Nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn

Climbing, flying ...

For the time being, I have a new favorite phrase:

Nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn

It’s Yiddish and means “didn’t climb up and didn’t fly.” (The German spelling would be nicht gestiegen und nicht geflogen.)

OK, but so what?

Well, it’s a very witty and slyly subversive way of saying


and I feel that we all could use new and innovative ways to express this necessary reaction to so much in life.

You can read about the historical and linguistic context of the phrase here. Basically, it’s what Jews, living in an overwhelmingly Christian society, said to each other to mean Bullshit. It was implicitly understood among them that the individual who neither climbed nor flew was, well, you know…

Let everybody make a fuss, the phrase seems to imply, but we don’t necessarily have to buy into it.

And yet, the phrase is also obscure enough to give its user deniability should he need it. The mainstream Christians were not likely to be offended about somebody saying that something neither climbed nor flew. It’s really an inside joke, nudge nudge.

PS: This post is not about you, or him

Usually, when the subject of religion comes up, I get a spike in traffic and everybody blows a fuse. This post is not even tagged religion. Instead, it is once again about intellectual conformity.

As you know, I value non-conformity but simultaneously appreciate how difficult it is to be non-conformist constructively, as Socrates illustrated.

So this great phrase might suggest the solution: to be non-conformist and simultaneously non-confrontational, and to have a bit of fun all the while.

Next time you hear that talking head on cable TV going on about, oh, death panels and what not, next time you feel overwhelmed by the truthiness and non sequiturs all around us, join me in a cavalier smirk and mutter

nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn.

Bookmark and Share

16 thoughts on “Nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn

  1. Oops. Looks like I had accidentally pushed “Publish” during the writing. So those of you who subscribe to The Hannibal Blog by email now have a sample of a work-in-progress in your inboxes…

  2. Not only is it a useful phrase, it sounds magnificent when you say it.

    PS–I think your phrase “intellectual conformity” is way too euphemistic. I think something like “auto-lobotimization” is more accurate.

    • It sounds magnificent because, as Billy (not Bill) Crystal (not Kristol) tells us, Yiddish is nothing more than German plus phlegm. 🙂

  3. how timely. i so want to say “bullshit” in a “non-confrontational way”.

    does “tell it to my savta (gramdma)” fit the bill? or is it to obvious? are there more ways to do this?

    i have noticed that “shunning” a bizarre comment or blog responder is a very effective tool also, but i can see how “nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn” could be more satisfying 😉

    as far as my tussle on the previous topic, being the only female responder, i’ll play the PMS card.

  4. It would seem that every culture (and. therefore, every language) has a way of saying that particular thing. Some more colorful than others, to be sure.

    My mother used to express it this way…

    Oh, really?

    My father just used a stern look.

    • yes literally “press, squeeze, pinch; strain” @ one’s stool and the complaining which goes with it.

      kvetch has become synonymous with complaining. it’s a real art from when done correctly.

    • I love this about Yiddish: it seems to add meanings — ie, to add connotations to denotations.

      For example, kwetschen in German merely means squeeze, so you could kwetsch lemons to make lemonade. But to kvetch is a certain kind of kwetsch.

      Mensch in German is a human being, in Yiddish a good, whole, integrated human being.

      Spiel in German is a game, in Yiddish the kind of game you’d put on, over and over, to prove your point.


    • yes, well when you are kvetching you might say you are squeezing someone’s last nerve 😉

  5. I think your book got it wrong. I’ve always heard it pronounced nisht getoygen (as in tag meaning day) nisht gefloygen. Translation: It doesn’t wake up/rise and doesnt fly.

  6. The actual form is asyndetic: “Nisht geshtoygen, nisht gefloygen.” The lack of a conjunction after “geshtoygen” requires a pause, and as the eyes roll during that pause, the meaning is crystal clear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s