About the author

Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic. Questions for him may be sent to his email address by clicking here.

“A gut kvitl!” East European Jews once said to each other in the days just before and during the holiday of Sukkot, and many still do. What does it mean?

Oct. 10 2017 12:01AM

The products of the Yiddish greeting-card industry are a reminder of how wonderfully varied was the world of Yiddish-speaking Jewry.

Sept. 19 2017 12:01AM

There’s a lot in this name.

Sept. 6 2017 12:01AM

On the possible whereabouts of Ophir and Tarshish, and how to get there by ship from Palestine.

Aug. 24 2017 12:01AM

On the once-prevalent practice of rendering Hebrew publication dates by means of numerically coded verses from the Bible.

Aug. 9 2017 12:01AM

The convoluted story of jeroboams, rehoboams, methuselahs, and more.

July 19 2017 12:01AM

In part, it borrowed extensively from the slangs and vernaculars of other languages. Consider the case of de la shmatte.

July 5 2017 12:01AM

Some say its author was Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League. Is that right?

June 21 2017 12:01AM

The shifting historical meaning of “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger.”

June 7 2017 12:01AM

The process results from, in equal measure, Jewish separateness and Jewish assimilation.

May 24 2017 12:01AM

A look at the phenomenon by which Yiddish words become English words under the influence of other, similar-sounding English words.

May 10 2017 12:01AM

Contrary to a Times column, the reason people say “he’s Jewish” rather than “he’s a Jew” has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It’s just a quirk of grammar, and it’s not unique to Jews.

April 26 2017 12:01AM

It’s because of demons.

April 5 2017 12:01AM

Where does the Yiddish word narishkayt come from?

March 22 2017 12:01AM

Starting in the 16th century, this Ahasueros has personified the legendary figure of the “Wandering Jew,” symbol of the accursed Jewish people. How come?

March 8 2017 12:01AM

What we learn from the story of the Russian phrase shakher-makher, or wheeler-dealer.

Feb. 22 2017 12:01AM

A linguistic investigation prompted by a meal in Rome of carciofi alla giudia.

Feb. 8 2017 12:01AM

The title of the Mishnaic tractate is commonly translated as “The Ethics of the Fathers.” But how did it get that name? And could “fathers” actually mean “principles,” and “ethics” mean “sayings”?

Jan. 25 2017 12:01AM

Different languages employ different methods of generating nicknames, but they all satisfy the same two needs: to show special affection and to demonstrate special intimacy.

Jan. 5 2017 12:01AM

There’s Greek oinos and Hebrew yayin, to say nothing of such farther-flung cognates as Swahili mvinyo and Maori waina. Is there a common root?

Dec. 21 2016 12:01AM

Created by an East European Jew disillusioned with Zionism and Hebrew, the language was meant to unite humanity in a spirit of brotherhood.

Dec. 7 2016 12:01AM

Why certain terms having to do with the basics of life are less prone to linguistic change than others.

Nov. 23 2016 12:01AM

Why are my friend’s Italian neighbors calling a house a bayta?

Nov. 9 2016 12:01AM

And what they tell us about particularism and universalism in Jewish tradition.

Oct. 31 2016 12:01AM

The method, developed by the Babylonians and kept alive by medieval Jews, is known in Hebrew as the “secret of impregnation.”

Sept. 28 2016 12:01AM

What nahagos, the casual term for “driver,” tells us.

Sept. 14 2016 12:01AM

A form of folk medicine now in the news thanks to Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps, cupping has a long history in Judaism.

Aug. 24 2016 12:01AM

Why the Hebrew word for “shaming” (as in “Facebook shaming”) should not be sheyming.

Aug. 10 2016 12:01AM

Now used to describe converts to Judaism, the term misleadingly suggests that Jewishness inheres more in certain selective beliefs than in Jewish peoplehood.

July 27 2016 12:01AM

How the hexagram became a Jewish symbol.

July 13 2016 12:01AM

Some are named for their first word, others for their first significant word. What about the rest?

