English is a magnificent instrument of linguistic expression, arguably the richest and most adaptable language in the human firmament. However, occasionally it lacks a specific word or phrase that can only be found in another language, and the use of this heterolingual means in an English utterance conveniently fills the gap that happens to exist in the native lexicon.

     Y-H-B was reminded today of this fact while sitting in a fish restaurant on Third Avenue in Manhattan and enjoying a rare treat of caviar and wine. His waitress happened to turn her back as she made her way from the table after taking the order, thereby revealing a derrière characteristic of a certain human female type, and immediately the German participial compound phrase erblich belastet (from das Erbe ‘inheritance’ + die Last ‘load’) hove into Y-H-B’s consciousness, a phrase he had acquired in childhood from his mother (who spoke five languages fluently, including German). The meaning is something like “encumbered by heredity,” i. e. inescapably part of one’s biological inheritance. That was the most apposite description of the waitress’s lower anatomy, for which there is no idiomatic equivalent in English.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO