I’ve started reading The Adventures of Augie March (thanks, jamessal!), and have already run across a couple of passages of LH interest. On the Russian front (Grandma Lausch is from those parts; roman is Russian for ‘novel’):

Still the old lady had a heart. I don’t mean to say she didn’t. She was tyrannical and a snob about her Odessa luster and her servants and governesses, but though she had been a success herself she knew what it was to fall through susceptibility. I began to realize this when I afterward read some of the novels she used to send me to the library for. She taught me the Russian alphabet so that I could make out the titles. Once a year she read Anna Karenina and Eugene Onegin. Occasionally I got into hot water by bringing a book she didn’t want. “How many times do I have to tell you if it doesn’t say roman I don’t want it? You didn’t look inside. Are your fingers too weak to open the book? Then they should be too weak to play ball or pick your nose. For that you’ve got strength! Bozhe moy! God in Heaven! You haven’t got the brains of a cat, to walk two miles and bring me a book about religion because it says Tolstoi on the cover.”

The old grande dame, I don’t want to be misrepresenting her. She was suspicious of what could have been, given one wrong stitch of heredity, a family vice by which we could have been exploited. She didn’t want to read Tolstoi on religion. She didn’t trust him as a family man because the countess had had such trouble with him.

(On which, my last post is relevant.) And this presents a linguistic mystery:

Grandma Lausch played like Timur, whether chess or klabyasch, with palatal catty harshness and sharp gold in her eyes. Klabyasch she played with Mr. Kreindl, a neighbor of ours who had taught her the game. A powerful stub-handed man with a large belly, he swatted the table with those hard hands of his, flinging down his cards and shouting “Shtoch! Yasch! Menél! Klabyasch!” Grandma looked sardonically at him. She often said, after he left, “If you’ve got a Hungarian friend you don’t need an enemy.”

If anyone knows the background(s) of the shouted terms, by all means share.


  1. Clearly a version of Klaberjass. Menel is the nine of trumps, and jazs is the jack of trumps, so Kreindl is going out, announcing that he holds these cards.

  2. Ah, so menel is French manille, which the OED tells me is from Spanish malilla, diminutive of mala ‘bad.’ Interesting.

  3. I have no idea what this roman is about, but it reads to me as if the author deliberately sets up the storyteller as a non-native speaker. Am I right?

  4. A roman is what we’d call a novel.

  5. I know that (it is also explained in OP). It was a joke. Actually, romAhn (with a second syllable stress) is a novel, but rOhman (first syllable) is from prisoner’s argot (fenya) meaning a sentimental story or song. That is essentially the same, but on a smaller scale. And don’t start me on romance. But that is not why it felt to me as a non-native speaker’s speech.

  6. SFReader says

    “played like Timur”

    Is that reference to Tamerlane?

  7. Probably.

  8. The Timur reference might well be to Timur’s Great Chess aka Tamerlane chess. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamerlane_chess

  9. The “Odessa version” of деберц (pronounced дэбэрц) is called клабор. Googling either word will bring up relevant sites and discussion forums. (Another loose synonym is белот. Also, one site mentions клобберяш as yet another name of the game, but it seems rare.) The nine of trumps is called манела or манэлла; the jack of trumps is юс or, more commonly, мусор. These two are the most valuable in terms of the number of points they bring. If Kreindl is declaring a clobyosh (klabyash, klabor), he should have six trump cards in a row.

  10. it reads to me as if the author deliberately sets up the storyteller as a non-native speaker. Am I right?

    Not at all: he’s a native speaker of Ashkenazic-American Urban English, Chicago topolect, and this is (as far as I am aware) the first popular novel to feature such jazzy foreign-inflected urban speech, to blow open the doors of the stuffy house of the Anglo-American novel and allow in the polyglot jabber so prominent on the streets of any big city in the US. The famous first sentence: “I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.” Bellow worked hard to come up with this style, and he stuck with it. (I’m still wondering about the origin of his name.)

  11. Not such a mystery. https://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A765650 says that the game is called Kalabriasz in Hungarian (roughly transcribed as “Klabyasch”); that “Yasch” (Jasz) is the jack of trumps, Menel is the 9 of trumps, and “Shtoch (rhymes with Scottish ‘loch’)” is winning the last trick to score 10 additional points. Or were you asking for the actual etymology of the Hungarian words?

  12. Yeah, I’m curious about that, though I realize the history of obscure specialized terms like this may be unrecoverable.

  13. King of Farts says

    I know nothing about etymology or this game, and it’s probably a coincidence, but shtoch sounds like the stressed syllable in gestochen, that is, “taken (the trick)” in card games, something a player might say as she wins a trick, so it is not fully out of match with the meaning given by H2G2 via E. Y.

