Philologos at the Forward has a review of what sounds like an interesting book, Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism (Rutgers University Press, 2012), by the sociolinguist Sarah Bunin Benor. It explains abbreviations like FFT, FFB, and BT and describes various features of the speech of Orthodox American Jews; I thought I’d highlight this paragraph:

Two other peculiarities complete Benor’s list. One is a singsong “talmudic” intonation, particularly in sentences with logical reasoning expressed in dependent clauses like, “If you were going to the grocery anyway, why didn’t you buy some bread?” The other is what Benor calls a “hesitation click” — a “tsk”-sound used, like “um,” to give the speaker time to think of what to say next. (Although she is no doubt correct in ascribing this to Israeli influence, she errs in thinking that it is used this way in Israeli Hebrew. The Israeli “tsk” simply means “No,” although when occurring in midsentence in what Binor rightly calls a “corrective click,” this “no” can have the sense of, “On second thought, that isn’t what I really wanted to say, so I’ll try to say it again.” This is probably how, misinterpreted by Orthodox American Jews exposed to Israeli speech, it became an American Jewish “hesitation click.”)

Thanks for the link, Jonathan!


  1. Commenter Zackary Sholem Berger mentioned this book in a recent LH thread.

  2. Not for the first time, Philologos is confidently wrong. This Israeli and American Jewish clicks are completely unrelated (or, if they are, they derive from a common ancestor). This clicking is long-established in the culture of Ashkenazic yeshivas. I’m sure if you went to Telz in the nineteenth century, you’d hear it (prove me wrong!). I’d describe it as having a discourse function: it means, “Heads up–a crucial point is about to be made.” It’s often accompanied by elaborate gestures with the thumb, meant, I don’t know, to visually represent the twists and turns of argument. Here’s a very silly (Yiddish) parody of Talmudic study that features both the clicking and the thumb gestures. Don’t worry, you don’t need to understand Yiddish to see what the function of these features is, or, perhaps, even to appreciate the annoyance-based humor, such as it is.

  3. Also, I realize that the initial mistake, ascribing it to Israeli influence, was Benor’s, or “Binor”‘s, as the review has it.
    I like the example of a sentence when sing-song is used; they almost always are if-then, at least in English. In Yiddish I think you can use it more widely, but I think it still has to involve causality or consequence.

  4. Thanks for the explanation about clicks, and of course for the delightful video!

  5. A marvelous book (full disclosure: I wrote its index). Its astute observations on how new frummies adapt their behavior and discourse to fit in can be easily applied elsewhere, such as Christian born-agains, neoconservatives who used to be radical lefties, the assimilation of immigrants, or even freshmen from the hinterlands matriculating at urban universities. And Benor writes wonderfully, with a sharp eye and a keen wit. This book is not to be missed.

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