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When I was a kid my father often used a wonderful Yiddish word, tsatskes. When he used it, it was usually in the sense of the current term "collectible, " an object valued for its novelty and appeal, but lacking in gravitas (this.) In other words, a tsatske, according to him, was rather trivial, a knick-knack, a bibelot, a gewgaw, a gimcrack, an item of kitsch or schwag, a trinket, a low-end curio. My mother tastefully collected antiques and other curios, and I acquired from her a passion to collect all of the ephemera and linkable stuff which adorn this Coffeeblog (and which clutters my living space). However, I believe that my father's frequent use of the term tsatske was a warning to her that collectibles which did not rise above the level of tsatskes were not terribly welcome in the house.
As I write this, I am sitting in the El Cerrito Central Perk, surrounded by one of the greatest collections of tsatskes in the local region, perhaps in the world. True, there is a great folk art museum in Santa Fe, but although it houses collectibles, it is not dedicated exclusively to tsatskes. Hanging above me in the Central Perk is a series of 1950's era lighting fixtures, not the design museum kind but the tacky kitschy kind. Tsatskes? You bet. However, the Central Perk collection is primarily a collection of toys.
Like many Yiddish words, tsatske has variations in spelling, even in the original Hebrew letters which were used for written Yiddish in its heyday. For one thing, the combination of letters "ts", as in "tsetse fly" or "tsutsugamushi fever" is hard to pronounce for many, though Greeks, like the erstwhile presidential candidate Paul Tsongas, have no trouble with it. Perhaps for that reason, some Yiddish speakers pronounced, and spelled, tsatske as "tchotchke". Having learned tsatske as a small child, I dislike the tchotcke variant, but that is the one which, sadly, appears in the Wikipedia. They are pronounced differently: tsatskes rhymes with "tot's kiss" whereas "tchotchkes" rhymes with "crotch keys." Various Internet sources credit Russian and other Slavic languages as the source of these words (the Russian "tsatski" can mean toys, trinkets, or, well, tsatskes), and I have no doubt that the "ka", plural "ki" ending is Slavic. It appears that the Russians love their tsatski, as this page demonstrates, and a Google search for the Russian word spelled properly yielded 79,400 hits! However, there is a Hebrew word tsa'atsu'a (it even has its own Hebrew Wikipedia page) which means a toy. The word is found in the Bible, where it means "image work." Was the Slavic word derived from Hebrew via Yiddish, or was it incorporated into modern Hebrew by the Zionist revivers of the once-dead Hebrew language? Given the Hebrew spelling of the word for toy, with the very Semitic letter ayin used twice, I am inclined to believe that tsatske was originally Hebrew or an earlier Semitic language. Does a similar word appear in Arabic or Aramaic? I don't know.
I have added a "tsatskes" item to the sidebar of the Coffeeblog, to which I have relocated my RSS feed and my brand new Yahoo Pipes links. I therefore have done nothing less than create a new Internet entity, the cybertsatske. Is an RSS feed a toy? Sort of. Is it too serious to be a tsatske? Not by me. It's definitely something to play with, as Netvibes and Yahoo Pipes have demonstrated. What looks like a tsatske, delights like a tsatske, and appeals to a geek like a tsatske? A tsatske.Permanent Link to This Entry | | | Technorati Tag: Tchotchkes blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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