Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft’s TLS review (Nov. 20, 2020; archived) of Ben Katchor’s The Dairy Restaurant is full of delights, though not as full as I’m sure the book is — Katchor has been one of my favorites ever since his strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer was running in the New York Press a generation ago. I’ll quote some excerpts below, the linguistic hook being the Yiddish word מילכיג (milkhig, aka milchig):

The dairy restaurant is hard to define. It sprang from two comingling histories: those of kosher law and of the restaurant as it arose in its modern form in eighteenth-century France (Katchor’s citation, which would be mine, too, is Rebecca Spang’s wonderful The Invention of the Restaurant, 2000). Kashrut’s injunction against mixing milk and meat produced a tripartite taxonomy of kosher foods: meat (fleisch, in Yiddish – meat foods are fleischig), dairy (milch; milchig), and foods that can be served with either (pareve). But dairy restaurants are not necessarily kosher – nor necessarily vegetarian, especially if you consider fish to be meat (which kosher law does not). The cuisine itself generally complies with kashrut, and consists of a range of specific dishes, usually Eastern European Jewish. Here is Scholem Aleichem in praise of milchig cuisine: “From meat you have a roselfleisch, and esikfleisch, a roast. … and that’s it. From milk you have milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, pid-smetene, whey, kasha with milk, noodles with milk, rice with milk …”. This list, from the short monologue “Milchigs” (1903), truly goes on. […]

Katchor leads us from the Bible and its prohibitions, though the history of vegetarianism, and on to the dairying traditions of modern Europe, which produced a variety of lactose-focused restaurants, from crémeries to Milchhalles and mleczarnias, cousins of the Jewish dairy establishments. By the late nineteenth century, “milk treatments” consisting of days of a mostly milk diet were available at resorts across Europe, which welcomed the genuinely sick alongside the “worried well”. Freud took a milk treatment. So did Lenin and Kafka. Milk’s symbolisms are multiple (curious readers should consult Deborah Valenze’s Milk: A local and global history, 2011). For pastoralist writers in the sixteenth century, the human consumption of animal milk summoned the idea of Arcadian bounty; for nationalist writers in the nineteenth century, milk – and vigorous milk-lads and milkmaids – served to symbolize the healthy link between soil and nation; at the end of the nineteenth century, the term “vaccine” (from the French vache, for cow, which derives from the Latin vacca) began with a treatment to combat the cowpox virus, as if pointing to the centrality of cows in European culture. It makes sense that milk, a food central to our reproductive biology, holds many meanings. Milk is a mammal’s first food, and to drink it in adulthood suggests a wish to reclaim something lost, namely childhood.

Katchor thinks that milk doesn’t just describe a cuisine but also a personality type. According to him, a milekhdike person is ruminative, in the fashion of the Jewish intellectuals who, from the eighteenth century, flocked to coffee houses and cafés. The milekhdike person is not a saloon drunk. They linger over their food and the food is not a means to an end. But the best way to recognize a milekhdike person is by their not seeming fleischig. This does not mean that they are vegetarian, but simply that they don’t display the traits Katchor associates with meat: a love of worldly action, of wheeling and dealing, of keeping up with the pace of modernity. You get the impression that, for Katchor, milchig foods – from cheese blintzes to potato kreplach to egg creams – encourage rumination rather than action. […]

The latter part of Katchor’s book goes into enormous detail over the individual dairy restaurants of Jewish New York, many of them located on the Lower East Side. They have always been less famous and less well commemorated than the delicatessens that served meat, which was associated with upward mobility, a narrative dear to American Jewry. One great pleasure of this section is that Katchor reproduces some menus; another is that he documents not only restaurants but the lives of restaurateurs, waiters, cooks and regulars, as well as a few luminaries (picture, for example, Leonard Bernstein and Frank Zappa dining together on gefilte fish). My favorite piece of ephemera is an advertisement which ran in Der Kibetser in 1913: “true experts are invited to eat in N. Berenknopf’s Milkhiger Restaurant, 169 East Broadway, N.Y. When you eat by us, you won’t worry about getting married and will avoid taking on trouble. We mean the best for you”.

The book has a website where you can find dairy restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore as well as in fiction; the Sholem Aleichem story doesn’t seem to have been translated (at least, Google can’t find it in English), but you can read it in the original here and listen to it as recorded by Rubin Goldberg in 1923 here. I’d like to hear Freud, Lenin, and Kafka’s conversation over their varenikes and varnitshkes.


  1. John Emerson says

    “They linger over their food and the food is not a means to an end. But the best way to recognize a milekhdike person is by their not seeming fleischig. This does not mean that they are vegetarian, but simply that they don’t display the traits Katchor associates with meat: a love of worldly action, of wheeling and dealing, of keeping up with the pace of modernity. ”

    To this day there exists the kind of guy who brags about how how much of a carnivore he is and how rare he eats his steaks. They tend to be businessmen, libertarians, and hawks.

  2. I once heard Katchor do a narrated slideshow. Not an illustrated talk, but a performance, and it was great. The slideshow is an obscure but wonderful performative genre.

    Are milk bars the de-jewicized version of dairy restaurants?

  3. That’s funny, because earlier today one of my sons asked me if mother’s milk is considered “milchig”. Of course, from a linguistic perspective human milk would fall into the category of “milk” (obviously, a cognate of the Germanic milchig), but from a Halakhic perspective is technically not considered milchig (but is nonetheless treated as such so that people don’t confuse it with animal milk).

  4. That’s great!

  5. Perhaps Sholem Aleichem’s most famous literary creation is Tevye the Milkman, also translated Tevye the Dairyman (טבֿיה דער מילכיקער Tevye der milkhiker), which inspired Fiddler on the Roof. But an early edition of the short story collection of the same name writes it as טביה דער מילכיגער Tevye der milkhiger, which Wikipedia calls a spelling “under the influence of German”. Wiktionary also has מילכיק milkhik instead of מילכיג milkhig.

