Wednesday, September 12, 2012

word of the day: schvartse

The word of the day is schvartze:

Etymology:  Yiddish, < shvarts black: compare swart adj. and n.
slang (depreciative).
A black person; spec. (in the U.S., with the ending -a or -e) a black maid. (OED)

"He goes on a few dates with a cute barista named Olivia.  She has this staggering Afro that she keeps kerchiefed down while she's at work.  Scott tells his sister all about her, redacting only two facts from his account: first, that they are not a serious couple; second, that while Olivia is half black she is also half Jewish.  On her mother's side, no less.  Olivia wasn't bat-mitzvahed, but she spits fire if she sees a 'Free Palestine' patch on a backpack.  She wants to take one of those birthright trips to Israel to explore her roots.  She encourages Scott to take one, too, but stops short of suggesting that they go together.  Scott makes his sister understand that Olivia is the first significant girl after Ellen, and so Priscilla tells their mother, and now it's a family scandal.  These poor narrow-minded, well-meaning Long Island racists!  All this tribal madness about bloodlines, purity - obsessions that have never worked out especially well for Jews.  Unless you count the six thousand years of survival (that's what Olivia would say), but then what about, for example, Tay-Sachs?  Anyway, he calls home more often.  The perplexed suffering in his mother's voice is not unwelcome.  He's pretty sure shvartseh is the only Yiddish word his father knows."

 - Justin Taylor, "After Ellen", 13 & 20 The New Yorker

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