The Yiddish word for shpilkes

Melinda Shore on Facebook yesterday, the wry comment “How to spot the NY newspaper”, about this passage that Ann Burlingham had posted on FB:

At Lot 77062, he started to get antsy. “I’m getting shpilkes,” he said, using the Yiddish word for shpilkes. [The paragraph continues: His hope — not unreasonable, he thought — was somewhere in the high six figures.]

To supply the context (thanks to Season Devereux for pointing me to this): it’s a New York Times article by John Leland: on-line on 11/15/23 with the headline “He Thought His Chuck Close Painting Was Worth $10 Million. Not Quite: A bittersweet ending for Mark Herman, the dog walker who was given the painting: It finally sold, but for far less than he had envisioned”: in print with the headline “Gavel Comes Down on a Chuck Close Nude and a Fantasy”.

New Yorker Mark Herman was the speaker of using the Yiddish word for shpilkes; why he didn’t say using the Yiddish word for pins and needles is something of a mystery to me — but if you can’t easily pull up the English idiom pins and needles ‘anxiety’, then Yiddish shpilkes might be all you’ve got.

Lexicographic notes. From Wiktionary (with some reformatting):

pl noun shpilkes (plural only): A state of impatience, agitation, and/or anxiety. This job interview tomorrow gives me shpilkes. Synonym: on pins and needles. Etymology: Borrowed from Yiddish שפּילקעס‎ (shpilkes, “needles”), ultimately from a Slavic term such as Polish szpilka, which comes from Italian spilla, from Late Latin spīnula (“little thorn”). [AZ: cf. English spine (NOAD: Zoology & Botany any hard, pointed defensive projection or structure, such as a prickle of a hedgehog, a spike-like projection on a sea urchin, a sharp ray in a fish’s fin, or a spike on the stem of a plant.)]

One Response to “The Yiddish word for shpilkes”

  1. annburlingham Says:

    Leland had some fun: I enjoyed that Herman was “a man of substances”, though now I wonder if that’s too good to be original.

Leave a Reply