Friday, May 09, 2014


Does Wikipedia know Yiddish?  In my Google search I wrote "schtick" and did get some hits on that, but the first entry was to Wikipedia (surprise!) and the word was minus the first "c," causing me to ask, who gets to determine the English spelling of Yiddish words?

I do it fairly often and wonder if that is from growing up in New York or from being the son of Sidney Arvan or for some other reason.  Gail Collins does it frequently in her column.  That is doubly impressive because, as my parents would have said, "she is SO goyish."  And she does it in writing, where her style is more Bob and Ray than it is Mort Sahl.  For me it is harder to do in writing.  You need something to react to and that is usually provided in the flow of conversation.  Collins does have a leg up on the rest of us though, writing about the goings on in the nation's capital.  Reality there is already well peppered with absurdity.  With that starting point, it doesn't take as much to get to shtick.

I wonder why more people don't do it.  Most of the people I know are so earnest - all the time.  We really need absurdity as part of our daily interactions and to bring it into the conversation from time to time.  It lightens things up, gives us a little bit of distance from the current travails, and might just be the antidote to a more permanent sarcasm, which is far less healthy.  With people you don't know, it's a way to get over the awkward shyness of the initial encounter.

Yesterday I went to the Library to pick up a book that they were holding for me.  I had printed out the notification I received and gave it to the woman at the counter.  She started typing something on her keyboard and then groaned a bit - her computer hadn't been able to process the request.  She said I should move over to the person at the station next to her, who would be able to help me.  On the way to do that I said that sometimes dropping the hard drive on the floor fixes the problem.  She then echoed the thought, saying that often dropping things on the floor gets them to work.  I responded, it does with kids!  Fortunately, they hadn't yet scanned my I-Card.

There is a tiny bit of risk in doing schtick.  How do you know the other person will go with the flow?  I'm pretty much a coward.  I don't believe I ever did it with my boss when I was working at CITES.  But with friends and colleagues I do it all the time.  Where's the harm?

I encourage you to try it a few times.  Getting egg on your face is not fun, but it's no big deal either.  And if it works, then you've really found something.

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