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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Guggle muggle is so soothing and comforting. Nothing beats the taste of this old favorite wrought with memories of childhood. But the name of this tasty concoction was a new one on me.

Fifty years ago, I had pneumonia. My father, may he rest in peace, suggested a warm drink of milk and honey, with a dab of melted butter—a time-tested remedy to calm the irritation from a pesky cough. His own mother made it for him whenever he had a cold. However, either he never mentioned the name of the drink, or if he did, I brushed it off as a silly, made-up title.

Not all Yiddish sayings are on record. Looking for the actual words and English translation of a jingle my mother chimed whenever someone would burp in the house also proved to be a challenge. The phrase started with the Yiddish word for a burp or belch—greps. Frustrated after asking for the actual words and meaning from my brothers and other relatives, plus exhausting all the Yiddish institutions I could think of, I then turned to friends. It took a few weeks to finally “hit pay dirt,” when Marvin wrote: Here is the answer to your question as translated from one of my Yiddishers in Florida who happens to really live in Teaneck, NJ. “A good belch out allows good health to come in.” He continued, “Now we know an old Yiddishe expression.” I pushed harder, trying to get Marvin to uncover the actual translation of the words.

It’s better to burp and bear the shame

Than to keep it in and bear the pain.

With the true gist of the rhyme, my goal of incorporating all of the Yiddish expressions I grew up with in my latest effort to finish writing a manuscript is in sight.

At brunch at our friend’s house before getting the answer to my inquiry about the greptsn rhyme, I posed the question to Barbara and Isaac, as well as another friend in the group, Cookie. No one had heard that one, which was one of my mother’s favorites. I even had a tape of her singing it to my son when he was an infant, which I was able to copy on my iPhone to send to him at college. Continuing to tell our friends about my lengthy research to find the true words and meaning led to a discussion of Yiddish phrases.

While surprised that checking the Internet for the jingle about greptsn turned up empty, possibly it was more shocking to see there is actually a Yiddish name for the deeply satisfying drink passed down through the generations. Even more outrageous was the sudden outburst from Barbara as she was clearing the plates from the dining room table and walking off to the kitchen. Hearing me say that what was on the list of Yiddish expressions was a definition of warm milk and honey, sans the dab of butter, Barbara exclaimed, “guggle muggle.” She went on, “My mother made it for me in Rochester when I was a little girl. I think she added vanilla extract or something; at least that was how it tasted.”

There are so many ways to remember our roots if we just take the time to record and treasure. Just as there are surely variations in my mother’s version of greptsn, there have to be lots of interesting varieties of making guggle muggle. Talk it up; speak with your friends and relatives to get ideas. I just tried adding vanilla extract to my guggle muggle and topped it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Bring your guggle muggle with you and, being careful not to spill, sit at the computer. Google “Yiddish expressions” and test your knowledge of the mamma loshen. Then, start to jot down the expressions you heard in your household when you were growing up. Before you know it, like me, you will have a fascinating addition to your memoir for your descendants to cherish. The story of the powerful liquid elixir had a spot in my book, even before I knew it had a Yiddish name. This just makes it all kosher.

By Sharon Mark Cohen