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Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary

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Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary

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Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary
(Arumnemik english-yidish verterbukh)
Based on the Lexical Research of Mordkhe Schaechter
Edited by Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath and Paul Glasser
Published by the Indiana University Press
League for Yiddish, Inc. (2016)
ISBN: 978-0-253-02282-0

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - December 5, 2016

[Please Note: The Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary can be purchased directly from the League for Yiddish, as well as from the Indiana University Press, and most online bookstores.]

The Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary is, to my knowledge, by far the most expansive English-Yiddish Dictionary currently in existence. It contains almost 50,000 entries and it is based upon the outstanding work conducted by Mordkhe Schaechter (1927-2007), who sought to elevate Yiddish back into the living language it was before the Holocaust. He was a beloved professor of Yiddish at Columbia University, as well as a luminary in the field of Yiddish scholarship. He was active in efforts to standardize Yiddish spelling, and he worked to encourage a new generation of students to pursue the study of Yiddish and to speak it in their everyday lives. As such, this dictionary is filled with both colloquial and modern day terms, such as microcomputer, AIDS, and electronic mail. You'll also find a bevy of 'fun' terms such as snotty and red-light district: terms which you will be hard pressed to find in more academically inclined Yiddish dictionaries. An assortment of vulgar terms have also been included! You'll also find cultural and religious terms associated with Yiddish such as mezuzah and Kaddish. Basically, this dictionary starts with the letter "A" and takes everyone from Yiddish linguists to the simply curious about Yiddish, on an eye opening tour of modern day Yiddish, and the tour doesn't stop until you hit the word zygote.

In addition to the nearly 50,000 main entries, this dictionary also includes 33,000 subentries that expand upon the main topic or which show the term in use. For example the main entry on the word "Lucky" includes subentries covering "be lucky, be lucky at cards, be lucky enough to, be lucky in love, it was lucky that, I should be so lucky!, I was lucky, Lucky devil!, and Who's the lucky man?" In additional, throughout this dictionary the editors have attempted to included words from a wide variety of Yiddish dialects and geographical regions, giving this dictionary a wider breadth of lexical terms than those dictionaries that focus solely on one region. In addition, the editors of this dictionary are both prominent members in the field of Yiddish linguistics. Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath, is not only Mordkhe Schaechter's daughter and a native Yiddish speaker and a Yiddish poet. She is also a regular contributor to Afn Shvel, a Yiddish cultural and literary magazine, as well as other Yiddish language publications. Paul Glasser studied and worked with Mordkhe Schaechter, and he is the former Dean of the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He is a fluent speaker of Yiddish.

The Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary is a must have resource for students of Yiddish, Yiddish speakers, and researchers. It includes a host of terms, abbreviations, and words that I never expect to 'ever' see in a Yiddish dictionary including such items as LSD, ICBM, one-horse town, DVD player, roadside bomb, Sicilian pizza, and foxy. This dictionary proves that Yiddish is indeed a living language, and one that has more than kept up with the times! The only drawback to this otherwise excellent dictionary is that it is huge and weighs about five pounds - making it difficult to take with you on a bus or to carry around at school. However, as a desk reference, it is perfect. Even better, the large size of the book has enabled the publisher to use a font size that is actually readable, which would not have been possible if the book was printed in a smaller format.

As with most dictionaries, this one includes a brief overview explaining how the dictionary is organized and how to use it. It also includes a detailed pronunciation guide that covers not only the pronunciation of Yiddish, but also of Yiddish words of Hebrew-Aramaic origin. Information on how grammatical information is presented is explained, as is the use of abbreviations and symbols. A handy chart is also included that lists the letters in the Yiddish alphabet, along with common letter combinations, and explanatory notes that will help even those just beginning to study Yiddish to benefit from this outstanding dictionary!

As a side note, please be aware that there is another, equally excellent Yiddish dictionary, that has a similar name. This other dictionary is the Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary, edited by Solon Beinfeld and Harry Bochner. It was published in 2013 by the Indiana University Press. It is an excellent academic dictionary, but only has 37,000 entries and does not have nearly as many colloquial and modern terms as does the newer Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary.


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