MOXIE – IT’S REALLY חוצפה OR CHUTZPAH

Moxie is one of those words I haven’t heard in actual use in my lifetime. I’ve heard it in old British movies and some old American ones, mostly from the 1930s or 1940s, but it’s not what people say nowadays. In New York, if they don’t call it chutzpah, they would call it “nerve” or more accurately “noive” as in:


“Eh, buddy, you got a lot noive on youse.”


Another way to put it might be:


“That’s some set of balls ya got!”


This could as easily be referring to a woman as a man. Modernly speaking,”balls” is no longer an inherently masculine attachment. I’m pretty sure I’ve got bigger balls than a lot of guys and what do ya wanna make of it, eh?

The best word is truly chutzpah (חוצפה). You need a good solid guttural on the “Het” (ח) because it’s a sound the English language has no letters to express. Or, as we used to say back in that other country in which I lived:


“How’s your ח?


A good “het” (ח) is half a throat clearing with an “et” to follow and is where the letter “H” came from, before English lost its gutturals. Words like “knight” used to have a guttural and the GH was pronounced as (ח). Look it up. English was a Germanic language loosely mixed with Celtic (which has gutturals) and French, which probably had them, but lost them to that back of the tongue rolling R.

Chutzpah doesn’t merely mean (as per the dictionary) “the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage, or aggressive energy and initiative.” It also means a willingness to stand up to possible danger. To step out of your normal comfort zone and put it all out there and not care whether or not you offend someone. Although it is not necessarily offensive, it is definitely gutsy, determined, forthright, and assertive. And somehow, essentially Jewish.

You do you not need to be Jewish to display chutzpah but it helps. Some people are just like that. And being born and raised in New York or New Jersey could do the job and I’m sure there are lots of other places that have the right attitude.

It is an attitude, y’know? You got that?

So if you need to return that thing to the guy who did that other thing and you absolutely want your money back — no stupid restocking fees, either — moxie might do the job. But if you seriously need to get the job done?


Chutzpah. Gotta have it.


Trust me. I would never lie to you.

34 thoughts on “MOXIE – IT’S REALLY חוצפה OR CHUTZPAH

  1. I’ll go with “Moxie” because I can pronounce it and use it correctly. I know what it means. The last time I said “Chutzpah”, I was memorably embarrased in public. 1988. Boston. A newsconference with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. A Q&A session about then Democratic Presidential Candidate, Michael Dukakis. I popped the wise ass question, “Why doesn’t Gov. Dukakis have more chutzpah?” The room, filled with local and national media, went deadly silent. Sweat beads popped on my forehead as Robin Williams and Billy Crystal left the stage, cut through the crowd and walked up to me. I noticed faces and cameras focusing on me.
    Robin Williams started it “What did the Brother say?” Billy Crystal didn’t miss a beat. “Robin, I do believe the brutha tried to say CHOOTZ-pah”. The laughter began slowly. I was dead. Crystal and Williams, using me as a dummy, pried my mouth open, showing me how to say “Chutzpah” with the right flourish and correct amount of saliva. I tried and failed. Laughter filled the room. Robin and Billy smiled at me, patted me on the shoulder with a “That’s okay, Brutha”. The laughter was now raucous.

    The “chutzpah” episode received lots of attention from the local and national media.

    During our next meeting, Gov. Dukakis approached me with a big grin on his face. I knew what was coming.

    That’s why I’ll go with “Moxie”.

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  2. I had never heard of moxie but have heard of chutzpah and might even be able to pronounce it correctly. Swiss German is full of gutterals, more than normal german. Every “K”, not to mention “ch” is gutteral even where they do not appear in proper german, because we have our own way of saying things. Chuchichäschtli (is a kitchen cupboard)

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    • I was okay on the Hebrew gutturals which are (I think) a little “lighter” than German, but close enough. I never got the Hebrew “R” which is sort of halfway between the Spanish “trill” and the half-guttural French “R.” There was a tongue twist in there I never found. Hebrew is a really easy language, too. Many times, I floundered because I kept looking for tenses that language doesn’t have. English isn’t quite as complicated as German, but we definitely have tenses. Hebrew really has just three — past, future, and now. The now is often eliminated during normal speech because everyone assumes that you mean “now.” I didn’t know how to SAY it that way 😀

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  3. Back in 1998, I worked for a Jewish newspaper here in Seattle for a little under a year. I believe I was the only gentile on staff… Maybe one other. Anyway, working there helped me with a lot of my pronunciation of a lot of the Jewish words that have found their way into the American English vernacular, chutzpah being one of them. I had fun working there, but the commute nearly killed me. Over an hour each way and I was making just above minimum wage.