    Yiddish has many dialects of course, but I take it that YIVO’s standardized orthography is based on the variant that lacks final devoicing, so ־יק -ik and ־יג -ig are distinct, the latter being a דײַטשמעריש daytshmerish (German-like) spelling as it were.

    I recently wrote a piece in Korean on Sholem Aleichem and ended up settling on the most obvious literal choice of 우유 장수 uyu jangsu “milk seller” as the translation for milkhiker even though I surmised that one would deal with other dairy products as well. Now that I’ve learned that “dairy” has a broader meaning in kosher cuisine, I’m curious what the job actually entailed.

  6. “when you eat by us” in that ad is like German “bei uns”, oder?

  7. In Warsaw the “bar mleczny” is always described as this UrPolish idea (“ Die Bar mleczny ist eine polnische Idee” – German Wikipedia). Wikipedia will tell you that it was the inspiration of one Stanisław Dłużewski. It seems incredibly unlikely that the idea of a restaurant serving primarily vegetarian and dairy based foods just arose spontaneously in 1890s Warsaw of all places without being inspired by Jewish Kashrut, yet I have never heard this mentioned in Poland. Bary Mleczne are generally remembered as a PRL institution (and a nostalgia version still exists). I suppose the erasure of Jewish history is sadly not that surprising.

  8. @Jongseong Park: I think dairyman is a better translation of Tevye’s profession than milkman. Normally in English a milkman is just somebody who delivers milk—which Tevye does, but that’s not the main part of his job. He is also a milk producer, keeping cows, which he milks twice a day. I don’t think there is any mention in the stories of his family producing other dairy products themselves, although there is probably a kosher cheesemaker in Anatevka that Tevye supplies.

    My great-grandfather and his brothers were in the kosher dairy business in the early and middle of the twentieth century. Poppy was a milkman, doing delivery, while two of his brothers got into management and eventually bought the company. I don’t think that they had anything to do with cheese, just milk and cream. In an area with a sizeable Jewish population, just running a rabbinically-inspected kosher dairy, providing fresh milk, could be pretty profitable—at least through the 1940s. Prior to the Second World War, when they didn’t have the large-scale refrigerated shipping networks that exist today, there were only ever two or three local kosher dairies in Chicagoland; my family’s company was indicted for price fixing at one point—colluding with the other dairies to keep prices high. (Tevye’s son-in-law Perchik would remind us never to trust the bourgeoisie.)

  9. And then there’s Clark’s Dairy restaurant in New Haven, where you can get a Pastrami Special. Which is -not- kosher, needless to say.

  10. Thanks, Brett! So I guess milkman usually refers just to the person delivering the milk.

    In the original stories, Tevye works mostly in Boyberik, a place full of dachas, and his home shtetl is unnamed. Anatevke is mentioned as one of the neighbouring shtetls, but isn’t where he lives. Of course, in Fiddler on the Roof, his hometown is called Anatevka.

  11. Bary Mleczne are generally remembered as a PRL institution (and a nostalgia version still exists)
    When I was working in Wrocław in the early 2000s, there was a bar mleczny with contemporary design on the central square that seemed to be quite popular with the hip segment.
    In Germany, Milchbars had their heighday in the 1950s and early 60s (so, before my time). They played Jazz and Rock, and parents seemed to be relaxed about their adolescent children hanging out there because, you know, milk is healthy. Later they became associated with the sandal-wearing kind of new ageism or survived in niches where one would expect healthy stuff; the municipal pool where we had swimming lessons in the late 70s had a Milchbar. In Germany, they serve mostly drinks like milk shakes and maybe ice cream or cream based snacks, but aren’t restaurants with a full menu of foods.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    I was up the Hudson Valley a ways yesterday and drove past the legendary-in-some-circles “Mary Jane’s Dairy Bar” on the northern outskirts of Newburgh, N.Y., which is primarily a roadside ice cream stand but also (kashrut not being part of its business model) sells burgers and hot dogs and whatnot.

    The internet tells me that Clark’s Dairy in New Haven closed about a dozen years ago but the right-next-door Clark’s Pizza (owned by a different branch of the same family, which was not named Clark …, and in latter years apparently renamed Clark’s Family Restaurant) survived until 2020 when the pandemic put it under. Sic transit gloria Novī Portūs.

  13. So I guess milkman usually refers just to the person delivering the milk.

    I’ve never heard it used any other way.

  14. Brett, would you be willing to say the name of your great grandfather’s dairy? We’re celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday tonight and between his West Side/Rogers Park childhood and my mother-in-law’s North Shore upbringing, someone might remember, if the company lasted into the late 40’s/early 50s.

  15. The NY Times review of Katchor’s book mentions a Romanian stuffed pancake called a placinta. Can someone provide an etymology that makes that more appealing than the one that seems too obvious.

  16. Wikipedia:

    The word plăcintă comes from Latin placenta, which means “cake”, from the Greek πλακοῦς plakoûs, πλακουντ- plakount- “flat cake”.

    Note that Romanian also has the doublet placentă ‘placenta.’

  17. Oh sorry. Of course the English meaning of placenta is derived. If I was reading somewhere other than my phone I’d look these things up myself.

  18. PlasticPaddy says

    The author also wrote a stage play. But for the place he just says “in Dorf”.,-0.016,0.6,0.857,0

  19. The word plăcintă comes from Latin placenta, which means “cake”, from the Greek πλακοῦς plakoûs, πλακουντ- plakount- “flat cake”.
    Therefore the German calque Mutterkuchen for “placenta” (lit. “mother(‘s) cake”).

