Oy Vey! I’m Teaching My Phone To Speak Yiddish
“Dad’s Yartzeit is next week,” I texted my sister recently. (A Yartzeit is the anniversary of a person’s death.)
Her response came back immediately:
When I checked the text I’d just sent, it was easy to see why. Spellcheck had “corrected” the word Yartzeit to Yahtzee.
No wonder she was confused. There’s a world of difference between Yartzeit and Yahtzee.
I changed the word back and resent the message, reminding myself, once again, to proof my texts before letting them fly.
I was amused but not surprised by this little spelling snafu. We’ve all experienced Spellcheck “correcting” words with odd and/or funny results. My own favorite example of this is the friend whose mom once texted her, “You are adored.”
Spellcheck changed this message to “you are adopted.”
Quite a notification to get from mom out of the blue.
Nor was I shocked that Spellcheck wasn’t fluent in Yiddish. Why would I assume that my phone was Jewish just because I was?
Still, I noticed that when I texted my son later to tell him about his grandpa’s upcoming Yartzeit, Spellcheck didn’t change Yartzeit to Yatzee again. It now recognized the word and left it alone. My smartphone was learning from its mistakes!
Over the next few weeks, I made a game of seeing what my phone did with the Yiddish words I used when I texted. It changed Shabbos to “shabby,” Mensch to “menswear” and “bisel” to “bisexual.”
“Bubbe” became “bubble.”
“Putz” became “puts.”
And “Oy Vey” became “It Vetoed.”
Every time Spellcheck changed a Yiddish word to the English word it assumed I meant to say, I’d change it back again. And the next time I used that word? Spellcheck left it alone.
I was teaching my phone to speak Yiddish!
It soon became clear that my phone already knew some Yiddish. For instance? I didn’t have to teach it klutz or schlep. But my phone still had a lot to learn. It thought, for instance, that both “schmooze” and “schmuck” meant “schedule.”
It turned “mishegoss” into “mushroom” and “mishpocheh” into “mishap ox.”
Spellcheck turned “shmatte” into “shattered” and “tuchis” into “tux history.”
It also corrected “Zayde.” to “day dreaming.” My practical grandpa would have plotzed. (Or as Spellcheck would have it, “plots.”)
I’ve enjoyed exploring the interaction between a medieval language and 21st century technology. And the more I use my smartphone, the more Jewish it becomes. Soon I expect it to start nagging me to dress more warmly and make sure to have a little nosh before I leave the house.
By the next time dad’s Yartzeit rolls around, I expect my phone to be fluent. But while I’m happy that my phone now knows the word Yartzeit, let’s hope that it rarely needs to use it.
Roz Warren writes for everyone, from The Funny Times to The New York Times, and has been featured on both the Today Show and Morning Edition. You can learn more about her and her work at https://muckrack.com/roz-warren.