Friday, March 31, 2006

The Dark Lord's Dictionary

Abbas, Mahmoud, n. A snowball in a handbasket crossing the Styx.

Always, adv. When convenient.

Ascribe, v.t. Attribute; as, Paradise Lost to Milton, or any opinion at all to Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik.

Bagel, n. A chewy, ring-shaped bread roll that is simmered before baking. In Toronto, its shape is mistaken for a numerical representation of the amount of flavour it ought to have.

Balanced, adj. (Of a media report). Reflecting no will or effort on the part of the journalist to discriminate fact from falsehood; evidencing gullibility, ineptitude or cowardice; warped.

Banana republic, n. A country dependent on trade with the West, notable for the large gap between its high-end merchant fleet and its old navy.

Bat boy, n. Batman's summer job when he was a kid.

Beowulf, n. A piece of junk celebrated by academics in the field of English literature since 1936, when Professor Tolkien wrote a 56-page essay explaining that it was not a piece of junk.

Beverly Hills, n. A city whose inhabitants strive for ever greater quantities of wealth, fame, and marriages.

Billiard, n. Brit. One thousand billion.

Bohemian, n. A self-styled intellectual, usually young and upper-middle-class, who expresses his individuality by aping other Bohemians.

Bono, adj. From the Latin pro bono, "for free;" hence, gratuitous, worthless.

Bonsai, n. A method popular in Japan of artificially dwarfing trees and shrubs so they will fit inside Japanese cars.

Bourgeoisie, n. Those wealthier or more intellectually prestigious than I of whom I am jealous or with whom I disagree.

Brainwave, n. The stroke of genius that enables Frank to save himself and Joe, plus one of their girlfriends, after they've been captured by the bad guys. Usually his inspiration derives from his shop teacher at school or from reading his Boy Scout manual or the latest edition of Popular Science.

Bronze Age, n. The epoch in which civilization discovered the merit of placing third.

Calumnus, n. My relationship to my former school mates.

Cancer, n. A disease the risk of which is increased and decreased by every food and activity known to mankind.

Caning, n. A form of corporal punishment considered "cruel and unusual," unlike life imprisonment, which is not.

Choose, v.i. Kill one's unborn child.

Communism, n. Government that unwittingly mass-produces ropes for its own hangmen.

Convict, n. A criminal not defended by a Jewish lawyer.

Courage, n. A disease; common precursor of the plague of ostracism. Antidotes include rationalization, persecution of family and threats of discontinued employment or loss of prestige. Ostracism itself has no known cure, but sufferers can be partially rehabilitated using generous doses of contrition and grovelling, combined with skillful osculation of the posteriors of the infecting bodies.

Criteria, n. A principle or standard that a thing are judged by.

Defenestrate, v. An English word, notable for possessing the lowest ratio of usefulness of denotation to rudeness of sound.

Deist, n. One who wishes to believe in God without having to deal with the consequences.

Demon, n. A phenomenon that ceased to exist when Maimonides wrote that it had never existed.

Error, n. A phenomenon that began to exist when Maimonides wrote that it had always existed.

Dubious, adj. Relating to the latter President Bush.

Euthenasia, n. Chinese children.

Existence, n. That attribute of another which one studiously ignores while walking past him - a practice whose frequency is proportional inversely to one's age and directly to one's proximity to New York.

Fashion, n. An ingenious system whereby individuals are persuaded to pay large sums of money in order to publicly identify themselves as having an affinity for inglorious wastes of time and funds.

Ferric, adj. Ironic.

Ferrous, adj. Irony.

Fraternité, n. French. Last of the three guiding principles of the French Revolution. It translates roughly as "death by the guillotine."

Free verse, n. Irregular
unrhymed verse in which

the traditional
of prosody are


Freedom of speech, n. The ability to say, without fear of violent attack, anything that does not provoke a violent attack.

Garbage can, n. A New York subway station.

God, n. A mythical creature the non-existence of which, in our age of scientific rigour and intellectual maturity, may surely be taken on faith.

Gossip, v.i. Discuss or relay information concerning the affairs of others, especially their shortcomings, such as their sinfulness or how they waste their time.

