This was first thrown at Danny for
NTK back in
Then I dragged it back
up when Doc was over. I’m wondering if the phrase stands alone or needs
further explanation. If you’re thinking the latter, read on.
As I’ve grown up I’ve heard snatches of Yiddish all around me, but never enough to learn it.
This is a great regret to me. I try and learn, but I can’t concentrate on anything for
that long these days. Obviously, this gives me Guilt. Yiddish is
disappearing fast, and even though I can’t speak it, I love it.
All my grandparents speak Yiddish, but very different Yiddish. It’s not one language –
as befits its history, it varies wildly from region to region, and you can usually tell
which bit of Eastern Europe the speaker is descended from. “She speaks
a beautiful Yiddish” is an expression I’ve often heard from those who know and love
the language – it means that the speaker being referred to has a thorough and
distinguished vocabulary that they draw from, and not only use Yiddish but
Both Yiddish and Hebrew sound warm and comforting to me, for obvious
reasons, but in completely different ways. Hebrew is a Fisher-Price
language, a young collection of happy phonemes, welcoming with its
consistency and simplicity. Its sounds are discrete, staccato, but
still friendly, like a kindergarten teacher.
Yiddish is the caring, authoritative inscrutability of your elders.
It has rules, but they’re mainly inherited from the tributary
languages. It’s inconsistent in a way that shows it doesn’t matter. It
sounds like a beautiful mess (which, considering its mainly Germanic
origins, is quite an achievement). Well, it sounds beautiful to me,
anyway. Others think it’s just a mess – there’s a famous National
Lampoon “Teach Yourself Yiddish” piece that recommends you make up
vaguely German/Russian-sounding words that start with “sch” and just
string them together.
Let’s talk a bit more about the make-up of Yiddish: it’s mainly
German, that much is obvious, but the vocab is heavily twisted and most
of the grammatical rules have been abandoned. There’s quite a bit of
classical Hebrew and English in there too, probably some Russian,
Slovak and Polish as well. It’s where it came from. And now,
where Yiddish has ended up, it has given back: chutzpah, shlep,
refusenik, nosh, etc. – all essential Yinglish.
As I said, the dialects vary heavily from region to region. My
father’s mother says “nit” instead of “nisht”, something that has my
mother recoiling in disgust. Still, either works. You can chop and
change as much as you like, throw bits of your native language in when
it works, etc. Sure, people do this with other second languages, but in
this case it’s a core philosophy of the language.
In other words: There’s More Than One Way To Do It. Or, as Perl
hackers often say,
A major factor of success in programming language design is
reductionism – the simpler the syntax, the better. All redundancy must
be eliminated. So goes the received wisdom, anyway. In this, Perl loses
heavily. Wonderfully heavily. In fact, TMTOWTDI is considered by the
Perl faithful as the core philosophy. Plenty of redundancy here, and we
love it. There are still some things missing, such as a switch
statement, but that’s only because
are so many ways of doing it already.
Perl, unlike most programming languages, was created by a linguist.
That’s why you get bizarre constructs like conditional modifiers,
(print "Hello" unless $x < 3)
which make most computer scientists spit in disgust. However, most of
its syntax and vocabulary reflects its UNIX admin heritage: it's a mess
of C, Bourne shell, sed, awk, POSIX etc. (This is primarily because Perl
was not created to be pretty; it was created to Get Stuff Done. It's
nicknamed the Swiss Army Chainsaw for a reason. But it still has
plenty of irritating inconsistencies and pitfalls.)
And, as Perl has taken, it has given back. Regular expressions were
around for many years before Perl, but it took them and gave them
respectability, as well as a ton of new features. As a result, many
just three) have grabbed the Perl flavour of regexps for their cores.
You can write beautiful Perl, ugly Perl, baby Perl, strict Perl.
There's much more opportunity for distinctive style than you get in
other languages. You can write it to be clean and maintainable or you
can write it to be silly or sweet. You can write
in it. Obviously, from the perspective of a dedicated programmer who
needs to create bug-free mission-critical code, this scores no points
other than that it is a joy to code in.
Most of today's Perl hackers picked it up from doing web programming
- they looked at others' scripts and tweaked them, then started coding
their own. It's daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it,
it's friendly and welcoming. It has the most helpful compiler I've ever
seen. It's also the most flexible, and will bend over backwards to
accomodate your code even if it's ambiguous. (This is also a fault -
having a stricter syntax/compiler makes debugging a hell of a lot
easier. use strict goes some of the way to fixing this, but
it's still a problem. But that's to be discussed elsewhere.)
Ultimately, Yiddish and Perl share the potentially detractive
qualities of complexity and inconsistency, but turn them in their favour
due to the huge amount of character they provide. This is because they
have History. This has resulted in Culture and Community, and a great
degree of affection.