Kuk Eyn:  Give a Look

26 Dec

“Kuk eyn!” My grandma would say when she wanted my Mom to look at something quickly, usually when we were out of the house in public place. Kuk eyn, two Yiddish words that mean look, eye.  But when Grandma said it, it meant, “Look now, give a look!”

“Kuk eyn!” my grandparents said as thousands of young people walked past our summer home on the way to Woodstock. “Look at them, what are they doing?” Is what they added to their two word exclamation. Everyone was looking at the mass of people walking by.

Kuk eyn, when we were shopping and someone was acting or dressed unusually. Kuk eyn in synagogue if someone dressed inappropriately. Kuk eyn whenever something out of the ordinary happen.

These two words were a signal, a notification. Sometimes they meant, “Watch out! Something is happening!” Whenever I heard Grandma or my Mom said these words, I always looked up with interest. I knew something was up. They were a secret code to pay attention.  “Kuk eyn” in a whisper, “be careful, watch out.”

Kuk eyn.  Give a look.  After grandma died, my Mom continued to use the expression with my sister and me. It was almost always said quietly. Not to draw attention, but to point something out. A whisper in my ear.

My mother has passed away, but I still say it to my sister and daughter. The first time I saw someone with brightly colored hair, when I took my daughter to college to begin her freshman year, I said it to my daughter. The girl with bright pink hair became one of her best friends. It is so common to see pink and purple and peach and blue hair now, I do not even react with a “Kuk eyn.”

Sometimes a “Kuk eyn” is coupled with a nod of the head in the direction to look. A sweep of the eyes to the side was another indication. It was our way to communicate without drawing attention.

Occasionally the words were said in an joyful voice to point out something we really liked. A sort of, “Wow! Look at that!”

Like most of the phrases I know in Yiddish, these two words, said with different inflections, have so many meanings.

There have been times I have been out with friends who do not know Yiddish, when I so wish I could say, “Kuk eyn.”

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5 Responses to “Kuk Eyn:  Give a Look”

  1. Amy December 26, 2016 at 8:45 am #

    I’ve never heard this one before. What a wonderfully useful expression. I wish I’d known this one all those times I’ve wanted to point at something or someone but I knew it would be rude!

    • zicharon December 26, 2016 at 9:24 am #

      I tried looking it up on a Yiddish translation site, but could not find it. I am wondering if it was my Grandma’s own idiom, or from her shtetl in Poland.

      • Amy December 26, 2016 at 9:33 am #

        You could write to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. Aaron Lansky, the director and founder of the center, might have an answer for you.

      • zicharon December 26, 2016 at 9:35 am #

        True, I have contacted them before. Am a member. Good idea.

      • Amy December 26, 2016 at 9:37 am #

        Let us know what you learn. 🙂

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