The Yiddish name for grandfather is zayde. Since Hebrew uses a different alphabet from English, making transliteration necessary, words often exist in several different spellings. Variations of zayde include zaydee and zaydeh.
Some Jewish families prefer the Hebrew saba, but zayde is definitely the more traditional term. Saba is more commonly used in Israel, but zayde is more popular in the United States.
Some Jewish grandparents living in the United States opt for more mainstream names, such as Grandpa.
Yiddish originated with the Ashkenazi, Jews living in Germany and nearby areas. The Ashkenazic Jews spoke German but included expressions from the oral Hebrew tradition. Eventually this Judeo-German blend became a distinct language known as Yiddish with a written form. The word Yiddish simply means Jewish.
In Judaism, Hebrew is known as the "holy tongue," traditionally studied only by men. In contrast, Yiddish was sometimes called the "mother tongue," because it connected women, who weren't allowed to study Hebrew, with their heritage. Yiddish became the language of the home, whereas Hebrew was the language of the synagogue.
As Jews began to be integrated into larger cultures, many adopted the languages of those cultures, and the use of Yiddish declined.
In the early 20th century, however, there was a revival of interest in Yiddish. The Holocaust and the associated diaspora caused the language to fall into disuse once again.
A small but influential segment of Jewish society strives to keep Yiddish alive. It is still spoken in conservative communities, and some authors, notably Isaac Bashevis Singer, have chosen to write in Yiddish.
Upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, Singer said, "Yiddish has not yet said its last word."
Yiddish is not an official language of Israel. Hebrew and Arabic are used for official business. The use of Yiddish was discouraged during the early years of statehood as leaders sought to unify the population behind a single language, Hebrew. Although the use of Yiddish is no longer restricted and indeed there have been official steps taken to preserve it, Yiddish continues to be spoken by fewer and fewer Israelis as the older generations die out.
Things a Zayde Might Say
A grandfather who knows a little Yiddish might use these terms, although some have German or Hebrew roots:
- Kvell means to express great pleasure and pride, such as when a grandparent is proud of a grandchild.
- Nosh means to have a light snack, such as one might share with a grandchild.
- Mensch is a good man, a person of integrity, as grandfathers strive to be.
- Mishpocha is the extended family or a family network, sometimes including friends. There are many variant spellings for this term.
The Yiddish also have many colorful expressions of folk wisdom:
- "The eggs think they are smarter than the chickens." Although they have no experience, youngsters think they are smarter than their elders.
- "The country's on fire, and grandma is washing her hair." This is similar to the expression about Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Humans focus on minor matters when ruin is at hand.
- "In bad times even a penny is money." When money is scarce, every penny counts.
- "If his word were a bridge, I'd be afraid to cross it." He doesn't keep his word.
- "Even the most expensive clock has only 60 minutes." Money can't buy some things, notably time.
- "He should drink too much castor oil." May he be stricken with a tummy ache!
- "He should grow a wooden tongue." He talks too much.
- "Shrouds don't have pockets." You can't take it with you!