  20. I know its cousin palatschinke, and cf. placenta cake.

  21. @Ryan: It was the Western-United Dairy. It existed until, I believe, the early 1960s, although it was losing money for a while before it went out of business. Eventually, the group of my cousins who owned it at the time sold it off to a mafia operation, which immediately shut down operations and used it as a tax loss or something. (Apparently, the buyers flew into Chicago on a private plane, signed the closing documents at the airport, and immediately departed.)

  22. Lars Mathiesen says

    And further borrowed / calqued to Scandinavian moderkage aso. — is it etymological naturalization or a calque when the cognacy is so obvious?

  23. Thanks, Brett. I was just checking here before heading out to dinner. I’m going to ask them about the dairy, and about dairy restaurants. Googling a bit, I see a reference to the dairy on Grenshaw Ave, but I assume they meant St., probably making it a west-side business, though there’s a short stretch of Grenshaw in the South Loop/Maxwell St. Market area, which was certainly an old Jewish neighborhood long ago, and is still the home of Manny’s Deli.

  24. Well, he said he remembered the Western United dairy. He wasn’t convincing though. Sometimes I suspect he doesn’t like admitting there could be Chicago lore and especially Jewish Chicago lore he’s not aware of. He said he didn’t remember it being kosher. And that he remembered Hawthorne/Melody dairy. Said he was familiar with dairy restaurants but in support began mentioning delis that had dairy products too. He did correct my pronunciation of milchig though

  25. Bichak is a stuffed baked or fried pastry that comes in different forms (round, triangle, quadrangle) appetizer or meal similar to a turnover, served in Central Asia cuisines including Uzbek cuisine, Tajik cuisine, Afghan cuisine, and Middle Eastern cuisine, most notably in Moroccan cuisine. It is often served during tea or coffee hour. Bichak can be stuffed with pumpkin, veggies and jam for a sweet taste, or meat and cheese for a savory addition to a lunch.[1] Bichak are also popular because they can be prepared in large quantities.[2] They are traditional for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot. For kosher dairy meals, bichak stuffed with pumpkin or cheese are served with yogurt or sour cream.[3]

  26. I remember getting bichak stuffed with pumpkin at the Helmand restaurant in Cambridge, twenty-plus years ago. Pumpkin dishes in general were a house specialty there. Google informs me that the Helmand is still open, which I am glad to see; the food was delicious, and it was an important gathering place for the Boston-area Afghan-American community.

  27. “sour cream, pid-smetene, whey” – what is pid-smetene? “Smetana” in Russian is a type of sour cream, but this seems to be something else?

  28. I wondered the same thing! I googled it, but nothing came up.

  29. Per
    this site

    pid-sme’tene gender f, layer of milk under the sour cream (Ukrainian подсметанье)

    It’s not part of my Yiddish lexicon, but it makes sense compositionally.

  30. PlasticPaddy says
    Page 3 has hyphen-word pid-smetene. I assumed this was drinkable smetene, so something like buttermilk. I believe the d in pid-smetene could be pronounced as a t.

  31. pid-sme’tene gender f, layer of milk under the sour cream (Ukrainian подсметанье)

    Thanks! I forgot Ukr. pid- = Rus. pod-. It does indeed make sense.

  32. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry pipped by Brett- his is more likely

  33. @JP:

    i’d describe the ־ק spellings as de-germanizing, rather than the -ג ones as ‘daytshmerish’ – as you say, the YIVO spelling reflects one side of a dialect distinction in final (de)voicing, and the YIVO conception of ‘daytshmerish’ was and is inflated way past any usefulness. there was a time when it was a useful term for deploring the germanized syntax and vocabulary of parts of the yiddish press, but that time is barely even in living memory at this point! as i understand it, ־ג spellings were at best coincidentally part of that germanizing stylistic tendency, and the YIVO standardizers knew that damn well. regardless: attacks on ‘daytshmerish’ were often (both in YIVO and beyond) as much as anything a reflection of the attackers’ desire to distance themselves from their own linguistic histories. max weinreich and solomon birnbaum were both, after all, products of german-speaking families educated in german-medium schools and universities who learned yiddish later in life.

    one of the last genuine refuges of daytshmerish, though, is in english transliterations of yiddish. i’m disappointed in my childhood friend (who’s always a delight to read) that his review (of another delightful writer) has so much “sch” for ש and “ch” for כ in it. but i’m confident ben knows better, so i will choose to blame the TLS.

    o! and for anyone preoccupied with all this, i should point out that the League for Yiddish has just brought the definitive statement of the standardizers back in print: דער אײנהײטלעכער ייִדישער אױסלײג / The Standardized Yiddish Orthography, complete with a history of the standardization by mordkhe schaechter (who never de-daytshmerized the romanization of his bukovinish surname, i hasten to point out, though it was always שעכטער af yidish). i haven’t read schaechter’s essay (i might someday, but probably not soon), but i expect it’s both comprehensive and contentious, because his writing almost always is!

  34. J.W. Brewer says

    Further to one of Ryan’s mentions, Manny’s Deli was recently in the news with a rather dramatic announcement (although note the date):

  35. >you’ll love our beef-less Corned Beef.

    April Fools, yet reminiscent of an actual dish from the Harvard dining halls – Meatless Chili Con Carne.

  36. David Marjanović says

    I saw CHILI SIN CARNE cans in a supermarket last week.

    …and there’s a cafeteria that offers Chili con Soja on occasion. *sigh*

  37. David Marjanović says

    Finally I looked it up, and it turns out Spanish does have both soya and soja.

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    BTW, since the ones Katchor’s website touts are almost all defunct I googled out of curiosity to see what the internet recommended in terms of currently-open milchig kosher eateries in Manhattan and got a list that included inter alia some kosher vegan places, which do *not* fit the milchig paradigm (to be fair I used “dairy” in my search but they don’t fit that either …) unless it is understood simply to mean “non-fleischig,” thus ignoring the actual kosher schema where non-fleischig is simply the combination of the distinct-from-each-other milchig and parve realms.

  39. Lars Mathiesen says

    I’ve had Chili Sin Carne at several places in Copenhagen, pretty good ones too. Also a few instances of “vegetarian chili con carne”, I have repressed the memory of the actual phrasing.

    This isn’t the Menu Infelicities thread (yet), but café olé. The place is nice but does not have a Spanish theme at all, also I haven’t been there for a while and their current online menu has Starbucks-ized the names of their coffee drinks. And 10DKK for plant based “milk,” that’s usury. (3 or 5 are normal, some places include it in the base price because climate).

  40. Lars Mathiesen says

    So now I looked at the announcement from Manny’s. diner’s shifting pallets, it that Chicago dialect? But more to the point, why would they have to replace the rye with seasoned lettuce? I have encountered a confused soul who thought yeast was an animal, but even the very white “rye” bread I see on pictures of the dish should be fully vegan. (Gluten-free is not the same as vegan, of course, but I think some people are confused about that as well).

  41. J.W. Brewer says

    @Lars M. I do *not* speak Chicago dialect or with Chicago pronunciation (I spent a few years living there a few decades back, and have some in-laws who do exhibit that pronunciation, which is why I’m so confident about that). But “palate” and “pallet” (also “pallette”) are homophones for many AmEng speakers with no Chicago connection, including myself, and homophony can easily lead to orthographic confusion.

  42. I have no problem with Chili Sin Carne. It was putting both meatless and con carne in the formal name of the dish that rattled us. Which was controlling? Con carne came last, so did it win the argument?

    >diner’s shifting pallets, it that Chicago dialect?

    Being a post-industrial city, we have an abundance of old ones lying around, and sometimes you have to move a couple to clear a path to an open table.

  43. Lars Mathiesen says

    @Ryan, all is now clear! And yeah, that’s the same problem I have with veg(etari)an Chili Con Carne. Do you make a vegan chili (DLE: salsa picante que se hace con chiles) and add meat? (If you use vegetable stock, there’s nothing in the recipes I found to make a chili vegetarian-but-not-vegan).

    @JWB, I am aware of the homophony, actually I don’t know how you’d differentiate them in any accent, but I was not sure if Manny’s perpetrated that misspelling on purpose — also the misplaced apostrophe — and if so, if it was supposed to look “local” in some sense or just folksy in general.

    Also, also, I understand why US people have heart problems. It looks like a pound of heavily salted meat and two ounces of white bread for a lunch dish. Six Danes could share that and be happy, if we got to bring some proper black rye ourselves.

  44. David Marjanović says

    Palate is usually spelled pallet by non-anatomists.

    I haven’t seen the opposite yet, but I’ve read an anecdote by a daughter of geologists who used to take things for granite…

  45. Palate / pallet / pallette lives in the same judgmental part of my mind as pedal / paddle / peddle.

  46. J.W. Brewer says

    @Lars M.: Wiktionary seems to think that “palate” is /ˈpæl.ət/ for all Anglophones but that “pallet” is /ˈpælət/ for some but /ˈpælɪt/ for others. That would admittedly be a pretty subtle minimal-pair contrast, so subtle that I’m not sure how many listeners would notice it as disambiguating the two words.

  47. David Marjanović says

    That’s a matter of the rabbit-abbot merger, i.e. the words are supposed to be fully distinct for the average Briton (famous minimal pair: roses with /ɪ/, Rosa’s with /ə/) but homophones on the other side of the Pond. However, I have to doubt this is accurate, judging by other words in -ate and -et – unless I’ve mixed them all up.

  48. David Marjanović says


    Incidentally, the words in question are probably completely independent coinages from German milchig & fleischig, which mean… “milky” & “fleshy” with the same ranges of meanings as these English words, except that the Milky Way is a compound noun, Milchstraße.

  49. /ˈpæl.ət/ … /ˈpælət/

    What’s supposed to be the phonetic distinction between the two?

    I think it’s an error. The two sources given under palate (Oxford via Lexico, MW) both give /ˈpælət/. Maybe someone got confused by the MW’s annotation of permissible written word breaks, pal·​ate.

  50. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I overlooked the (rather nonsensical) dot. Lack of the rabbit-abbot merger refers to /ˈpælət/ & /ˈpælɪt/ being distinct.

  51. J.W. Brewer says

    Sorry, I was cutting and pasting from a source that apparently did not have stylebook uniformity imposed on it with complete rigor. David M. correctly identified the putative distinction for some speakers (not present in my own idiolect) that I was trying to describe.

  52. David Eddyshaw says

    I think even Brits who don’t rhyme “rabbit” and “abbot” have “palate” and “pallet” as complete homophones.
    /ˈpælɪt/ for “pallet” is old-fashioned Brief-Encounter-style RP (alternatively, the idiolect of Our Dear Queen, Gawd Bless ‘Er.)

  53. A search for “rabbut” in GB comes up with lots of British stories in dialect (apparently a Berkshire thing?) Are they trying to convey an [ǝ] vs. an RP [ɪ]?

  54. I spelled palette as pallette above. Serves me right.

  55. @JWB: my vote for nyc’s best milkhig/k restaurant has always gone to B&H Dairy Restaurant on 2nd avenue (not to be confused with the satmar photo/video establishment on the west side, which shares its initials).

  56. David Marjanović says

    Are they trying to convey an [ǝ] vs. an RP [ɪ]?

    I’m pretty sure they are.

  57. J.W. Brewer says

    @rozele, have never been (although I’ve been to the west side electronic-gear place …), but appreciate the recommendation and will try to check it out post-Lent.

  58. B&H Dairy Restaurant on 2nd avenue

    Can confirm its excellence.

  59. Finally I looked it up, and it turns out Spanish does have both soya and soja.

    “Soja” /ˈso.xa/ is the only option in Rioplatense, and the dominant one in Peninsular Spanish, so it’s with some surprise that I find that “soya” is common elsewhere.

  60. I have only heard “soya” used in Mexico and the United States. When I speak in Spanish I use “soya” ( as in “ frijol de soya”, “salsa de soya”, etc.) I’ve only come across “soja” in written form.

  61. @Ryan: I just remembered that the vintage Western-United Dairy Co. milk bottle lid that I own has the address of the dairy on it: 1451 Grenshaw St. (which looks to be fairly centrally located).

    However, if your father-in-law really is an expert on Jewish Chicago lore, he might have heard about my great grandfather anyway. Frank Altschul was president of the Chicago chapter of the Yiddishe Arbiterring* for many years (from the 1940s through the early 1960s, I believe). He was also involved in other Jewish civic and charity organizations.

    * Formerly translated as “Workmen’s Circle,” now the more inclusive “Workers Circle.” Unfortunately, like many organizations that grew up in the Yiddish immigrant milieu, the Chicago Arbiterring chapter appears to have died out at some point in the late twentieth century. The organization has apparently reestablished a presence in the Chicago area in the last ten years, however, currently running a school.

  62. Owlmirror says

    meat (fleisch, in Yiddish

    In English, “flesh” used to mean primarily what we now use “meat” for. I am not sure when/why that use faded.

    More than a decade ago, the Royal Society opened the archive of the oldest reports recorded and printed, and one that leapt out at me while browsing was:

    Some Observations about Shining Flesh, Made by the Honourable Robert Boyle; Febr. 15. 1671/72 and by Way of Letter Addressed to the Publisher, and Presented to the R. Society

    (It was not a description of a nimbus)

    (Also, I now know that “1671/72” is how years were notated for a while after the new year was changed from March to January, for dates between January and March)

  63. In English, flesh meaning “meat” is, per the OED,”somewhat archaic, the current word being meat (it survives however in some northern dialects).” The most recent example it has for that meaning is from 1802, but that doesn’t really mean anything, as hardly any of the senses have been updated with recent attestations.

    However, the OED‘s last two citations for this sense do seem to show an interesting further distinction in usage.

    1772 S. Johnson Lett. to Mrs. Thrale 19 Oct. Flesh is likewise very dear.
    1802 T. D. Fosbroke Brit. Monachism I. (end-matter) The flesh both of birds and quadrupeds was forbidden.

    To wit, the use of bare flesh as a generic term for meat is completely unidiomatic for me. The only context in which I would expect to hear it nowadays would be in “Good King Wenceslas.”* However, to me the second quote sounds much more reasonable. A statement like that, or, “Observant Hindus do not eat cattle, but unlike Muslims, they are fine with the flesh of pigs,” sounds perhaps a bit stilted but not archaic. It seems like explicit reference to a type of animal, but usually not a specific individual animal—”The flesh of many carnivores is rank and distasteful,” or, “”Never a blinking bit of manflesh have we had for long enough”—makes this sense of flesh much less awkward to my ear.

    * I Googled to the get the English spelling of Vaclav the Good’s name correct. It gave me a link to a recording of the carol by Bing Crosby. I don’t think I had ever heard Crosby’s version before (and not for religious reasons; many of my Jewish relatives have been enthusiastic fans of Christmas carols, and I am personally quite fond of “Good King Wenceslas” in particular). However, I know it’s a famous record, and Crosby was apparently fairly closely associated with that song. A personal essay I remember reading a couple decades ago (although I unfortunately don’t remember the author or much of anything else about the content) opened with a description of a cozy December scene from the writer’s childhood, with their family listening to a record of Bing Crosby reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales. However, it does not appear that Crosby ever made such a recording, and I suspect the author’s memories were confused by his association with “Good King Wenceslas,” since that song features prominently at the climax of Dylan Thomas’s story. (Alternatively, maybe including a nonexistent recording in the setting of the scene was a brilliant post-modern gesture—there to clue the discerning reader that the tale told in the “essay” was not quite to be taken literally. A Child’s Christmas in Wales might have been particularly chosen because Dylan opens it with a clear but indirect indication that the narrative that follows should be taken as, at most, inspired by his actual childhood experiences:

    One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

    In college, I took Reading and Writing the Essay, and our instructor had invited a favorite author of hers to come and give a talk and reading at MIT that semester. We a read several of her essays in preparation for her arrival, including one partially about the nature of essay writing itself. She asserted that personal essays were fundamentally fictions and that it was not typical or even desirable for them to stick to factual descriptions of events—at one point, she used the word cosmogony—although I personally remained largely unconvinced.)

  64. Using the word “cosmogony” does not strike as at all unusual in a lecture. It’s more unusual to me that you find it unusual.

  65. Trond Engen says

    I don’t read Brett as objecting to the use of the word cosmogony in the lecture, but to the idea that cosmogony is something an essay writer should be striving for.

  66. I am personally quite fond of “Good King Wenceslas” in particular

    Me too (which is understandable, since my name is Stephen).

  67. John Cowan says

    Just keep in mind somewhere that it is a Victorian singing commercial (or rather public service announcement) and then sing it, fervently.

    The above comma is neither Oxford nor Cambridge, but Wildean.)

  68. Is the final paren Wildean or just wild?

  69. Eight, fluently.

  70. >paren Wildean

    Dunno, but I was enthralled by Brett’s parenthetical, beginning mid-sentence in a footnote to a 4-graph comment and continuing on past a paragraph break and across two more. I want someone to diagram that comment the way we did with sentences in eighth grade.

  71. John Cowan says

    Just wild, the result of incomplete editing.

  72. Brett, I missed your bottlecap post till just now. That address is in what would be called the near west side or Little Italy. Except it’s no longer there. I believe it would have been across from Jefferson School. But the school and the street itself were erased to make way for an offgrid housing development. (Grid in it’s Chicago meaning of street network.).

    When I lived nearby my roommate pointed out that the Greek Orthodox church on the corner had Hebrew letters etched into its pediment, reflecting a forgotten round of change in the neighborhood. I wonder if the owners of the Western United Dairy went to Temple at Polk and Ashland.

  73. the Greek πλακοῦς plakoûs, πλακουντ- plakount- “flat cake”

    I’ve decided to look up words starting with πλακ in Khorikov’s Modern Greek–Russian Dictionary. The following excerpt relates to an aspect of its compilation:

    Когда И.П.Хориков работал над своим большим словарем, а это были годы запрета на любые темы, связанные с религией, приглашенный издательством “Большая Советская энциклопедия” консультант-эксперт потребовал убрать из уже готового к изданию материала практически всю церковную православную терминологию, как якобы устаревшую и абсолютно ненужную. И Хориков поставил издательству ультиматум: либо весь собранный материал, пусть с небольшими сокращениями, но остается в книге, либо он сдает работу и снимает с книги свое имя как автор. В результате словарь вышел в том виде, в котором его подготовил И.П.Хориков.

    The words of interest—to me—are:


    πλάκα • (pláka) f (plural πλάκες)

    1. slab, bar, sheet, tablet (piece of material with uniform cross-section)
    2. paving slab, flagstone
    3. (architecture) slab of concrete forming horizontal component of a building
    4. (geology) tectonic plate (part of the lithosphere)
    5. plaque
    6. joke

    Are the stone tablets in the Exodus called πλάκες in Greek?

    I knew about Plaka in Athens, but didn’t know it had come to be called so only relatively recently:

    Pláka (Greek: Πλάκα) is the old historical neighborhood of Athens, clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis, and incorporating labyrinthine streets and neoclassical architecture. Plaka is built on top of the residential areas of the ancient town of Athens. It is known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” due to its proximity to the Acropolis and its many archaeological sites.
    The name “Plaka” was not in use until after the Greek War of Independence. Instead, the Athenians of that time referred to the area by various names such as Alikokou, Kontito, Kandili, or by the names of the local churches.[3] The name Plaka became commonly in use in the first years of the rule of King Otto. The origin of the name is uncertain: it has been theorized to come from Arvanite “Pliak Athena”, meaning “Old Athens”, from Albanian plak ‘old’ or from the presence of a plaque (Greek: πλάκα; romanized: plaka) which once marked its central intersection.

  74. There are a few words related to πλάκα: πλακάκι ‘diminutive of πλάκα, πλακάς ’tiler’, πλακοστρώνω ‘to tile’.
    But the word that really piqued my curiosity was πλακομούνι


    πλακ(ώνω) (plak(óno), “to press down, to push down on”) +‎ -ο- (infix) +‎ μουνί (mouní, “cunt, pussy”).

    IPA(key): /plakoˈmuni/
    Hyphenation: πλα‧κο‧μού‧νι


    πλακομούνι • (plakomoúni) n (plural πλακομούνια)

    1. (colloquial, vulgar) tribbing, tribadism, scissoring (sex act in which two women intertwine their legs and rub their vulvas against each other)

    Όταν μπήκα στο σπίτι της θειάς μου και είδα πλακομούνι στο κρεβάτι, έφυγα αμέσως.

    Ótan bíka sto spíti tis theiás mou kai eída plakomoúni sto kreváti, éfyga amésos.
    When I went into my aunt’s house and saw them scissoring on the bed, I left right away.



    Byzantine Greek μουνίν (mounín), of uncertain etymology. Four possibilities:

    From Byzantine Greek μνίον (mníon), from βινεῖν (bineîn), from βινέω (binéō, “to fuck, to copulate illicitly”).
    From εὐνίον (euníon), diminutive of εὐνή (eunḗ, “marriage bed”).
    From Italian mona (“cunt”).
    From Ancient Greek μνίον (mníon), diminutive of μνοῦς (mnoûs, “fluff, soft hair”).


    IPA(key): /muˈni/
    Hyphenation: μου‧νί
    Rhymes: -i


    μουνί • (mouní) n (plural μουνιά)

    1. (colloquial, vulgar) cunt, pussy (the vulva and/or vagina)

    Βάλε κανένα πιο σεμνό ρούχο, φαίνεται σχεδόν το μουνί σου.

    Vále kanéna pio semnó roúcho, faínetai schedón to mouní sou.
    Put on something more modest; I can almost see your pussy.

    2. (colloquial, offensive, figuratively) cunt (unpleasant person)

    Άντε φύγε από ’δω ρε μουνί.

    Ánte fýge apó ’do re mouní.
    Get out of here, you cunt.

    3. (colloquial, vulgar, figuratively) pussy (sex; or women, viewed as a sexual object)

    Πάω να βρω λίγο μουνί απόψε.

    Páo na vro lígo mouní apópse.
    I’m going to get some pussy tonight.

  75. πλακί


    From Ancient Greek πλακίον (plakíon), a diminutive of πλαξ (plax, “flat stone”)

    πλακί • (plakí) n (indeclinable)

    1. a savoury dish of beans (or sometimes fish) cooked with oil in a flat dish in an oven

    Derived terms

    γίγαντες πλακί (gígantes plakí, “gigantes – a savoury bean dish”)

    Related terms

    πλάκα f (pláka, “flagstone, slab”)
    πλακέ (plaké, “flat”)

    → English: plaki
    → Ottoman Turkish: پلكی‎ (pilaki)

    Turkish: pilaki


    Pilaki is a style of Turkish meze and may refer to several dishes that are cooked in a sauce made out of onion, garlic, carrot, potato, tomato or tomato paste, sugar, and olive oil. Beans prepared in this style (fasulye pilaki, with white beans, or barbunya pilaki,[1] with borlotti beans) are served cold, garnished with parsley and slices of lemon. Fish pilaki is also a popular recipe. In Greek cuisine, this style is known as plaki. In Bulgarian cuisine the name is “plakiya”.

  76. PlasticPaddy says

    Why is plaka not pelaga? Compare πέλαγος. (there is also a village Πέλεκας in Corfu, so I suppose the initial unstressed vowel of *pelaga could have disappeared and the g been softened to k, but is this found in other etyma?). I was looking up German flach in DWDS and πέλαγος was the comparandum. Also English fluke.

  77. Here’s the Wiktionary entry for πλάξ:

    Ancient Greek

    From Proto-Hellenic *pləks, from Proto-Indo-European *pleh₂- (“flat”), sharing cognates with several Germanic languages through Proto-Germanic *flaką (“something flat”); more at English flake.

    IPA(key): /pláks/ → /plaks/ → /plaks/


    πλάξ • (pláx) f (genitive πλᾰκός); third declension

    1. anything flat and broad
    1) esp. flat land, plain, the ocean surface
    2)flat stone, tablet
    1}tombstone, slab (e.g. of marble)
    3) (in the plural) flaps, tail fins (e.g. of crustaceans)

  78. David Marjanović says

    “Flake” is Flocke in German, so we seem to be looking at nom. sg. *flaką, gen. sg. *flukkaz, and it’s not necessary to reconstruct a PIE *g⁽ʲ⁾ (as in πέλαγος).

  79. I knew about Plaka in Athens, but didn’t know it had come to be called so only relatively recently

    Thanks for that! I love that kind of history (for my complaint about how Athens was treated after independence, see this 2002 post).

  80. J.W. Brewer says

    Belated follow-up to note that I finally followed through on rozele’s advice and lunched earlier this week at B&H Dairy on Second Ave. Cup of hot borscht (meatless) plus smoked whitefish melt (a riff on the more common tuna melt) on toasted challah, plus an apple blintz as dessert, all washed down w/ NYC tap water because I wasn’t in an egg cream mood. An enjoyable experience.

    (The place is one block down from the goyische and meat-serving Veselka, as well as being on the other side of the street. I spent considerable $ to send my parents and my brother/sister-in-law a Fed-Ex’ed-from Veselka Ukrainian food extravaganza at Eastertime, to give them something that seemed au courant and not so easy to find where they live.)

  81. Thanks for the report — I’m glad it lived up to expectations!

  82. Second attempt at getting shameless self-promotion past the spam filter. This time without links.

    Katchor’s book has two things central to another blog post finally out of draft form: a Yiddish joke about Notus un Protus (naming the post and making it the top ghit right this instant) and restaurant ads in radical newspapers.

  83. Goddammit, don’t tell me Akismet is prejudiced against vegetarians! The post is here, and I thank you for letting your faithful fans know about it.

  84. If you want to extend your quote from “The Case for Natural Hygiene,” here’s some more, so you don’t have to end on an ellipsis:

    [They also indulge in meat-substitutes and such meatless mockeries as “protose steak,” “mock hamburger,” “nuttose veal cutlets” and other grain, peanut] and soybean concentrates, which they boil or fry and serve with gravy to simulate the flesh they seem to regret having abandoned. Finally, they tend to bypass natural healing by seeking the services of a medical practitioner whenever they develop an ailment.

  85. prejudiced against vegetarians

    I suspect it’s a link in the body matching the website, which would seem a common spam pattern.

    here’s some more

    Excellent, thank you.

  86. bin fun mitelen vaux

    I’m pretty sure װאוקס represents /vuks/; the aleph is there simply to separate the vavs so you can tell vowel from consonant.

    the first issue of Anarchy Comics

    I have that issue! It’s one of the prized parts of my anarchy collection.

    I admit I find the association of anarchism and vegetarianism somewhat bizarre; they’re fine things, but what do they have to do with each other?

    I know rozele will enjoy your post!

  87. J.W. Brewer says

    “Some vegetarians are even addicted to smoking, but all such habits are excluded from the regimen of the true natural hygienist.” Tobacco’s a vegetable, innit?

  88. vuks

    Thanks. Some of this was semi-automated, so much cleanup was needed.

    association of anarchism and vegetarianism

    Well, the idea, to the extent that there is a coherent one, is that, particularly in the first few decades of the twentieth century there were all these Utopian philosophies and that sometimes they got intersected. If you aren’t charitable, you could call it crank magnetism.

    And it was by no means restricted to Lowest East Side tenements. For instance, across the Atlantic, vegetarian Parisians could have fromage chinois from the first modern tofu plant anywhere, started by Chinese radicals before the Republic (as a way to fund a work-study program in France, in which a sixteen-year-old Deng Xiaoping participated — due to poor editing, the French WP, s.v. tofu, implies that he worked in this factory, which I do not believe to be the case).

    That’s why Esperanto gets thrown in. And they noticed it at the time; witness the FAI’s “constitutional congress” debate. It’s not just us drawing Venn diagrams retroactively.

  89. Oh, I wasn’t ascribing the association to you — I see now my concision was sloppy and left a misleading impression! It’s clear they were associated at the time, and that’s what I found odd. But of course you’re right that birds of a rejectionist feather tend to flock together. “You don’t like the status quo? Neither do I, comrade!”

  90. Are “protose” and “nuttose” constructed by analogy to viscose?

    I have seen Yiddish ווו for vu. Anyway the helpful extra א has come up here some other time before. Probably rozele said something about it.

  91. Assuming it’s the same -ose as sugars and other carbohydrates, viscose is indeed related. And, being more or less contemporary, it’s likely they were similarly influenced, if not directly linked.

    OED, s.v., says

    Most of the earlier formations in ‑ose are borrowings from French. The earliest of these is glucose (1838), which is apparently an adaptation to French style of ancient Greek γλεῦκος ‘must, sweet wine, sweetness’ (with ‑ose representing ‑ος). The same ending was given to cellulose (1839), apparently simply to match glucose. The actual author of glucose, and presumably also of cellulose, appears to have been Dumas, the rapporteur of the committees of the Académie des Sciences. The ending ‑ose was soon freely extended to other formations in French, German, English, and other languages (in some cases the language of coinage is uncertain).

    That said, I’ve never seen anyplace where Kellogg spelled it out what it “meant.”

  92. January First-of-May says

    Anyway the helpful extra א has come up here some other time before. Probably rozele said something about it.

    Yiddish װאו vu on LH previously 1.1, previously 1.2, previously 2. All three indeed by rozele.

    In modern Hebrew װאו is regularly vau, commonly pressed into use to represent the borrowed English interjection “wow”.

  93. @MMcM: thank you for such a fascinating post! i’ve only skimmed it, and am looking forward to giving it a proper read.

    it gave me a very vivid memory of beyle schaechter-gottesman z”l (a wonderful yiddish singer, songwriter, and poet; as massively influential in her way as her yiddishist brother mordkhe schaechter) talking about one of her shipmates on the Territorialist survey trip to suriname. he was a long-haired, vegetarian, sandal-wearing russian – very much the image of either a late-1960s counterculturalist or a late-1860s nihilist, but stranded in the late 1930s.

    a few small things about the yiddish:

    i always appreciate when transliteration doesn’t correct to YIVOish standardized spellings, and makes at least some effort to render what’s actually written – the wild variation of yiddish orthography shouldn’t be obscured when texts are shifted into galkhes / latin characters! sometimes that’s impossible, though: i’ve been working with some tkhine (roughly: women’s vernacular supplicatory prayer) texts that are printed with both character vowels and nekudes / diacritic vowels, and there’s no way to reproduce the two-stream effect in the latin alphabet without adding superscripts to almost every letter.

    illustrating what MMcM said about the iffiness of yiddish OCR, the “כּוהות” (quite rightly transliterated as “kuhus”) in the first long yiddish passage is a classic ה/ח mistake. the word is certainly כּוחות / koykhes (‘strength’, in its plural form).

    and for anyone who, like MMcM, is “reluctant to believe that the Yiddish translator invented this detail” when reading a novel in yiddish translation from before, say, the 1950s: don’t be! adaptive translation and improving texts when necessary were very common practices (although the famous story of Keynig Lir being advertised as “fartaytsht un farbesert” / “yiddished and improved” is apparently a myth). and, i have to say, it’s often been a very good thing, from what elye bokher / elia levita’s Bovo-bukh did to Bevis of Hampton (with help from Buovo d’Antona) to the miracle that Fidler Afn Dakh pulls off to make an actually compelling show that’s actually about jews out of a play unworthy of the name “shund” that’s bland enough to be transposable to, say, 1840s ireland with a few quick search-and-replace moves.

    finally, to amplify MMcM’s shoutout to the fabulous eve jochnowitz, here is a review of her translation of fania lewando’s Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook, by none other than eve’s linguist father george jochnowitz, whose work on judeo-romance languages and western yiddish may have crossed some hatters’ paths. the cookbook is fascinating, and i think the coverage of its appearance in translation is a kind of footnote to the history in the post.

    p.s. i had no idea i’d been so prolific on the mekhitse-alef! thank you, J1M!

  94. David Marjanović says

    the miracle that Fidler Afn Dakh pulls off to make an actually compelling show that’s actually about jews out of a play unworthy of the name “shund” that’s bland enough to be transposable to, say, 1840s ireland with a few quick search-and-replace moves

    …and here I thought Steven Spielberg saving Jurassic Park from Michael Crichton was the best example of an adaptation being better than the original. 😮

  95. I apologize for writing this here, but:

    Can anyone please help me find a comment made in the last five years, not sure under which post, that said something along the lines of “younger nation-states tend to be more obsessed with the past, whereas countries like the UK (i.e. countries with an unbroken tradition and/or an impressive colonial, imperial past) tend to be less so”

    I think it was perhaps made by Athel Cornish-Bowden, AntC or David Eddyshaw.

  96. The style and content of what you remember point to David or Athel.

  97. @DM: i really can’t say enough to praise Fidler Afn Dakh (or to insult its anglophone source)! of course, the triumph was almost completely undermined (at least for the Broadway run) by sheldon harnick’s insistence* that the supertitles be the original english script instead of an actual translation of what was being said on stage, which meant that the vast majority of the audience had no access to the fartaytsht un farbesert version.

    * backed, according to my sources in the orchestra pit, by reminders that his permission was necessary for the show to go on.

  98. I very much appreciated that the Yiddish Book Center’s OCR Full Text Search would allow me to offer corrections by clicking and with no more bona fides than an email address, and made some effort to do so in a few places.

  99. absolutely! the side of their work that’s about expanding digital access to yiddish texts is inspiring.

  100. @Stu The style and content of what you remember point to David or Athel. [and not the suggested AntC]

    Aww you got me in one. Yep the bollox around Brexit was all obsession with the past in some mashup of Thatcher/Churchill/Edwardian/Empire/Elizabethan[**] golden age.

    [**] Both of them but especially the one ‘Liz’ didn’t kill off.

  101. I quite agree on the quality B&H, (Wikipedia). I note with amusement (from WP) that the current owners are a married couple, an Egyptian Muslim and a Catholic Pole, and (not from WP) that the sign says that “B&H” stands for “Better Health”.

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