WHAT’S A TCHOTCHKE? – This bear in a blizzard is a Canadian classic. Any tacky thing with no practical use that you bought on impulse qualifies. It’s the rare household that has not accumulated a significant number of tchotchkes. What’s the best item on your tchotchke shelf? Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk
Depending on the context of your next conversation with a Jewish friend, if you say that you have a ‘tchotchke,’ he may be pleased, shocked, surprised or indifferent.
Whenever a word is transliterated from one language to another, from one dialect to another, from formal usage to street slang and from one script to another, the original meaning, usage and spelling can become very convoluted, obscured or even lost.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use ‘tchotchke’ as my preferred spelling. The word’s origins are to be found in Russian, Polish and eventually Hebrew and Yiddish, an evolved form of High German.
There are several meanings of tchotchke: A) things considered to be worth collecting (but not necessarily valuable or antique); B) an inexpensive, tasteless, showy trinket; C) a young woman; a lady of 18; D) a mistress; E) an adulterous woman; F) a bimbo.
This week I’ll avoid B, C, D, E and F, due to a lack of experience with most (but not quite all) of them.
I’ll play with one of the commonly used definitions of ‘tchotchke’: “..a small item, knickknack, doodad, collectible, one might display on a shelf or use to decorate one’s property.” Most of us have far too much of that kind of stuff, which become the makings of clutter. Our homes, offices, classrooms, automobiles and lives can so often become cluttered with tchotchkes.
In Toronto I once met a couple who were refugees from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. They fled their native land with absolutely nothing—no valuables, no photographs, no documentation. What a loss! However, there was something that impressed me about their home: everything was in good taste, essential and aesthetically pleasing. There was absolutely no clutter. No tchotchkes.
They profited from their mature outlook on life, taking the fresh start that was imposed upon them as an empowering opportunity, not a burden.
Why do we acquire so much stuff that has little or no permanent value or use? Advertising has more influence on us than we realize. However, there are other reasons. As we travel we seem to be driven to accumulate up souvenir tchotchkes along the way.
When Barack Obama paid his flying visit to Ottawa at the end of February, he bagged a classic tchotchke, a glass globe which encloses a miniature of our Parliament buildings that are being hit by a blizzard. When he’s on the phone with our prime minister, he can shake his Ottawa tchotchke, which will remind him that every flake of snow that falls on Washington comes from Canada.