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In 1955, as a callow youth of twelve, I purchased Mad Magazine for the first time. I still have that dog-eared issue in my vast archive of 20th Century ephemera. I have long believed that it was Mad's first issue ever, but it was in fact the first in magazine format, as opposed to a comic book version. That was the year that comic books came under heavy fire from the US government's Kefauver commission as a root cause of crime, the Internet not yet having been invented. For a few years, I was an avid Mad reader, encountering such phenomena as "What, Me Worry?", Melvin Cowsnofsky, and potrzebie. The magazine's greatest contribution to my vocabulary, however, was the Yiddish-derived locution, "fershlugginer." I have stated elsewhere that I grew up gleaning many Yiddish words from my parents, who could not really speak that diehard Eastern European Jewish language. They never used "fershlugginer," and I did not encounter the term until I became a reader of Mad magazine. But what does "fershlugginer" actually mean?
After a long, frustrating fershlugginer Internet search of the word and its origins, I think I know, but I am still not completely certain. (Any native Yiddish speakers out there, please email me.) Since Yiddish is derived from Old High German with much influence from Hebrew and Slavic languages, I first consulted the German translation site dict.cc, performing a search for the German word "verschlagener." The website gave a translation as "artful, devious, sharp, shifty, or wily", which may describe Mad Magazine at its best, but is not the connotation in which the magazine (or anyone else) uses the term "fershlugginer."
I have long suspected that "fershlugginer" actually means "beaten up, beaten to death (figuratively, not literally!), overdone or worn out." A website published by one Michael D. Fein seems to support that viewpoint, spelling the word "farshlugginer", and defining it as "mixed up or shaken… of dubious value." The word is missing from all the other online Yiddish dictionaries I could find, and my own hardbound Yiddish-English dictionary (an actual book) defines it as a term in parliamentary procedure, a tabled motion or something like that. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Yiddish, as a living language, was written with Hebrew letters. Rendering its pronunciation in other languages, such as English, produces many variations. In the "official" YIVO Yiddish romanization, it would be the past participle of the verb farshlogn. I think Mad may have even spelled it furshlugginer (like fur) or even furshluggener (with the letter e instead of i) from time to time. In my Internet research I even discovered a song Dortn Oibn, by the great Yiddish songwriter Bentzion Witler, "Filst du dikh farshlogn, du veyst nisht vos tzu tun", which I would translate as, "Are you feeling so fershlugginer discouraged, you don't know what to do?" Sort of a Jewish version of either the blues or Gospel, perhaps, but also a very 21st Century sentiment. But, hey, this blogpost has gone on long enough. I feel as if I've beaten this fershlugginer topic to death.
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