top of page

Museum Says 75% of All American Comedians Were Jews in 1975 by Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor

Oy-va-voy, the way Yiddish expressed unsayables edged with joy:

think lace just past the nipple.


Such luck, after Kristalnacht. Some untranslatable

sounds found equivalence in Shanghai,

the only place in 1939 that didn't require a visa.

They were "hulihutu" Mandarin for "confused" but

found the same syllable sass.

When allowed to enter the U.S., they found punchlines:

did you know vista in Latvian means "chicken?"

What a beautiful chicken! One exclaimed to Lake Michigan;

another pointed to a father's German-

town, P.A. bicycle

called it: Pop-cycle.

Almost maniacal

their card tricks with syntax,

alphabet jugglers. Did you know

in Icelandic, speaking "rock language"; is to echo?

So a Jew said it again:

Oy va voy, gargling stones,

while an audience tinkled at a Yid sprinkling wrinkles

with powdered sugar to look old.

A kluger farshteyt fun eyn vort tsvey

(A wise man hears one word and understands two)

How native-like their children sounded,

becoming, like so many unwanteds do,


of double speak, microphone spit,

bringing whole theatres

to tears.


Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia, is the author of Imperfect Tense (poems), and three scholarly books in education. Winner of NEA “Big Read” Grants, the Beckman award for "Professors Who Inspire," and a Fulbright for nine-month study of adult Spanish language acquisition in Oaxaca Mexico, blogs at


bottom of page