Gun, n. According to the National Rifle Association, an important catalyst in the development of good manners. The higher rate of gun ownership in the United States than in Canada accounts for Americans' international reputation for being politer than Canadians.

Hand, n. An especially profitable investment in which a bird yields double what is typically returned by a matured nest egg.

Heaven, n. Chicagoan. Ken's Diner.

Hell¹, n. Chiefly yeshivish. Where you go after living in Teaneck.
Hell², n. Chiefly modern orthodox. Brooklyn.

History, n. A narrative that distorts the events of the past. Formerly, history was written by the victor. Now it is written by whoever yells loudest.

Holocaust, n. Large-scale destruction, esp. the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews in the mid-20th century, after which the nations of the world swore not to stand idly by and allow brutal tyrants to seize power and commit gross atrocities. The democratic West recognized that the policy of appeasement was ineffective in preventing such crimes, and that instead genocidal autocrats must be stopped by use of force—a belief the West still maintains, with the sole qualification that such use of force must not result in anybody being offended or hurt.

Homogedeity, n. Monotheism.

Homosexuality, n. A tendency which scholarly research has shown prevalent among 10% of modern society and 95% of historical and fictional personages since time immemorial.

Honest, adj. Middle East etc. Unable to think of a lie more serviceable than the truth.

Hothead, n. One whose mouth is big enough to accommodate his foot.

Hydrant, n. A local access point of flame-retardant liquid supplied by dogs.

Hypocritical, n. A very important African mammal.

Iambic Pentameter, n.

Pentameter iambic, O! Thou art
The finest form the poet e'er did write;
Didst serve Shakespeare and Chaucer, then depart
With Thomas, gentle into that good night.

For who can name a poem—long
Or short, with metre weak or strong,
With couplets or a-b-a-b,
But in the last half-century
Composed, and lovèd well by those
Who fly from the incessant prose
To refuge in the ebbs and flows
Of poetry—again, who knows
Of such a poem, in whose rows
The rhythm in five iambs goes?

Idiocy, n. That gift of Nature with which mankind is most generously endowed.

Imprimatur. The child's confession.

Incomplete, adj.

Insincerity, n. "How are you?"

Integrity, n. A characteristic that Ontario premiers used to have.

Introversion, n. Any text, course, or other presentation designed for beginners.

Irregardless¹, interj. A declaration meaning, "I am an ignorant dolt."
Irregardless², interj. A declaration meaning, "I live down Renfrew way, and I like calling in to the Lowell Green Show, eh. (And I am an ignorant dolt.)"

Islam, n. A religion whose adherents were, a millenium ago, incited and humiliated until they had no choice but to attack and conquer all of North Africa, the Middle East and south-central Asia.

Italics, n. A style of print developed in Italy, in the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Jewish person, n. Modern form of the archaic Jew; - The rabbi was a Jewish person.

Jewish person, v. Cheat or steal; - He Jewish personed me out of all my money.

Land on one's own two feet. American. Emerge unharmed from a difficult situation. The equivalent Canadian expression is land on either of one's feet.

Lemming, n. The Northern Man, as opposed to sheep - the Southern Man.

Yak, n. Woman.

Libertarian, n. A polite name for someone under the absurd impression that he believes in the application of absolute principles to public policy.

Literally¹, adv. Archaic. Literally literally, as in, "He was literally in tears at her funeral."
Literally², adv. Modern. Literally figuratively, as in, "I literally died laughing."

Man, n. Person.

Marooned, p. part. Stranded on a remote island in a Disney adventure flick.

Marriage, n. In Canadian law, an institution created by Parliament and equally holy.

Masses, n. pl. The opiate of the religion.--The Pope

Medic, adj. Of or containing the element medium in its higher valence state.

Merry, adj. Season's.

Christmas, n. Greetings.

Memorandas, pl. of memorandums.

Methane. Macbeth, Act I, Scene iii.

Modern, adj. Arts. Of or pertaining to an era that ended approximately four decades ago.

Post-modern, adj. Arts. Modern.

Multiculturalism, n. A culture more equal than all other cultures.

Neighbourhood, n. Formerly, the area in which one resided, and with whose inhabitants one was generally acquainted. More recently, the area in which one resides, and with whose inhabitants' cars one's car is acquainted.

