The Saudi who cried ‘Chutzpah’ and other stories


chutzpah license plate

In honor of United Nations Day, here are a few global gaffes over the word ‘chutzpah.’


Republican Mitt Romney — whose standing with Jews was reported elsewhere in last week’s NY Times — invoked the word "chutzpah" to describe debate opponent Herman Cain. As the Times’ City Room blog points out, he was off by a bissel:

Actually, what Mr. Romney said was “hoot-spa,” with “hoot” correctly rhyming with “foot,” but with a hard H incorrectly used at the start. He couldn’t quite manage the throat-clearing sound that is the proper way to say it. But let’s give him a pass on this, as he is to the manor born and not to the manner born.

The incident recalls a 2000 faux pas in Canadian parliament:

A Canadian lawmaker recently mispronounced the word "chutzpah" during a session of the country’s Parliament. Canada’s deputy prime minister, Herb Gray, immediately jumped to his feet and offered additional Yiddish words to describe the lawmaker’s question. "His questions are all gornisht," or nothing, and "absolute narishkeit," or foolishness, said Gray, who is Jewish.

But the perhaps the most chutzpahdik of all invocations came from the one diplomat who seems to have pronounced it correctly. From the 1968 U.N. General Assembly:

Saudi Arabian Accuses Israeli of ‘gall and Chutzpah’ in UN Committee Debate

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y., Oct. 31 (JTA) – An acrimonious exchange developed in the special political committee of the General Assembly today between the Israeli representative, Moshe Erell, and the representatives of several Arab and African states who insisted on equating South Africa’s policy of apartheid with"Zionist crimes in Palestine." At one point in the exchange, the Saudi-Arabian delegate, Omar Azouni, accused Mr. Erell of "gall and chutzpah."

Tip for future politicians: next time, consult the Yiddish for politicians dictionary.

Image: John C Abell, 2005 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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