to get the girl/be successful/make it in America. Be a macher like David.

    You can find the translations at:

  5. This story doesn’t concern translation in the sense of language, due to the lack of the lack of another language in it. The story does however contain elements of cultural translation. The characters in this story are Jewish immigrants who would have had to adjust to the culture of America; likewise the Jewish customs described (breaking the plate) require translation for the reader to fully understand. If the author had chosen to include some Yiddish in this novel, words like putz could have been used to describe Heyman, as well as the Lipmans.

  6. Meshugge or Meshuggina: Crazy, refers to a more chronic disturbance.
    Saykhel: Common sense.
    Zie Ga Zink: Wishing someone good health.
    Chazerei: Food that is awful, junk or garbage.

    The short story "A Sweatshop Romance" is a translational story on a couple of different levels. First and probably most obvious to the reader, it is a translation into the Jewish immigrant cultural transition and what dynamics and norms were "common" during this time period. It was interesting to read this story while considering the transition that these characters must be experiencing at the time of the story. On another level, this story functioned as a translation between the working class and their "bosses", and the fluctuating dynamic between them. Considering how these characters most likely filled a certain working niche in this time period, it is understandable to think that the level of their "power" was under revision. The conflict between the female characters was an excellent example of the evolving dynamic between the two "classes".

    My Yiddish phrases were found at:

  7. tsoye: excrement
    tsutsiik: attractive
    Abraham Cahn's story was a sweet short romance. The guy wants the girl, the girl wants another more wealthy guy, but then the wealthy guy misses out and the girl ends up with the guy who wanted her. Awwww.... This story however does deal with more than just matters of the heart. It comments on social injustice and some issues that come up for immigrants. The owners of the shop where all the characters work treat their own a little rough. The wife of the owner thinks her workers are more like her servants than anything in order to show off to some of her relatives. This brings up some issues of translation and interpretation. Of course it is obvious that there is a needed interpretaion because immigration is involved, but there is the interpretation that the workers feel that they are servants and this leads two of them, the guy and the girl, to quit. Language and identity is important to the characters in the story as that is all they have in the land they came to.

  8. "Glitch" was apparently Yiddish in origin. Huh. Nifty.

    To a degree, one can view the behaviors of the "factory" owners as being translations of their lives into the new, "American" way of life--that is, a translation from relative poverty to relative wealth and success. It comes off as a rough translation, however, as one might pull off using a student's dictionary: it's a hollow success, one that breaks down at certain levels, to the point that it fails completely with the story's climax.

  9. As a lamden (learned one) might expect the world of language, from the mind to the page, to another mind, to another language to another page is full of translation. Each step one takes in attempting to try and express themselves is a type of translation, be it from emotional to rational (explainable), Spanish slang to English, or any other type of nuanced and deeply intricate structure of communication. In the case of Cahn's story I would say that there is of course translation involved with the work, as there is with any, yet a higher degree of it might be in play because it used language which was specific to the mindset and heritage of a particular culture. Therefore, the story does, to a degree, feature the idea of translation and, subsequently, lost meaning as a background theme where the reader must try and take solace in the fact that the author will do his/her best to convey the intended meaning despite these barriers.

  10. SHLEMIEL: A dummy; someone who is taken advantage of, a born loser

    The story is in english, which means there wasn't much to miss in translation. However, the part where they break the plate is the only form "translation" I could think of, since one doesn't know what this symbolizes unless they are familiar with the jewish tradition.

  11. Farshnoshket - Loaded, drunk
    Verklempt - Too emotional to talk. Ready to cry.
    Farshtopt - Stuffed
    Klop - Bang, a real hard punch or wallop
    Yeneh velt - The other world; the world to come


    After reading Cahan story, It reminded me of movies and TV shows the have Jewish character in the; like Annie Hall, Blazing Saddles, Rugrats and Seinfeld. If you read between the lines and pay attention to the situation you can get the jest of what the Yiddish word mean.I also reminds me how Hispanic people use some Spanish word when you talk with them. But to people that have never encountered people like that would be confused.

  12. Yiddish Phrases:
    POTCHKA: To fool around; to be busy without a clear goal.
    SCHLOCK: A shoddy, cheaply made article, something thats been knocked around.
    SHTIK: A stick or thing. Often refers to an individual's unique way of presenting themselves, as in "She is doing her shtik."
    (Taken from

    Cahan's story might be considered a translation because a lot of Cahan's work is in Yiddish. He was speaking from a group which internally communicated in yiddish. The fact that "A Sweatshop Romance" is not in Yiddish shows that it was intended for a different audience. The work captures well the conditions of the timeperiods within the ghetto. The fact that the work is in English makes it so that when we are introduced to a jewish custom at the end of the novel, it could very likely throw the reader off. This makes the story a cutaway into jewish life. While we can see and clearly comprehend the situation, the events around the edge are less clear to us.