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    • Working for any kind of newspaper these days generally is underpaid. Papers don’t have the money that TV has. Radio is also underpaid. But newspaper work is a lot of fun, even when you are working really hard.

      A lot of Yiddish has moved into English. Just as well since the language is otherwise dead. My parents spoke Yiddish, but they refused to teach us kids to speak because it was a ghetto language and we were American. So today, hardly anyone can speak it anywhere and by next generation, except for the leftover words, it will be gone.

      I had a couple of ridiculously long commute jobs — several hours each way. The jobs were in Groton, CT and I was in Uxbridge, MA. REALLY long drives. I didn’t have to go in every day. I could work from home a couple of days a week, but the four-hour daily commute was lethal anyway. In about 6 months, I was beaten to a pulp.

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      • Yeah, a LOT of languages are dying all over the world. It’s one of the things I’ve studied over the years… language death. It’s sad when you think about it. But new languages emerge all the time too. Such is the way of life.

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        • I know. I was thinking that as I typed it. There are a lot more dead languages than living ones. This particular one had a rich history of music and authors, but it IS dead. It lingers in a few homes, but not for long. Any language that lives needs a nation to speak it and keep it alive.

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    • Patience, WAY back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a Department Store, “Abraham & Straus”, the Hempstead (N.Y.) branch. I was the only Goy working in the Childrens’ Shoes Department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a Schmuck.

      The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.

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  4. My birth mother grew up in and near Boston, and one of her careers was working in Boston as a salesgirl in places like Jordan Marsh, BonTon, Filene’s. She was also a stellar mimic (which I seem to have inherited) and I learned a great deal of conversational Hebrew (which is sometimes one word, a Look, and body language to die for) that way. Including the correct way to say “chutzpah.”

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    • Garry just can’t get that “het.”

      I’m not much of a mimic either, but I grew up with Yiddish in the home, so it wasn’t hard to get the sounds right. Yiddish is a wonderful, rich language. Very earthy and often poetic. When I was a kid, they always told jokes in Yiddish and it made me crazy that I could pick up enough to get about half the joke, but never the punchline. My mother tried to translate, but she said it didn’t come out right. In Yiddish, it was earthy. In English, it was really dirty. I had to live with that as the final answer.

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      • I worked as a musician in the Catskills during the 60s and was privileged to experience some of the better Jewish comedians. Like you, the jokes threw me, pissed me off, with the telling in English and punch line in Yiddish. I love good humor and this was extremely frustrating. Fortunately, the wife of the Cuban bandleader I worked for was Orthodox..,( yeah, I know, an unlikely pairing). But Norma, who was very patient, translated for me as best she could after falling over laughing herself. She said the same thing.., it lost something in English.., but at least I was able to get the gist.

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        • I wanted to learn the language JUST so I would get the punchlines the way they were intended. The translations never quite “got it.” To be fair, my mother tried. Of course, my mother could NOT tell a joke, so …

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  5. I used to see a Jewish therapist and during one of our talks I used the word chutzpah. She said she was surprised I used it in the right context. I was surprised she was surprised, but I was glad she was pleased. I love words.

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  6. I love the word moxie- it’s an old fashioned movie kind of word. I actually use it! Your Chutzpah cartoon cracked me up- as did much of this post! Thanks for the smile Marilyn!

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    • A lot of Yiddish words come via one or another major coastal city, or maybe Chicago. They don’t seem to have made it to the center of the country much … or Canada, except via the movies and TV. My language is changing, living out here in the country. A lot of words that came naturally to me for years I’ve more or less dropped because they aren’t used locally. They didn’t grow up in New York.

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