Neutral, adj. Shamelessly partisan, as the United Nations.

New York¹, n. The world.
New York², n. Lower Manhattan.

Niagara Falls, n. Somewhere beyond Monsey, past Woodbury Common on the Thruway. It might be farther than Monticello, even.

Nineteen, n. & adj. The age at which Ontarians become mature and responsible enough to smoke, gamble and get drunk.

Non sequitur, n. The medium is the message.

Nose, n. One of the five sensing organs, generally situated in another's business.

Opiate, n. The religion of the masses.--Sherlock Holmes

Opposition, n. A wonderful lens which permits the politician to perceive every matter of governance as clear-cut and straightforward.

Ordinary Canadian, n. Someone who shares my opinion. Though many politicians, elitists and special-interest groups disagree, ordinary Canadians define the term my way.

Ottoman, n. An upholstered seat, without back or arms, sat on by Europeans after centuries of neglect.

Owe, v.i. & t. Be unable to evade payment (of).

Paralegals, n. pl. Two legals.

Parrot, n. A species of bird endowed with the power of speech but with little intelligence otherwise, merely repeating what its masters dictate it. Parrots typically have red plumage and sit in the back rows of the House of Commons.

Peacetime, n. A span of years or decades during which the modern Western chivalric code requires that powerful democracies preach pacifism, demilitarization and international cooperation and allow their sworn enemies to arm and fortify themselves, to make it a fair fight.

People's Republic (also Democratic Republic), n. An oppressive dictatorship.

Periodic, adj. Recurring at regular intervals, as a phase in a cyclical system, or the demise and revival of any of the eating establishments around Yeshiva University.

Phd, n. abbv. (Philosophiae Doctor - Latin). Among academics, a highly addictive drug which acts primarily on the pulmonary apparatus, catalysing the production of large quantities of hot air which in turn increases the relative altitude of the entire respiratory system, especially the nose.

Poland, n. A country whose principal asset is its wealth of consonants.

Polite, adj. Dishonest.

Politics, n. The art of the possible.

Israeli politics, n. The art of the impossible.

Midwestern politics, n. The art of the passable.

Polygamy, n. A form of adultery that remains illegal because it does not enjoy the widespread popularity of the other type. An arrangement which compounds the sin of licentiousness with that of honesty.

Profundity, n. A quality the sportscaster tries to impart to the public by demonstrating its opposite.

Puritan, n. & adj. Seventeenth-century Haredi.

Quarterback, n. The white guy.

Quoti, v. Cite a QUOTI. Quoti is one of those rare verbs, like ski and taxi, that feature two consecutive i's in their present participle and gerund forms: quotiing.

Rhea, n. A large, flightless South American bird, which unlike its cousin, the African ostrich, suffers from neither starvation nor AIDS, preferring instead the more lucrative pastimes of kidnapping and the drug trade. Both species, however, enjoy a good coup d'état or civil war.

Rhombus, n. An inoffensive geometric shape which languishes in obscurity along with the hectometre and the word "penultimate."

Romantic, n. An artist concerned less with form and æsthetic qualities than with feeling, emotion, and dying before 40.

Rotunda, n. A regular feature at an opera, inspiring the expression, "The game ain't over till the rotunda sings." A fat lady.

Russia, n. A nation that has long suffered the misfortune of dishonourable leaders, and vice versa.

Salamander, n. A newt-like amphibian born from fire, whose existence proves that Chazal knew more than modern scientists about the natural world.

School uniform, n. A form of brainwashing with which a school represses a student's individuality by preventing him from voluntarily copying the dress of his classmates.

Second cousin, n. Someone related to you just closely enough to make it embarrassing that you can't remember whether he's divorced.

Self-explanatory, adj.

Self-referential, adj. Self-referential.

Shoulder, n. That part of the anatomy looking over which the journalist finds out what to write.

Snivel, v.i. Contraction of "impersonate Woody Allen."

South Africa, n. A country occupying the southernmost part of the continent of Africa; ethnically, it is 13.6% white, 8.6% of mixed origin, and 75.2% African-American.

Speaker, n. Sedative.

Speed limit, n. The maximum speed at which a vehicle may travel, a figure inversely proportional to the driver's age.

