Ward me from googleitis
April 15, 2010 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me figure out this probably Yiddish phrase to ward against bad events?

I have a friend who picked up a phrase from her grandmother (she says it is Yiddish.) It sounds like "spy oy" and she didn't know how it is spelled.

Context: one uses it to sort of "protect" someone from a bad event. You say the word, a person's name, and then make spitting noises. If we drove past a house on fire, she might say " 'spyoy' solon, puh puh puh."

This is driving me mad! I don't know enough about Yiddish spellings to search for this, but I like the concept a lot. I might be getting it totally wrong, this is from memory. Any help?
posted by Solon and Thanks to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're referring to "keyn aynhoreh" (that's how wikipedia transliterates it; I would pronounce it more like "kinahera.")
posted by amro at 9:09 PM on April 15, 2010

Oh, but that doesn't sound anything like "spy oy," so maybe there's another phrase that I don't know...
posted by amro at 9:10 PM on April 15, 2010

"protect" someone from a bad event

Sorry, one more thing... You will more commonly hear this referred to as "warding off the evil eye" in Judaism.
posted by amro at 9:16 PM on April 15, 2010

Interesting! That let me to this page, which talks about the "Kenahorah-Poo-Poo-Poo" (spitting three times) thing. It really sounds just like what described, except the word is not at all similar and there's no name.

I wonder if my friends' family hasn't been playing a game of immigration telephone, and this phase hasn't evolved just among them somehow, or is from a more obscure place.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:41 PM on April 15, 2010

The same phrase in Hebrew is "beli ayin haroh" (please excuse the abysmal transliteration). It tends to get contracted a bit as it's said quickly and under one's breath. Is that what you're hearing?

The spitting thing is part of the whole process (as you would have gleaned from your link) and in my family is used on it's own, without necessarily including the preamble.
posted by prettypretty at 10:41 PM on April 15, 2010

I don't know Yiddish, but "speien" (imperative or first person sg. "spei", pronounced \ˈshpī\) is an archaic German word for spitting or even vomiting (gargoyles are "Wasserspeier" = water-spitters). "Oy" sounds almost like an abbreviated "euch" (\'oyḵ\) = "you". Just theorizing...
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:51 AM on April 16, 2010

Following from PontifexPrimus, I bet it's "shpay oys" (spit out). This page refers to an expression "shpay oys dray mol" referring to the evil eye. (The "ay" in this transliteration is pronounced like the "y" in "spy.")
posted by gubo at 5:28 AM on April 16, 2010

For what it's worth, in Bosnia we had both this custom and many phrases connected with it. Most of the phrases meant something at some time (and sometimes still did), but others had become sort of meaningless play phrases or kind of onomantapoeic versions of previously meaningful phrases. The actual phrasing of such utterances tended to be local / family affairs and could therefore have been unique to a few people. I'd reckon this would also be true amongst Yiddish speakers as well.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:13 AM on April 16, 2010

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