June 22 2016 12:01AM

A centuries-old tale of complicated, ambivalent, and, sometimes, covertly intimate relationships between a largely anti-Semitic Christian society and its Jewish minority.

June 9 2016 12:01AM

Fun with Hebrew numbers.

May 25 2016 12:01AM

Popular today at weddings and bar-mitzvahs, the words, meaning “the people of Israel lives,” trace all the way back to the story of Joseph.

May 12 2016 12:01AM

The answer depends on how one punctuates the Bible’s Passover story.

April 20 2016 12:01AM

How a bizarre talmudic passage led to klafte, the derogatory word for an unpleasant woman.

April 6 2016 12:01AM

As news reports from Britain confirm, a new anti-Jewish slur is making the rounds. Where did it come from?

March 23 2016 12:01AM

Some think the Devil can be found in the Hebrew Bible. Are they right?

March 9 2016 12:00AM

Like animals, words have an ecology. As one is driven out of its traditional habitat, others move into the space that has been vacated.

Feb. 24 2016 12:01AM

By the time Yiddish-speakers arrived in America and pre-state Palestine, English already had a rich vernacular, while Hebrew had none at all.

Feb. 10 2016 12:01AM

Three different words for the same Jewish head covering. Are they interchangeable?

Jan. 27 2016 12:01AM

The great controversy over Donald Trump’s “Yiddish.”

Jan. 13 2016 12:01AM

Romantic, idealistic Christianity says no. Sober, practical Judaism says yes.

Dec. 30 2015 12:01AM

The answer hasn’t always been clear.

Dec. 16 2015 12:01AM

How to translate the rabbinic term yetser ha-ra—and how not to.

Nov. 25 2015 12:01AM

The answer might help uncover the origins of Ethiopian Jewry.

Nov. 11 2015 12:01AM

My cantor told me the plural for yad, the Hebrew word for Torah pointer, is yadot. I think it’s yadayim. Who’s right?

Oct. 28 2015 12:01AM

“Fire is fire, meat is meat.” But what does it all mean?

Oct. 14 2015 12:01AM

The history of holiday greetings.

Oct. 1 2015 12:01AM

There are three Hebrew expressions for the days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. Two are well-known. The third? No one’s quite sure what it means.

Sept. 16 2015 12:01AM

It was widely reported this month that a professor in Texas had “decoded” the strange language spoken in Gulliver’s Travels. He did no such thing.

Aug. 26 2015 12:01AM

Philologos sets sail to discover the roots of the Yiddish word kayor.

Aug. 12 2015 12:01AM

A near-indecipherable tattoo on a woman’s leg helps unravel a mystery surrounding the 1943 anthem of the Jewish resistance.

July 31 2015 12:01AM

Even in our increasingly post-religious age, “pagan” remains for most people a derogatory word. Why?

July 15 2015 12:01AM

The first written reference to the magical utterance was in a Roman text. Did it have earlier roots?

July 2 2015 12:01AM

The 400-year-old translation is denigrated because of its archaic language. That’s one of its greatest strengths.

May 27 2015 12:01AM

Hebrew scribes take great pains to copy faithfully. But, as a passage in Proverbs shows, once an error creeps into the chain of transmission, it can be there forever.

May 13 2015 12:01AM

And why we say it at all.

April 30 2015 12:01AM

Rabbi Yehudah says lions and bears. Rabbi Nehemiah says hornets and gnats. What does arov really mean?

April 8 2015 12:01AM

It’s not just bad grammar.

March 25 2015 12:01AM

Why do we Anglicize some names and not others?

March 11 2015 12:01AM

A common and dismaying misconception.

Feb. 25 2015 12:01AM

Does the English idiom “kiss of death” come from the story of Judas, or from the Sicilian Mafiaor both?

Feb. 11 2015 12:01AM

Is the tech term, as in computer hacker, connected with the verb hakn, meaning to chop?

Jan. 28 2015 12:01AM

After a friend comes to him with a strange dream, Philologos wonders if the unconscious mind can do Hebrew numerology.

Jan. 14 2015 12:01AM