NY Times Opines on Kvetching and Kvelling - We must be close to the messianic redemption

Who would believe it? In his distinguished column on language, Bill Sapphire writes today about kvetching and kvelling:

On Language: Kvetch

“Republicans,” wrote Mark Leibovich and Anne Kornblut in The Times, “suddenly facing a minimum two-year sentence out of power, coalesced around a message of kvetching.”

“It’s not whining,” insisted Representative Pat McHenry of North Carolina, irritated at the way Democrats were driving the early legislative agenda without permitting Republicans to utter a peep (much as the G.O.P. members did when they were in the majority). “It’s a matter of calling them out on their rhetoric.”

The use of kvetching in The Times not as a part of a quotation — nor, for that matter, within quotation marks to indicate a slang or dialect expression — is clear evidence that the word has been absorbed into the English language. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate defines the verb kvetching as “to complain habitually”; it appeared in its citation files in 1952, the same year as its near-opposite, kvell, “to be delighted,” from the German quellen, “to gush, swell,” in most cases with pride. But within a decade, the grim kvetching, unlike the joyous kvell, made it as a noun.

It met a linguistic need that reflects the temper of contentious times: a kvetching is not merely “a complainer, nag, sulker, grumbler, grouser, griper, whiner, moaner” or the more formal “malcontent.” Like most words imported to convey an especially vivid feeling, kvetch seems to sound like the quality it describes in a person. There is a lower-lip-biting itchiness to it; extended exposure to someone who is a kvetch may be subliminally related to the rhyming retch, or at least evokes the urge to spew out the onomatopoeic imprecation yecch!

Usage of the word in all its forms — verb, participle, now strongly noun — has been assisted by “Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods,” by Michael Wex, and by what is described as “a music/comedy CD” by Freddy and the Froy Boys titled “Kvetch 22,” the name a pun on the unforgettable name of the 1961 novel by Joseph Heller. If The Times is willing to adopt this Yiddishism as both verb and noun (from kvetshn, from the German quetschen, literally “to squeeze, pinch,” the feeling you get from extended exposure to a kvetching), it is a breakthrough for color in reportage. Makes every language maven kvell.

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