  14. Eli Nelson says

    “Kalabriasz” looks like it could be related to Calabria, though I don’t know how. I found a Hungarian source that gives a very suspicious-looking etymology from a combination of Yiddish, German and Polish:

    A játék neve zsidó-német eredetre vall. Kol (zsidó, a. m. mindenki), ober (német, a. m. felső) és jasz (lengyel, a. m. előkelő, hatalmas), ezekből lett koloberjasz vagy mint már magyarosítva nevezik K. Ezen játék egyike az Európában legelterjedtebb társasjátékoknak, mely nemcsak azért, mivel nagyon sokféle módon játsszák, de mert éles megfigyelést és nagy gondolkozást is igényel, a legnehezebbnek mondható az összes nálunk ismeretes társas kártyajátékok közt.

    Since my Hungarian goes no further than “nem beszélek magyarul” I popped this into Google Translate, and got

    The name of the game is Jewish-German. Kol (Jewish, I am everybody), Ober (German, I am) and Jasz (Polish, I am great, great), they are called Collies or as they are already called Hungarian. This game is one of the most popular social games in Europe, not only because In many ways, but because it requires sharp observation and big thoughts, the most difficult thing to say about all of our social card games known to us.

    Source: Pallas Nagylexikon


  15. Wikipedia says it was first described in an 1821 Dutch book as klaver Jass, “Jass being Dutch for Jack,” so I’m afraid Calabria is right out.

  16. Crom Daba says

    Shtoch might be the same word as ‘poke, sting’ in Yiddish which is from the same root and of the same meaning as German Stich which has ‘trick (in card games)” as one of its meanings.

  17. Klaver ‘clover’ is the club suit, naturally. The German WP page for Jass, a related game popular in Switzerland, says that Jass (‘Jack’) is “‘Bauer’, eigentlich ‘Kaspar'”, but I can’t tell what language variety that word comes from. It says the game was brought to Switzerland by Dutch soldiers. There’s a longish Alemannisch WP page on Jass, but it offers no further etymological detail.

  18. Kluge’s German etymological dictionary says it was Swiss soldiers who brought the game to Switzerland from the Netherlands. It offers that Jaß could perhaps be short for Dutch paljas ‘jester’, comparable to the names of other card games such as Southern Dutch zot and French fou ‘fool’.

  19. CuConnacht says

    “Jass (‘Jack’) is “‘Bauer’,”

    Which would explain why the jack of trumps in euchre is the “right bower”. (“Left bower” is the jack of the same color as the right bower.)

  20. I’ve always thought that it helps to understand Augie March (the novel) if you recognize that much of the dialogue in the first part, though written in English, was conceived of as spoken in Yiddish (maybe with an admixture of a little Russian, too).

    In other words, most of the grown-ups are speaking Yiddish, not English. Augie and his brother are probably speaking English with one another. By putting everything in English (except for a few telling words and phrases), Bellow has created seamless dialogue. If he had to show who’s speaking Yiddish and who’s speaking English, the narration would not flow.

    This is just like many Latino immigrant families, where the parents speak Spanish and the kids speak Spanish to their parents but English among themselves. I’ve actually witnessed this in my neighborhood. And it probably happens in other immigrant groups, too.

    Augie is imagined as having native speaker fluency in both languages (like the author, and like my father). Augie is of course a self-created individual.

  21. Excellent points; thanks!

  22. Klaver ‘clover’ is the club suite, naturally.

    ‘Clobber’ automatically lept into consciousness. Which made me wonder if kybosh is from this linguistic milieu.

  23. The first known use (Dickens, in 1836) is set in an Irish neighborhood in London, so caip bháis, caipín báis ‘cap of death’ (the black cap worn by a judge when pronouncing the death penalty) seems the most probable of the wearisomely many etymologies on offer.

  24. (Dutch-born persons of certain ages still play klaverjassen, it is said. I haven’t the faintest idea how it works. Dutch wikipedia asserts firmly[1] that “jas” is an old name for the “boer”, the English “jack” which is the highest trump.)

    [1] “De Nederlandse naam is afgeleid van het oude begrip jas, dat staat voor de boer als hoogste troef.”


    Klabyasch is the name of a card game played in Russia over a century ago. I had an old Russian relative who was always asking me to play. I cannot recall if he did show me how to play, but klabyasch is what he called it (although I never asked him to spell it). Thought you may find this of interest.

  26. Erica Yakovetz : “winning the last trick to score 10 additional points” that’s also a thing in Belote. Kalabriasz and Belote might be related.


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