A young man, deeply in debt and totally out of his mind with fear of the consequences of his folly, poisons his parents to gain control of their insurance policies. Of course, he is soon arrested and in time he is brought to trial for his crime. He realizes that he has no chance of acquittal. So, on the advice of his attorney, he throws himself on the mercy of the court, because he’s an orphan. It’s a classic us of the term “chutzpah,” and of course he’s now doing serious time in prison.
Having crept into our language from an old Yiddish word, “chutzpah” is now a commonly-used word that evokes similar feelings in any language. It translates roughly into “unmitigated gall,” or, if you’re from New York, “a lotta noive.” If it’s sometimes avoided by us less creative Goyim, it’s probably because we have more difficulty pronouncing it. Even I, the alleged linguist, have my problems. Sitting here in front of my computer and practicing to acquire a reasonable pronunciation, I found that I had a couple of aural/oral challenges. To say it right, one must try to sound like they’re clearing the throat. Definitely not appropriate for the dinner table. The second challenge is more visual, wherein it often produces a fine spray of mist from the mouth, to say nothing of the accompanying drooling.
As I write, I’m having to keep my screen cleaner and a tissue handy. I’ve basically given up using it for the duration of the COVID emergency – I project right through my N-95 mask. it’s one of those words that conveys much more than meaning. It’s passion, emotion, and it evokes visions of Mount Etna erupting. That is, if you do it right.
In my own family, there is a memorable example of this colorful word. After the death of her parents, my sister-in-law pleaded with the probate judge that she should get a disproportionately large share of the inheritance because she had seven children. (All the other siblings had two each.) After everyone had picked their jaws up from the floor, the judge remarked dryly, “I don’t see anything in this will that provides for an
advantage to the heir based on her having the ‘rabbit habit.’ It comes under the heading of personal choices.”
The term has universal applications as well. Consider the current misadventure of the Russians in Ukraine. For over a month now, the Russkies have been bombing every conceivable kind of target, including schools, churches and hospitals. Then last week, in a move of unprecedented daring, two Ukrainian attack helicopters struck a petroleum depot inside Russian territory. Mission accomplished on a strictly military target, and they exited hostile airspace and recovered to their home base.
Within hours, the Russian government-controlled media were blaring over every outlet about the “cowardly attack” on the Russian homeland. What? How dare they invade the peaceful countryside of the Mother Country? They had absolutely no provocation, right? Sure, and in Mariupol they’re still counting the civilian dead in this once-gorgeous city, which has been reduced to rubble by constant bombing. The death toll is now at 5,000 and climbing, and most of the city’s buildings have not yet been searched for victims.
But come to think of it, the entire Russian strategy is one of chutzpah on a global scale. In spite of enormous amounts of evidence to the contrary, they insist the Ukraine is actually part of the “Homeland,” a claim which has most recently been refuted by the Russians themselves, who relinquished all such claim to sovereignty over Ukraine over thirty years ago, when the USSR threw in the towel and was dissolved by the Russians themselves. The Russians themselves suffered tremendous casualties in their major cities during World War II, at the hands of the Nazi Germany armies. They, of all people, should know what is a Nazi. But they claim to be “cleansing” Ukraine of its overwhelmingly Nazi population.
So by my count, that’s at least a triple Chutzpah, and Russia wins permanent possession of the Pinocchio trophy. Do you suppose that
they’ve developed some special performance-enhancing substance to enable them to keep a straight face through all this?
My guess is Nyet.
George Thatcher, 2022
George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt