In my capacity as hatter, I bring you today’s NY Times story “When He Talks Hats, Basic Black Is Only the Beginning,” by Ralph Blumenthal, about Bruno Lacorazza and his Brooklyn store Feltly Hats, which caters to Orthodox Jews. I have always admired the magnificent headgear of the various Orthodox communities (my late friend Allan Herman used to enjoy pointing out the styles of dress and payess to me as we wandered the streets of New York: “See that guy who looks like a seventeenth-century Polish tax collector? That’s a Satmar“), and I particularly love the opulent shtreimel (from Middle High German streimel ‘stripe, strip’) and its taller cousin the spodik (which I presume is Polish spodek ‘saucer,’ related to spod ‘from under’).
I conclude with the conclusion of the story: “‘People always use hats,’ [Rotter] said. ‘It’s a necessity, like food.'” Fun zayn moyl in gots oyern!


  1. David Marjanović says

    I feel a sudden urge to find out what seventeenth-century Polish tax collectors looked like. If that’s even known. 🙂

    “‘People always use hats,’ [Rotter] said. ‘It’s a necessity, like food.'”

    I’ve never understood the point of headgear that doesn’t cover the ears. The ears are what gets cold first!
    <duck & cover>

  2. Well, the heat flux out of your head is proportional to the exposed area, so if you cover the top of your head, the heat is forced out through your ears– thereby keeping your ears warm. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculation. Or something.
    In any case, I saw a guy wearing a spodik yesterday. Quite impressive.

  3. I remember the first time I saw someone in a shtreimal (a broad-brimmed one, if that’s the right word, it was big). There was a very expensively dressed family coming out of an apartment building on Park Avenue in the upper 60s, on a Saturday. This guy was also wearing a black frock coat and what looked like black velvet knickerbockers — could he also have had on white stockings, or am I imagining that? Anyway, it was quite a get up.
    I wish I’d known those hatters when I lived in NY. I’d like a low-crown version with a curled brim. That clear plastic rain cover is doing nothing for Moshe Friedman in picture #11. Bugger the rain; If you’re going to do a thing, do it properly.

  4. In fact, the individual I saw yesterday was wearing the Knickerbocker-white stockings combo. So, you were probably not hallucinating.

  5. Thank you, Matt.

  6. Again, I stand with the late Isaac Asimov, who said there were only two sensible kinds of hats: Russian ones with furry ear flaps, for cold, and Vietnamese broad-brimmed ones, for rain.

  7. David Marjanović says

    And Tlingit ones for rain in a forest, I suppose.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Vietnamese broad-brimmed ones, for rain

    And sun!

  9. With the exception of out host, isn’t ‘a sensible hat’ an oxymoron?

  10. rootlesscosmo says

    Times stylebook or no, isn’t the standard (Weinreich) orthography shtreyml?

  11. marie-lucie says

    While reading the NYT article I noticed a mention of “pouncing” a hat for a smooth finish, a word I remember learning when it was discussed not too long ago, right here if I am not mistaken. It refers to “rubbing with a pumice” (which is une pierre ponce in French, hence the verb poncer which must be the original of to pounce with this meaning).

  12. rootlesscosmo says

    Plural not “shtreimels” as at the Wikipedia page but, I think, “shtreymlakh.”

  13. John Emerson says

    Stocking caps are unpretty but useful, and you lose them less because you can stick them in a pocket or sleeve.
    The Wobegon Amish, including the kids, all wear the same hat — like a straw boater hat except less tall and without the horrible, gaudy, lewd, colorful hatband.
    Per Google Image, different sorts of Amish wear different hats.

  14. John Emerson says

    Hat-obsessed hatters would do well to consult the “Beanie” Wiki. Written by a fellow soul, by my guess.

  15. I love this bit at the top of the beanie article:

    It has been suggested that Toboggan (hat) be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)

    Wiki has unleashed a force — released a tsunami of enthusiastic social intercourse. Someone ought to write about it.

  16. Standard yiddish : dos shtrayml with two possible plurals, shtraymlekh and shtraymlen

  17. Hah. You young pups with full heads of hair can laugh at hats now. The day is coming, friends, when hats will be as necessary as shoes!

  18. I don’t wear shoes.

  19. I was moved to tears when Joel sent your posting.
    Please send me your contact info. Jessie is having her bat mitvah next June and would love for you & your wife to join us. In one of the many ironies of life—my Protestant husband and I are raising her as a Jew. And by the way, my husband Rother has a hat collection from his travels around the world. When I first met him he told me that he wanted to be the Imelda Marcos of hats!

  20. Plural not “shtreimels” as at the Wikipedia page but, I think, “shtreymlakh.”
    The Wikipedia page says “(Yiddish: שטרײַמל, pl. שטרײַמלעך shtreimlech).” Are you referring to the fact that they use “shtreimels” in the body of the article? That’s because the article is in English, and the English plural is shtreimels, just like bagels. The plural of “That guy is a gonif” is “Those guys are gonifs,” not “Those guys are ganovim.” English is not Yiddish.
    Times stylebook or no, isn’t the standard (Weinreich) orthography shtreyml?
    Yes, if you’re transliterating Yiddish. The English loan word is shtreimel (see, for instance, the OED, and this citation: 1978 I. B. SINGER Shosha ii. 22 “Haiml wore a fur coat, fur boots, and a fur hat resembling a shtreimel”). English doesn’t do –ml clusters.
    Great to hear from you, Karen! I’ve sent you an e-mail.

  21. What a pleasure to be among fellow hatters. Unfortunately, most of the time I wear a bike helmet, required headgear in B. C., although the Mounties, being federales, don’t seem to care (I do, since I’ve hit the ground four times in four decades). Otherwise, I wear caps of various styles. West Coast weather is too changable for brimmed hats. My ‘Darkman’ hat (waddaya callit?) is now reddish from the sun, and my light-brown Dorpman Pacific from Stockman, Calif., has soft spots from rainspatters (I wear it brim-down, which betrays it’s 18th and 19th Latin-American origins). When I moved here to the Misty Isles (Haida Gwaii) I was going to get a Haida spruce-root hat (probably same-same Tlingit, David) but they’re too expensive (many Haida are quite rich from their arts and crafts). I’m sure a homburg or shtreyml would invite stones from little boys (as I’ve read they did in Europe). But hats are definitely as necessary as food!
    By the way, I remember reading years ago that although there was a trend away from hatwearing the hatless President Kennedy made bearheadedness universal.

  22. The bowler hat, ubiquitous on workdays in London until the seventies, disappeared almost overnight.

  23. John Emerson says

    Emma Goldman Addressing Hats.
    This was in the garment district and there were probably actual hatters in the crowd.

  24. What a great picture! And Emma’s a hero of mine, too. If I weren’t so lazy I might make a blog header of it.

  25. marie-lucie says

    iakon, I am surprised you have not mentioned the indestructible Tilley hat(s).

  26. marie-lucie, the brims appear to be too narrow to be effective against either sun or rain. Covering the eyes only is insufficient, I feel.

  27. Language, I second the motion about the Emma Goldman photo. Also about her being a hero.

  28. By the way did I get the definition of hatters wrong? Can it not be those who wear hats as well?
    And language, no-one has asked you what the Yiddish tag at the end of your post means. Am I the only one here who doesn’t know the language?

  29. On the hat testimony:

    In 1667, we find [Thomas Ellwood] in attendance at a great meeting of Friends, in London, convened at the suggestion of George Fox, for the purpose of settling a little difficulty which had arisen among the Friends, even under the pressure of the severest persecution, relative to the very important matter of “wearing the hat.”

    George Fox, in his love of truth and sincerity in word and action, had discountenanced the fashionable doffing of the hat, and other flattering obeisances towards men holding stations in Church or State, as savoring of man-worship, giving to the creature the reverence only due to the Creator, as undignified and wanting in due self-respect, and tending to support unnatural and oppressive distinctions among those equal in the sight of God.

    But some of his disciples evidently made much more of this “hat testimony” than their teacher. One John Perrott, who had just returned from an unsuccessful attempt to convert the Pope, at Rome, (where that dignitary, after listening to his exhortations, and finding him in no condition to be benefited by the spiritual physicians of the Inquisition, had quietly turned him over to the temporal ones of the Insane Hospital,) had broached the doctrine that, in public or private worship, the hat was not to be taken off, without an immediate revelation or call to do so!

    Ellwood himself seems to have been on the point of yielding to this notion, which appears to have been the occasion of a good deal of dissension and scandal. Under these circumstances, to save truth from reproach, and an important testimony to the essential equality of mankind from running into sheer fanaticism, Fox summoned his tried and faithful friends together, from all parts of the United Kingdom, and, as it appears, with the happiest result. Hat-revelations were discountenanced, good order and harmony reestablished, and John Perrott’s beaver and the crazy head under it were from thenceforth powerless for evil.

    Let those who are disposed to laugh at this notable “Ecumenical Council of the Hat” consider that ecclesiastical history has brought down to us the records of many larger and more imposing convocations, wherein grave bishops and learned fathers took each other by the beard upon matters of far less practical importance.

    –John Greenleaf Whittier, “Thomas Ellwood”, in Old Portraits and Modern Sketches

  30. iakon: “[May what you said go] from your mouth to God’s ears.”

  31. I had trouble with moyl until in gots oyern tipped me to the analogous German expression. Duden sez:

    dein Wort in Gottes Ohr/(scherzh.:) Gehörgang! (möge sich bewahrheiten, was du sagst!);

    … (humorous) Ear canal! (Let’s hope [what you said] turns out, happens like that)

    An etymo-didactic form would be Von deinem Maul in Gottes Ohren (hinein/herein) [out of your muzzle into God’s ears]. I don’t know if in Yiddish moyl just means mouth, or primarily designates an animal’s snout, and secondarily appears in all kinds of taking-down-a-notch expressions applied to people, like the German Maul (das Maul über jemanden zerreißen, to bad-talk, gleefully propagate malicious rumors about someone) or French gueule ((ferme) ta gueule!, shut uppa you face!). Ralf told me recently about the useful Kölsch Mach de Kopp zu! (shut your head!), when I was looking for something I could say to my half-dead, lonely, nagging old landlord to get him to stop annoying me. For the reasons given, I didn’t use it after all.
    At internet sites with the Yiddish expression I found only a single one that also had the German, and there the English translation is out of sync with current German usage. The site translates:

    what you said is wonderful and the listener makes it almost like a prayer so that God will make it come true.

    I can’t say I’ve ever heard it used in that non-jokey way, but I can well imagine there are old pious folks who employ it like that. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yiddish expression was the original one, with the German calqued on it. As the Duden entry suggests, the expression is used nowadays to mean something like “more power to you” or “yeah, whatever”, with an unconvinced, ironic undertone. The “Gehörgang!” exclamation may be “humorous”, but it’s cornpone humor. It might just be a half-assed hapax heard once, in 1974, by a Duden editor from his daughter’s squirrely boyfriend.

  32. What a wonderful passage from Whittier! A Liberace of luxuriant language!

  33. Sorry but the Yivo and academic transcription is shtrayml.

  34. And Emma’s a hero of mine, too.
    Hero? Had she succeeded in killing Frick, we would have been deprived of the world’s most wonderful small art gallery. That what anarchists want ?

  35. “[May what you said go] from your mouth to God’s ears.”
    Actually, from his mouth (zayn, not dayn). And moyl is the standard Yiddish word for mouth (an animal’s mouth, according to Weinreich, is leftsung, which also means ‘mouth of a river’). I don’t think I’ve ever heard/read the expression used ironically, as G. Stu says it’s used in German, though I’m sure it is sometimes so used—the default use in America is straightforward (“I approve of what you just said and want it to come true”).
    Sorry but the Yivo and academic transcription is shtrayml.
    Yes, but as I said above, we’re writing in English, not transcribed Yiddish. The Yivo and academic transcription of the lexicographer’s name is vaynraykh, and yet I write Weinreich.

  36. Paul: (The Frick): the world’s most wonderful small art gallery
    It’s nice, but I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Perhaps if you’d said ‘The most wonderful small art gallery on earth’, we’d recognise the voice of a true New Yorker.

  37. Thanks, all you who know Yiddish. It’s a language I’ve been distant from, here on the backside of America (as the 18th C. English gentleman said). About as close as I got was that LOL book called You’re Entitle’.
    And I’ve got the two definitions of ‘hatter’ straight now, having seen again the one I was unclear about in the first line of LH’s post.

  38. Actually, from his mouth (zayn, not dayn).

    But that means the expression is not addressed to, but rather said about someone. Very different from dein Wort in Gottes Ohr. Just to be clear, it was this German expression about which I said it is used mostly ironically nowadays, not the Yiddish expression in Germany.

  39. scarabaeus says

    Hats are worn to protect the gray matter and its protective covering and when removed, allow deficiencies to be exposed, when there be ‘nutin” to protect then there be no need of protection.
    At one time, the Quakers wore two hats [under and over], one to satisfy the power structure that yee give due deference , the second was to tell the doffee to go and do a biological impossibility.

  40. marie-lucie says

    Years ago I had to take an exam in translating from French into English. The text to be translated was from the 18th century (perhaps by Voltaire, who had spent some time in England) and concerned the English Quakers, specifically an incident in which the founder was taken to court and kept his hat on before the judge. Until now I had never realized that some of what we had to do was retranslation rather than translation, since it included a direct quotation. I still remember what the court official was supposed to have said: Ne sais-tu pas que tu dois paraître devant M. le Juge tête nue? How to translate the tu and to use the correct verb form was probably the main trap set by the examiner to catch the unwary or inattentive student. I still remember that I wrote Knowest thou not … and have been wondering ever since whether I should have written Dost thou not know … instead.

  41. For those for whom the plural is “shtraymlen” (and here I use YIVO romanization because I am writing about Yiddish), the word is masculine. For those for whom it is “shtraymlekh,” it’s neuter. This has to do with whether the -l ending is analyzed a diminutive suffix or not, which would compel it to be neuter. A side note, but a slightly interesting one.
    “Leftsung” only refers to the mouth of a river. The word for an animal’s mouth, which can indeed be derisively or disparagingly applied to a human one, is “der pisk.” Interestingly, a word related to “leftsung” is “leftsn”–lips, the German cognate of which refers to animal lips, but in Yiddish can mean human lips, without any deprecation.

  42. Voltaire’s writings on the Quakers sometimes show up in the Dictionnaire philosophique and sometimes in the Lettres philosophiques, as is the case with the set in Gallica. Also in translations: it’s in this version in GB, but not in the turn-of-the-century ten volume set I picked up a few months ago for $1 / vol.
    There’s all kinds of fun in there. For instance, I spent some time a while ago hunting around for different versions of the saying «Dans le doute, abstiens-toi», which he credits to Zoroaster, based I think on Saddar 27.2. Like the rhyming dialectal English, “When in doubt, do nowt.”

  43. “Leftsung” only refers to the mouth of a river. The word for an animal’s mouth, which can indeed be derisively or disparagingly applied to a human one, is “der pisk.”
    Now I’m glad I credited Weinreich rather than stating the error on my own authority!

