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Mark M Lichterman

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Tower of Babble
By Mark M Lichterman
Last edited: Sunday, September 28, 2008
Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2008

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Added to the mishmash of talk from around the world, and beyond, came a host of new languages spoken of, by, and between the kids: There is Ig-pay-atan-lay—Pig Latin. There is Kraflin Karp—Franklin Park. And also there is Kuk-I-nun Tut-U-tut—King Tut.

November, 1949

Tower of Babble


Chicago is a hodgepodge of language.

At any time, hanging onto the overhead strap, swaying with the motion of a crowded Loop El, you might hear the spoken language of any number of countries.

Tuning your ears and listening to the two elderly men sitting in front of you, “Damn him!” says one. The other, speaking in Polish, “Psha krev!” while angrily waving his arms.

Listening to the two middle-aged women in the seat to the left, “Es waren sehr viele leute in der bank,” talking in German.

There was the man and woman in the seat to the right, “Mein zon gait chsnah obbin!” speaking Yiddish, from anywhere in the world.

But then a phenomenon took place.

Added to the mishmash of talk from around the world, and beyond, came a host of new languages spoken of, by, and between the kids: There is Ig-pay-atan-lay—Pig Latin. There is Kraflin Karp—Franklin Park. And also there is Kuk-I-nun Tut-U-tut—King Tut.

Hanging onto that same strap, on the same Loop El, in addition to Polish, German, Russian, Lithuanian, Spanish, Yiddish, and a host of multitudinous tongues, you might also hear…

“My ig-bay other-bay is a ain-pay in the utt-bay!” Meaning, in Pig Latin, “My big brother is a pain in the butt!” Self explanatory, this language spoken by one thirteen-year-old girl to another on the Douglas Park El speeding along the overhead tracks to the Loop.

“Ho, nam! Kate a kool! That droub’s tog trag tits!” In Kraflin Karp, meaning Franklin Park pronounced backwards, which is the way this language is spoken, meaning, “Oh man! Take a look! That broad’s got great tits!” Oh, by the way, in Kraflin Karp there is absolutely no way to disguise the word tits, nor would any self-respecting west side guy ever want to.

“Oy togga gib sa!” From one of two sixteen-year-old punks standing outside of Sally’s Ribs on Ogden and St. Louis to Big Rosalind Feigenbaum, who was on her way into Sally’s to pick up a double order.

“I gotta a big ass, huh?” Closing her meaty fist around the five-dollar roll of quarters that was to pay for the two large slabs of baby-back ribs, French fries and baked beans, “Oy gib kumush!” she said, meaning, “You big schmuck!” as she whacked him on the side of the head.

“Ow!” the guy said, meaning, “Ow!” because in any language Ow! is Ow!

Teen-age girls who had constantly failed spelling tests throughout grammar school, and even in high school, and still had to use a dictionary to spell dictionary could properly rattle off King Tut at machine-gun speed.

Teen-age guys, whose attention span lasted no more than a momentary glance at a bit of white flesh from a partially exposed thigh or breast, or a padded, high-pointed brassiere beneath a tight-fitting angora sweater passing in the hallway, could easily understand the seemingly incomprehensible jumble of King Tut, which is spoken by adding a ‘U’ to consonants and using the proper, phonetic enunciation of all vowels. Leg, for instance, would be pronounced, lul-E-gug

Frank Parminter, still at the kitchen table drinking his after dinner cup of coffee, stopping in mid-swallow stared at his son.

“Yeah, Mum-I-tut’chie, they’re lul-O-kuk’in at Mum-E like I’m cuc-rur-azy.”

Meaning, “Yeah, Mitchie, they’re looking at me like I’m crazy.”

Frank looked at Ida, who had been washing dishes, but had turned away from the sink and soapy water, from the sopping dishrag in her hand, which was dripping over her bare feet as she, too, looked at her son.

Sitting in the living room, Myra and Walter Lipensky had each been reading a section of the Daily News. Hers now lay on her lap and his hung as a wilted flower, doubled over in his hands.

“Nun-O-rur-mum, this’ll tut-E-A-ch’em to tut-A-lul-kuk Y-I-dud-I sus, uh, H in fuf-rur-O-nun-tut of us, huh?”

Meaning: “Norm, this’ll teach’em to talk Yiddish in front of us, huh?”

“Yeah!” Laughing. “O-kuk, I’ll sus-E you tut-O-mum-o-rur-rur.”

Norman put the receiver on the cradle, smiled at his slack-jawed father and his wet-footed mother, stood, and left the kitchen.

Across the yard, Mitchell also put the receiver on the cradle and he, too, smiled at his wide-eyed father and his open-mouthed mother, stood, and left the dining room.

Walter Lipensky looked at Myra Lipensky.

Frank Parminter looked at Ida Parminter.

“What’d he say?” Myra asked Walter and Ida asked Frank.

“Damned if I know!” Frank said to Ida and Walter said to Myra.

Oh, by the way, in King Tut, it’s pronounced tut-I-tut.




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Reviewed by Jim Magwood 9/29/2008
And it's why I pretty much gave up trying to keep up with kids and "language." Good work. Keep it up.

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Mark M Lichterman

For Better or Worse

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The Climbing Boy

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