Spine, n. A recessive trait common among Southern Baptists, occasional among Roman Catholics and unknown amongst Anglicans.

Staff psychologist, n. A professional whose primary mandate is to convince you that your best interests always coincide with those of his employer.

Statistic, n. A numerical record of a quantitatively superlative occurrence.

There are three kinds of cold: cold, damned cold, and statistics.—-Mark Twain

Sycophant, n. An obscene pachyderm.

Swing, n. Baseball. A batter's gamble that he will hit rather than strike.

Taste, n. A human artistic faculty whose influence scholars agree reached its zenith in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, declining sharply ever since. Objectively defined good taste, studied by intellectuals in arts colleges worldwide, goes, sadly, unrecognized today by tens of thousands of artists and hundreds of millions of art consumers.

Tautological, adj. See circular.

Circular, adj. See tautological.

Their, adj. His or her.

"Each instructor must submit their final grades by tomorrow," announced the Dean.

Professor Wright gasped and hobbled from the room, wailing, "Ouch! I stubbed our toe!"

Thesis, n. Product of a writer's need to publish, which affords him the insight that appearances notwithstanding, his work must not really belong in the dustbin.

Ugly, adj. Aesthetically displeasing. Washington Heights in the winter is windy and ugly. Washington Heights in the summer is sticky and ugly.

Undemocratic, adj. Incompatible with the principle that political power resides in the people; hence, more specifically, in conflict with any or all of the values I personally hold.

Unicycle, v.i. & t. Throw out.
Unicycle, n. Garbage.

Value, n. A principle or moral standard. Western democracies condemn governmental imposition of values as being in contravention of the values their governments impose.

Walrus, n. Since John Lennon is the eggman, and he is also the walrus, ergo, the walrus is an eggman. This disproves the long-held scientific theory that walruses are mammals, which do not lay eggs.

Wealth, n. That which the successful businessman earns through such endeavours as managing a store, directing a company, offering a service, or filing a lawsuit.

Wig, n. A device worn by eighteenth-century nobility to protect their heads from view and use.

William Carlos Williams.
He ate
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and otherwise
wrote poems
as exquisite
as this one

Forgive me
I've never read
such balderdash
in my life

World, n. New York.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Jew's Minor Misfortunes

The guy leading Hallel on Rosh Chodesh decides to do it full Carlebach style.

The guy davening behind you takes a really long time to say the Shmoneh Esrei.

Washing your hands in the winter in Ottawa on Shabbos (no warm water).

It's a hot, humid day, and you're in Flatbush.

It's winter in Israel, you're in a large room, the room is overheated so the windows have been opened at the behest of the people in the middle, and you're sitting next to the window.

It's winter in Israel, you're in a large room, the room is overheated, the people next to the windows refuse to open them so as not to freeze themselves, and you're sitting in the middle of the room.

You're walking down Me'a She'arim, and a bus comes.

It's a hot day in Israel, you've been running around doing stuff, you're really thirsty, and the only thing to drink is Jerusalem tap water.

It's a hot day in Israel, you've been running around doing stuff, you're really thirsty, and the only thing to drink is Petel.

Benching on Rosh Chodesh Teves on Shabbos.

Shabbos Mevarchim with a chazzan.

You don't have your own tallis, you have to wear one, and the one you're given is the type that's constantly slipping off your shoulders.

It's nearing the end of the 9 Days, and you're next to a guy who isn't meikel on showering.

You are reminded why you swore you'd never go to that minyan again.


The Zionist's Minor Misfortunes: By mistake, you play "Hatikva" in a major key, so it comes out "I'm a Little Teapot."

The Anti-Zionist's Minor Misfortunes: By mistake, you play "I'm a Little Teapot" in a minor key, so it comes out "Hatikva."

The Jew's Major Misfortunes: Jukim.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Linguistic Challenge

Name a French plural noun whose letters, in reverse order, spell the English translation of the noun's singular.

(For example, "livres" would be such a French plural noun, if only "servil" were an English word meaning "book.")

Monday, March 06, 2006

On Tetzaveh

Hey, if Ephraim can write this stuff, why can't I? (Because he knows what he's talking about and I don't, you say? Well, harrumph.)

