Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Monday, October 2, 2017

Nit gefonfet - Yiddish theater song recorded by Julius Nathanson, written by Aaron Lebedeff

The song was published in 1922. The lyrics were written by Aaron Lebedeff and Isidore Lash, music by Herman Wohl.

On the front cover, the song is called "Gefonfet." Inside, it is "Nit gefonfet."

Fonfen (fonfn) is a great word. The verb’s basic (onomatopoeic) meaning is to speak nasally: a  fonfer is someone who talks through his nose or as if his nose were stuffed. But there are countless other uses. Leo Rosten says a fonfer is:
  1. 1. Somebody who talks through his nose, as if he has a bad cold.
  2. Double-talker
  3. One who is lazy, slow, goofs off
  4. One who does not deliver what he promises
  5. A shady, petty deceiver.
  6. One who cheats
  7. Oone who goes through the motions of a thing without intending to perform to his capacity or your proper expectations
  8. A boaster, full of bravado
  9. A specialist in hot air, baloney — a trumpeter of hollow promises.
Ruth Rubin translated the folksong title Oy di meydelekh, di fonferonkes! as "Oh those young girls, those show-offs!" In British slang "fonfen" is a con man’s spiel!

Philologos of the Forward found fonfe in the 1928 edition of Alexander Harkavy’s Yiddish-Hebrew-English Dictionary: A lighted paper cone for blowing smoke into a person’s nose. (A trick.) From The Forward's article about the verb fonfen:

Harkavy was confused. The paper cone was for blowing smoke not into the nose (it was fonfen’s meaning of “to nasalize” that led him astray), but into the ear, and what he was talking about ... was the old custom of ear coning or ear candling that was once practiced in Eastern Europe ... having inserted into one’s ear the tip of a candle, or a wax-coated paper cone, that is then lit at its other end and slowly burns down toward the ear [creating a vacuum that] sucks out wax, dirt and other unwanted matter and cleans out the nasal and sinus cavities. ... many of the Jews of Eastern Europe regarded ear coning as a hoax, the kind of thimblerig practiced by quacks and tricksters.
 Here's the dishy Julian Nathanson singing the song:

Yiddish transliterated and translated after the jump (including the second verse, which Nathanson did not sing).


Es hot gekost mikh rebe gelt, ikh hob derfar genug batsolt
Az ikh zol kenen gut di velt un zayn a kvat, gor nisht keyn yold
Di ale zakhn ken ikh gut, gloybt mir af mayn vort
Vayber trern gloyb ikh nit, zogar fun bestn sort.
Veyst ir farvos? Ikh zog aykh ot dos?

Vayl es iz gefonfet, vayl es iz gefonfet, vayl es iz gefonfet nit geret
Shvert libe a froy un knit derbay
Git glaykh af ire reyd a shpay
Vayl, vayl es iz gefonfet

Boyes hert, ikh makh keyn shpas
Ikh vil aykh farhitn fun a noyt
Ven ir zet a moyd in gas
Fet, gezunt, di bakn royt,
Shvartse oygn, vayse tseyn, herelekh vi gold,
Farlibn zolt ir zikh dokh neyn,
Vayl ir vet blaybn a yold.
Veyst ir farvos ikh zog aykh ot a dos?

Vayl es iz gefonfet, vayl es iz gefonfet, vayl es iz gefonfet, nit geret
Fun kop biz fus fun ir vos ir zet
Farpeynt farpudert un oysgebet,
Do un dort, iz nor gefonfet

Vayber! Ven der man aykh shvert er hot aykh lib gor on a sof,
Far aykh er di kaporeh vert, gloybt nit vayber! Es iz a blof!
Un ven er halt a dinst in shtub vos di iz yung un sheyn,
Un der man er shvert er hot zi nit lib,
Gloybt nisht vayber, neyn.
Veyst ir farvos ikh zog aykh ot a dos?

Vayl es iz gefonfet, vayl es iz gefonfet, vayl es iz gefonfet nit geret
Vayl koym makht ir nor tsu di tir,
Iz der man in kikh shoyn dort bay ir
Un dort, farshteyt, iz nit gefonfet

I've learned my lesson. It's cost me dearly to understand the world well and to be clever, not a chump.
I understand everything, believe me when I say:
I don't believe women's tears, even the best sort.
Know why I say this to you?

Because it's mumbled, it's baloney, it's not the straight story.
If a woman swears her love on her bended knee...
Just spit on her words because they're hot air.

Boys, listen, I'm not joking, I want to save you from a sorry situation
If you see a girl in the street - plump, healthy, red cheeks,
Black eyes, white teeth, hair like gold,
Don't fall in love with her because you'll get taken.
You know why I tell you this?

Because it's baloney, it's not plain talk.
From her head to her toes what you see,
Painted, powdered and padded
Here and there - it's fake.

Women! When your husband swears to you he loves you endlessly,
he'd die for you, don't believe it, it's a bluff!
And when he has a pretty young serving maid in the house,
And he swears he doesn't love her, don't believe it, women.
Know why I'm saying this to you?

Because he's blowing smoke up your skirt.
As soon as you've closed the door for the night,
Your husband's in the kitchen with her.
And there, understand... he's not dissembling.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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