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The Astronomer, Vermeer, 1668

“Then he raised the bowl to his lips, took a sip of soup and said, (1) ‘Nu Nu!’ Max looked at him, his eyes aflame, and said (2) ‘Nu nu ist gar nichts.’  The tailor looked at Max and said (3) ‘Gurnist ist gurnisht.’ Max said, (4) ‘Nu nu is gurnisht.’ The tailor said, ‘what have you got against me today?’ Max made no reply. The tailor turned to Uncle Arthur and said, (5) ‘Nu?’ Uncle Arthur rested his chin on his hand and said, (6) ‘Nu nu ist etwas.’ The tailor smiled with satisfaction. Max fixed his eyes on Uncle Arthur and said (7) ‘Was ist nu nu?’ Uncle Arthur tugged at the end of his chin and said, (8) ‘Nu nu ist alles.’ Max said (9) ‘Alles ist gar nichts.’ The tailor said, (10) ‘Gurnisht ist gurnisht.’ Max said, (11) ‘Nu nu ist gurnisht.’ The tailor said, (12) ‘nu, nu.’ Katschen remembered that his mother, Margarethe used to look at his father and say (13) ‘ja, ja’ and was filled with affection for the tailor”

1. Yiddish – “well, well”  2. German – “Nu, Nu is nothing” 3.  Yiddish – “No thing is nothing” 4. Yiddish – “well, well is nothing” 5. Yiddish – “well?” 6. German – “Nu Nu is something” 7. German – “What is Nu Nu?” 8. German – “Nu Nu is everything” 9. German – “Everything is no thing”  10. “No thing is nothing” 11. Yiddish – “Well, well is nothing” 12. Yiddish – “Yeah, yeah”

(Yoel Hoffmann, Katschen & The Book of Joseph, translated by David Kriss, 1998)

Sweet nothings. Your comments are dearly welcome.

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