A popular question about parshat Tetzaveh is why Moses's name does not appear anywhere in the parsha, a phenomenon unique among all parshiyot of the Torah except those of the book of Genesis, where you wouldn't expect to find Moses's name, since he was only born in parshat Shemot. I've always wondered how legitimate this question is, considering that God did not divide the Torah into our parshiyot: those divisions are rabbinic in origin, and of a later vintage, and so the absence of Moses's name in Tetzaveh could be a purely coincidental by-product of the fact that the rabbis who made our divisions judged Tetzaveh to be the right size for an independent portion. Indeed, there have been a variety of different ways of dividing the Torah into different weekly portions: in some places, in some periods of history, for example, the Torah was divided up in such a way that it took three years to complete. Obviously, the parshiyot in this system were on average only about one-third the size of ours, and I would not be at all surprised if there were several such post-Bereishit parshiyot in which Moses's name did not appear. If we followed that system today, I doubt this question - about Moses's absence - would be asked at all.

However, many scholars have evidently accepted the question as valid, presumably on the assumption that either (a) the rabbis who came up with our division intentionally divided things up so that Moses's name would not appear in Tetzaveh; or (b) God intentionally wrote the Torah in such a way that when the rabbis created our division, they would find natural a division in which one parsha would contain no mention of Moses's name; or (c) God manipulated the minds of the rabbis who created our division so that they would create a "Moses"-less Tetzaveh.

The standard answer given to the question of why Moses's name does not appear in Tetzaveh is that of the Ba'al Haturim (Exodus 27:20, s.v. "Ve'atah tetzaveh"): the Gemara says that a wise man's curse is fulfilled even if the curse was conditional and the condition was not satisfied (Makkot 11a). Moses, when pleading that the Jews be forgiven after the sin of the golden calf, said to God, "If [you do] not [forgive them], then erase me from your book that you have written" (Exodus 32:32). Moses was thereby conditionally cursing himself to be erased from the Torah, and even though the condition was not satisfied - God did forgive the Jews - the curse was still fulfilled, at least to the extent that Moses's name was wiped out of one parsha - Tetzaveh.

My questions on this explanation are the following: (1) The Gemara doesn't say that a wise man's conditional curse is sort of fulfilled even if the condition is not satisfied. How is the erasure of Moses's name from parshat Tetzaveh a fulfillment of his curse? That's not what he said! (2) Why Tetzaveh, as opposed to any other parsha or set of parshiyot? (The Ba'al Haturim does offer an explanation as to why specifically Tetzaveh does not contain Moses's name, but I'll bet you could make equally compelling arguments for several other parshiyot.)

I have a suggestion about Moses's self-curse which does not explain why his name is absent from Tetzaveh (as discussed, I'm not sure that's a problem), but does, I think, better reflect the words of the Gemara at Makkot 11a.

Moses, as you all know, was named "Moshe" by the daughter of Pharaoh, who found him floating in a little boat on the Nile (Exodus 2:5-10). His mother, Yocheved, had presumably named him something else: he was three months old by the time she set him afloat (Exodus 2:2) - well old enough to have been named. What was Moses's real name - the one given to him by his Israelite mother?

Furthermore, I question whether Pharaoh's daughter really gave Moses the name "Moshe". From Exodus 2:10 it seems pretty clear that "Moshe" is a name derived from a Hebrew verb. What are the odds that Pharaoh's daughter spoke Hebrew? I propose that Moses was given a name that might have sounded nothing like "Moshe", but meant in Egyptian approximately what "Moshe" means in Hebrew, and that the Torah simply translates all of the words of Pharaoh's daughter, including the name she gave Moses and her explanation of its meaning, from the original Egyptian into Hebrew. What did his real Egyptian name sound like? No idea.

I imagine you can see where I'm going with this. The real, Hebrew name that Moses presumably had - the one given to him by Yocheved (or possibly Amram) - is never mentioned in the Torah. Neither, perhaps, is the one the daughter of Pharaoh gave him. What is the only "name" we have for Moses in the Torah? "Moshe" - something he may never in his life have been called; not his name. It may thus really be that Moses's name was completely erased from the Torah, as per his self-curse.