H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
naturally exerted a constant pressure upon the national language, for the majority of them, at least in the first generation, have found it quite impossible to acquire it in any purity, and even their children have grown up with speech habits differing radically from those of correct English. The effects of this pressure are obviously two-fold; on the one hand the foreigner, struggling with a strange and difficult tongue, makes efforts to simplify it as much as possible, and so strengthens the native tendency to disregard all niceties and complexities, and on the other hand he corrupts it with words and locutions from the language he has brought with him, and sometimes with whole idioms and grammatical forms. We have seen, in earlier chapters, how the Dutch and French of colonial days enriched the vocabulary of the colonists, how the German immigrants of the first half of the nineteenth century enriched it still further, and how the Irish of the same period influenced its everyday usages. The same process is still going on. The Italians, the Slavs, and above all, the Russian Jews, make steady contributions to the American vocabulary and idiom, and though these contributions are often concealed by quick and complete naturalization their foreignness to English remains none the less obvious. I should worry,76 In its way, is correct English, but in essence it is as completely Yiddish as kosher, ganof, schadchen, oi-yoi, or mazuma.77
The extent of such influences remains to be studied; in the whole literature I can find but one formal article upon the subject. That article78 deals specifically with the suffix -fest, which came into American from the German and was probably suggested by familiarity
Note 76. In Yiddish, ish ka bibble. The origin and meaning of the phrase have been variously explained. One theory is to the effect that it is a Yiddish corruption of the German nicht gefiedelt (=not fiddled=not flustered). But this seems to me to be fanciful. To the Jews ish is probably the first personal pronoun and ka appears to be a corruption of kann. As for bibble, I suspect that it is the off-spring of bedibbert (=embarrassed, intimidated). The phrase thus has an ironical meaning, I should be embarrassed, almost precisely equivalent to I should worry. [back]
Note 77. All of which, of course, are coming into American, along with many other Yiddish words. These words tend to spread far beyond the areas actually settled by Jews. Thus I find mazuma in a Word-List from Kansas, from the collectanea of Judge J. C. Ruppenthal, of Russell, Kansas, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. v, 1916, p. 322. [back]
Note 78. Louise Pound: Domestication of the Suffix -fest, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. v, 1916. Dr. Pound, it should be mentioned, has also printed a brief note on -inski. [back]