You little bug

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August 6, 2016 by AK

Don’t ask me how I came across this. Mort Sheinman, who worked as a reporter, news editor and managing editor for Women’s Wear Daily in 1960-2000, recalls speaking to actor Zero Mostel for the first time:

A moment later, a familiar voice thundered into my ear. “I hear you’re a vontz,” it said. (Vontz is a Yiddish word meaning “bed bug.” It can also be used affectionately, as when a grandmother, using the diminutive form, refers to her newborn grandchild as a vontzeleh. I was not sure which interpretation was directed at me.)

(From Fashion, Retailing and a Bygone Era: Inside Women’s Wear Daily by Isadore Barmash, Marvin Klapper, and Mort Sheinman.)

I use an exact parallel to vontzeleh in my native Russian with roughly the same meaning, although it might be idiosyncratic or idiolectal. It’s klopik: klop-, a bug, including bedbug, and –ik, a diminutive suffix. It is a term of endearment in my world, intended for some little thing, usually a small child.

On the other hand, I don’t think I have heard anybody call another human a klop. Bedbugs, once ubiquitous, are mercifully rare guests now, so their particular obnoxiousness has also been forgotten. Garden bugs are very minor pests in comparison.


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