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Enjoy! Whatever . . . (Calques)


acumen, n.: quickness, accuracy, and keenness of judgment or insight
amalgam, n.: a combination of diverse elements; a mixture
calque (= loan translation), n.: a form of borrowing from one language to another whereby the semantic components of a given term are literally translated into their equivalents in the borrowing language
echt, adj.: real; genuine (German)
excogitate, v.: to consider or think (something) out carefully and thoroughly
milieu, n.: environment (French)
normative, adj.: of, relating to, or prescribing a norm or standard
paralinguistic, adj. < paralinguistics, n.: the aspects and study of spoken communication that accompany speech but do not involve words, such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice
patois, n.: the special jargon of a group
semantic, adj.: relating to meaning
semiotic, adj.: pertaining to elements of or any system of signs, defined as anything capable of signifying an object (meaning)
sociolectal, adj. < sociolect, n.: a variety of a language that is used by a particular social group
univerbal, adj. < univerbation, n.: the creation of one word from two or more
Yiddishize, v.: to make into or like Yiddish

The ubiquitous interjection, “Enjoy!,” minus its otherwise normative direct object and pronounced with emphatic intonation as a one-word sentence, can be heard from speakers of American English, particularly as addressed to their customers by waiters and waitresses. Little do they realize that this usage must have originated in the language of Yiddish speakers in New York, an idiom influenced by the overwhelmingly Slavic––specifically, Russian––milieu from which these speakers’ ancestors immigrated to the New World. That this special use in American English of an Anglo-Norman word (Middle English enjoien, from Old French enjoir) could have a Russian provenience via Yiddish has not generally been acknowledged, doubtless owing to (1) the rarity of a thorough knowledge of Russian among those who concern themselves with Yiddish borrowings into English; (2) the ignoral of CALQUES as the likely source.

Here the Russian item serving as the model for a Yiddish-influenced loan translation into English are the imperative forms of the verb naslazhdát’sia (наслаждаться), i. e., naslazhdájsia (наслаждайся [sg.]) and naslazhdájtes’ (наслаждайтесь [pl.]). What might weaken this motivation is the fact that Yiddish seems to have no univerbal equivalent. Also: (1) Russian does not use the imperatives of the verb naslazhdat’sia (наслаждаться) in a way that would validate the Yiddish borrowing––and thereby the usage––of “Enjoy!” in contemporary American English; and (2) any such calque would consequently have to be motivated by Yiddish speakers’ flawed knowledge of idiomatic Russian usage.

It should be noted that the proper author of this attribution’s line of thought is Marianne Shapiro. With her matchless etymological acumen, she recalled from her own New York childhood that the use of “Enjoy!” originated with (and was popularized by) its frequent occurrence in the speech of Molly Goldberg in the long-running American radio and television show, The Goldbergs (excogitated by the native New Yorker, Gertrude Berg, née Tillie Edelstein, who also played its lead character).

The transplanted version of the New York Yiddish milieu would also seem to be the source of the slang use in American speech of whatever, notably in its echt r-less form, viz. [wʌtɛ́və]. This was the pronunciation used repeatedly, for instance, by the main character, Archie Bunker, on the 1970s television show, All in the Family, shot in Hollywood but set in New York City (Queens). The use of this word may have originated earlier in the Yiddishized patois of female Hollywood show business types (wives and girlfriends of producers?), whence it migrated into general American speech via popular films (like Clueless) that featured the sociolectal mannerisms of female Southern Californians known as “Valley girls.”

Its ultimate semiotic pedigree could perhaps be traced to an unusual variety of calqueing, namely the loan translation into speech of a (wordless) gesture––a shrug of the shoulders, inclination of the head, elevation of the hands, or all three––signifying the semantic amalgam now embedded in the word. These are in fact just the paralinguistic body movements commonly associated with Yiddish/(-ized) speech.


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