Dec. 28, 2022

Clara Levitt's 22 Expressions For Many Situations

Clara Levitt's 22 Expressions For Many Situations

While I was editing our podcast episode about my family'ssurprising immigrant story, I remembered many funny and useful expressions that were constantly repeated by my 4'8" grandmother Clara Levitt. She was - as my cousin Jim puts it -- the Yogi Berra of grandmothers.

Here are Clara's examples of what to say for many different occasions:

1.  "Jesse James had a horse."

When to say it:  When someone tries to sell you something that's overpriced.

Note: When they don't understand you (and they won't, at first), you can follow up with:  "If you want to rob me, get a freakin' horse."  Or just smile to yourself and don't explain it. Because YOU know what you meant.

2. "It's too much for my education."

When to say it:  When you don't understand some new-fangled technology.

3. "What was -- ain't."

When to say it:  Whenever you notice that times have changed.

Note:  For Clara's Germanized version, say, "Vat Vos -- Ain't.

4. "With all my happiness, I ain't happy."

When to say it: When you know you've got it good, but you still want to complain.

Note: For Clara's Germanized version, say, "Mit all mein heppiness, I ain't heppy."

5. "It's not the humidity, it's the humanity."

When to say it:  When an extremely hot day is getting to everyone around you.

6.  "That's why they make chocolate and vanilla."

When to say it:  When someone loves something you hate.  Or vice versa.

7. "You can't get poor from taking."

When to say it: When you want to explain why you're helping yourself to something free.

8. "Just stay as sweet as you are."

When to say it:  When you're saying goodbye to someone you don't know so well, but you want to flatter them.

9. "As a rule, a man's a fool
When it's hot, he wants it cool
When it's cool, he wants it hot
Always wanting what is not."

When to say it: When anyone complains about the weather

Note:  Supposedly, 19th-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said this first. In any case, you should wag your index finger slowly when delivering the last line.

10.  "Laugh and the world laughs with you
Cry and you cry alone
For the sad old earth
Must borrow its mirth
For it has troubles enough of its own"

When to say it:  When you're feeling sorry for yourself

Note:She borrowed this from Ella Wheeler Wilcox's 1883 poem, "Solitude." If you happen to have loose dentures, it's fine to say "ertz" instead of "earth" and "mirtz" instead of "mirth"

11.  "Sweets for the sweet"

When to say it:  When you bring a gift of candy or dessert.

Note:  Many thanks to David Van Biema for pointing out that Hamlet said this when throwing flowers over Ophelia's grave.  I thought that might take the fun out of it.  But David pointed out that Shakespeare stole from everyone.  So it was okay for Clara to steal too.

12.  "I'm gonna mop the floor up with ya."

When to say it:  To psych out an opponent during a competitive game.

13. "A little song/A little dance/What can you do?"

When to say it:  When you're trying to explain why you're watching a corny musical.

14.  "So nu already?

When to say it:  When you're waiting for something that isn't happening fast enough for you.  It's fine to repeat this every few minutes, till others have to leave the room.

15. "Smartie smartie smartie
Thought you'd have a party
You forgot what the teacher taught
And you'll be sorry when you get caught
We're gonna have a party
And see if you don't care
You're nothing but a big smartie-cat
So there, there, there!"

When to say it: When you refuse to be intimidated by a bully.

Note: Clara adapted this one from a 1909 song by Ada Jones and Billy Murray. She probably sang it to her first child Melvin, who was born in 1910.


16. Kinder wie die bilder, gesechte wie die affen

When to say it: When you're disappointed with humanity.

Pronounced: kin der vee dee bilder ge zeek ta vee dee often

Note:  This unusual German/Yiddish phrase, which should be said with a sigh while shaking your head, literally means something like:  "Children are as pretty as pictures but they're really little monkeys." 

17. "I put a pill in my mouth here -- and it's supposed to help me down there?"

When to say it:  When you don't trust your doctor.

18.  "Don't mind me.  I'm just a schmootz."

When to say it:  When you're having a low-functioning day.

Note:  In this case, schmootz is pronounced to rhyme with "boots."

19.  "Out our way, we don't do that."

When to say it:  When you disapprove of the customs of the people who are hosting you for a few days.

20. "That's using your tookie!"

When to say it:  When someone does something clever.

Note:  Should be said while pointing to your brain.  The joke is that your "tookie" (short for "tuchas," which means buttocks) is in your head. Literally, you're a butthead.  That's why some  people argue that this should be said when someone does something stupid, not when they're smart.  However, from Clara's kidding perspective, using your butthead is a wise tactic.

21.  "You're a regular goddamnit!"

When to say it: When someone you know pulls off an impressive feat.

22.  "See you in the AM, if not in the PM - yirtzeh HaShem."

When to say it:  Before you go to bed.

Note: "Im yirtzeh hashem" means "God willing".  Which might help you survive another night.

Thank you to my sisters and niece for corrections and additions.  If anyone else who knew Clara remembers any good ones that I left out, please send them to me with this form --  so I can add them. I can't get poor from taking!