Breasts on buckwheat groats

Or something like that. In yesterday’s (12/18) morning name, which beats anything I’ve come up with before all hollow: the truly bizarre name I’ll spell Tits Varnishke, where the LN is pronounced /várnɪški/. Even more bizarrely, in whatever fever-dream fantasy gave rise to the name, it referred to a gangster.

Background. I’m in day 3 of what I think of as sick-day leave, when my usual responsibilities are lifted (though I try to do at least one small useful thing each day) and, because the illness is respiratory, I am even further isolated than before (and live behind a mask when people are obliged to be near me).

This is on top of all the other afflictions affecting me; at first it was just a very bad head cold, but then it took in my chest as well, so it hurts to breathe. I sleep sitting up in my recliner chair and I feel really crappy, but it’s just a cold. (My 02 stays at 97% or better, despite all the junk I cough up, and I have only occasional periods of a little bit of fever. I’m an old acquaintance of bronchitis and pneumonia, which I would recognize, but all I have now is a wretched cold. It will pass. There’s no reason to think it’s COVID, but I’ll check tomorrow.)

Mostly the rule is: if you have a respiratory virus, STAY HOME; don’t go to work or wherever and expose other people to your virus. Especially now, when respiratory illnesses are at very high levels.

But Tits Varnishke, what of him? No doubt literally from a fever dream, of which I recall nothing more than this truly remarkable name. I wonder about his career of crime, and of course I wonder how he got the nickname Tits.

Tits is attested in use as a joking, leering, or mocking FN for a woman with large breasts. No doubt Tits Varnishke picked up his nickname in some unsavory sexual context involving such women, but the details are, alas, lost to us. So is his birth name. I’ve come to think of him as Seymour (maybe even the fabled Seymour who sliced George Lakoff’s salami with a knife), a good Jewish boy gone bad.

The extraordinarily rare LN Varnishke indicates that he’s American-Jewish Ashkenazi (see below), possibly from a family of deli owners; a Jewish gangster would not be particularly notable, but one from a respectable foodie family would definitely stand out.

A note on spelling his LN. /várnɪški/ could have its final vowel spelled in at least five ways:

Varnishk e / ee / ie / i / y

I’ve chosen the first for two reasons: one, it conforms to the spelling of the name of the Jewish-American dish kasha varnishkes (which is surely the etymological source of the LN); while two, it’s the most remarkable of the set of five, although word-final /i/ spelled e is attested in a number of family names and some other nouns, like minke /mɪŋki/, the species of whale.

On to the bow ties and buckwheat. From Wikipedia:

Kashe varnishkes (sometimes Americanized as kasha varnishkas [AZ: or kasha varnishkes, my preferred spelling]) is a traditional dish of the American-Jewish Ashkenazi community. It combines kasha (buckwheat groats) with noodles, typically bow-tie shape lokshen egg noodles [together with chopped onions cooked in schmaltz — rendered chicken fat — or olive oil].

In my experience (from some time ago), the plural noun varnishkes is pronounced in American English with [ɛz] or [ǝz].

The photo accompanying the New York Times kasha varnishkes recipe by Mark Bitman (who spells it the way I do):


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