[Crossposted to Cliopatria.]

I tend to lose track of time. It’s a bad quality for an historian, but confronting the same boring file for hours speeds the passage of time even though one perceives it grinding to a halt. I had been picking away at the same document today (in between bouts of looking after my son) before I gave up, turned on the TV, and surrendered to the pablum of cable news.

Only I didn’t realize what time it was. Suddenly, the dreaded words, “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” appeared in the bottom corner of the screen. Yes, it was that hour when CNN imitates Radio Rwanda, only tonight the Grand Wizard surrendered his stool for his underling (according to the rumor mill, Dobbs wants to import remnants of the Berlin Wall to southern Texas).

As with any other night, another story about Mexico or Mexican immigrants was being broadcasted. This one carried the title, “Mexico’s Chutzpah.” Unfortunately, it carried the subtitle, “What’s Spanish for Chutzpah?” Some clever tech or intern must have thought that one up on the fly. Did they really mean to destroy the credibility of the news shows raison d’être? Did they know it is a loan word from Yiddish, assimilated by English?

Indeed, what is Spanish for chutzpah? Is Yiddish spoken on the streets of Mexico City or Monterrey? Surely a Spanish equivalent can be found ( atrevimiento?), but chutzpah carries with it an ethnic flavor and a certain demonstrative quality that Spanish words might not have. But perhaps there is some word, based on Hebrew’s contact with Spanish, some bit of Ladino slang that affected Spanish, surviving the expulsion.

Of course, asking the question reflects a certain insolence. Is not Chutzpah evidence how language survives and grows when in contact with immigrants and their culture? Does it not show reveal the success of Jewry in acculturating to American life over generations?

So, if we assume that chutzpah is Spanish for chutzpah, we would reference a successfully assimilated minority. If there is a Ladino-Spanish equivalent, we would reference a successfully assimilated minority that was converted by force, dispossessed of property, and expelled.

Perhaps we could say huevos. It’s already part of American slang.

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