  44. John Emerson says

    The Quakers also insisted on addressing everyone as “thou”, for similar egalitarian reasons. Whether that actually was a factor in Voltaire’s text I don’t know, but it’s interesting that M-L used the word in her translation.
    Translating from modern French, tu is difficult

  45. marie-lucie says

    JE: the text, written in the 18th century, contained a translation from English, so “tu” was a translation of “thou” in the original quotation. Here “thou” was used by an official addressing a Quaker, something which shows that in the eyes of the official, either the Quaker was of a much lower class or he displayed such bad manners in not removing his hat that he deserved being addressed as the lowest of the low, which was the general (non-Quaker) connotation of saying “thou” to a stranger at the time. Therefore, “tu” (which would have been used the same way in contemporary France) had to be translated back into English as “thou”. If the text to be translated had been modern and dealing with a modern subject, finding the right stylistic equivalent for “tu” would have been much more difficult.

  46. John Emerson says

    The irony is that Quakers wanted to be addressed as “thou”, and insisted on addressing everyone else as “thou” too. Di Voltaire’s Quaker respond to the judge as “thou”?

  47. «Le Juge voïant que cet homme le tutoïoit, l’envoïa aux Petites-Maiſons de Darby pour y être fouetté.»

  48. Similar stories are told in Fox’s Journal.

  49. That excerpt of Fox’s Journal is marvelous. It brings him to life, and what a very difficult man he was. I have sympathy for the horrible judges. Quakers are not all so principled; I know of one (a Cadbury) who used to go out of his way to try and run over squirrels with his car.

  50. m-l: A quick search of the Journal suggests that “dost thou know” was current, but “knowest thou” was not.
    Crown: Indeed, I know of one who sent men to their deaths by tens of thousands. (His branch of the Friends had pretty much abandoned disownment, though there was talk of it at the time.)

  51. John Emerson says

    They’ve split into Friends Church and Friends Meeting, the latter of which maintains the pacifist tradition.
    [Or so I thought. But wiki tells me that these are not two separate churches, but two types of worship within one church — “unprogrammed” (old style) and programmed (more like other Protestant churches). The unprogrammed groups may be somewhat more likely to be pacifist, etc., but that’s only a tendency and not a rule. Each congregation is autonomous, as each individual).

  52. Someone whose father is one recently told me there’s an English branch of atheist Quakers, though I don’t remember her telling me what the point of it was.

  53. From Ben: Interestingly, a word related to “leftsung” is “leftsn”–lips, the German cognate of which refers to animal lips, but in Yiddish can mean human lips, without any deprecation.

    The German is die Lefze, plural Lefzen /lef-tsen/. Grimm and Duden etymologize: Old High German lefzâ, essentially “something hanging loosely”. In the OED, under “dewlap”, I found: “The second element lap is OE. læppa, pendulous piece, skirt, lappet, lobe”.

  54. Is Norwegian lefse “flappy bread”?

  55. Is Norwegian lefse “flappy bread”?

  56. Arty Ras says

    Is Norwegian lefse “flappy bread”?
    Lefse is just potato bread!

  57. marie-lucie says

    JC: A quick search of the Journal suggests that “dost thou know” was current, but “knowest thou” was not.
    Alas, it is now much too late for me to rectify my error, which has been bothering me ever since. Perhaps “knowest thou” would have been OK a couple of centuries earlier.

  58. I’m pretty shocked that you would make an error like that, Marie-Lucie. If you want any peace, I think it’s time to turn yourself in to the authorities. Maybe Language will go with you.

  59. marie-lucie says

    Surely my extreme youth at the time should be a sufficient defense. But I hope that you and Language will both come with me.

  60. I will go with you both anywhere, and frighten off the authorities with my many hats.

  61. caffeind says

    I assumed it was Gottes Eiern.

  62. David Marjanović says

    I assumed it was Gottes Eiern.

    (…Translate Eier, with or without the dative -n, into Spanish literally, and you get huevos. In both senses of that word, which both seem to be known to most North Americans today.)

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