The mockers
Posted: 17 August 2013 03:50 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  825
Joined  2007-03-01

My husband and I had invited his whole work team for this weekend, but more than half of them couldn’t make it. But two people really wanted to come anyway, so - although it wasn’t going to be the team event we he had planned - we felt we couldn’t disinvite them. But last night one of them heard that her mother had been taken ill and into hospital, so texted us and the other one this morning to say sorry, but she was going straight home to be with her family. The other one was already at the railway station with her ticket paid for, so could hardly be put off. But half an hour later she said the whole station had been evacuated for some emergency, and she didn’t know when she was going to be able to get on a train! At which point my husband said ‘ This weekend really has the mockers on it.’

For anybody who doesn’t know the phrase have the mockers on, it means ‘be jinxed, unlucky’. You can also put the mockers on someone or -thing. The OED calls it ‘slang (orig. Austral.). Etymology:  Origin uncertain. Perhaps < Yiddish make sore, scourge’ and gives a first citation from 1923.

Two questions:

Are there any alternative origins? Early 20th century Australia isn’t a milieu in which you’d expect much Yiddish-based slang to have emerged. Are there any earlier sightings, in Cockney for example? Or any possible alternative derivations for the word?

And how wide is its range? As a Londoner I’ve heard it used all my life, but I don’t know how much currency it has oop North, let alone in Leftpondia.

Posted: 17 August 2013 04:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Joined  2007-01-03

Green’s Dictionary of Slang has this explanation and a 1911 citation for put a mock on.

put the mockers on (v.) (also put a/the mock on, put the mocker on, put the mocks on, put the moz on) [? Yid. makkes, ult. Heb. makot, plagues, blows, (evil) visitations. The phr. was poss. orig. used in Aus., but given the ety., there may be a link to 19C London market traders]

to jinx, to put a curse on, to frustrate someone’s plans.

1911 E. Dyson ‘Dukie M’Kenzie’s Dawnce’ in Benno and Some of the Push 33: It’s up t’ me t’ put a mock on that tripester et the ‘ay-an’-corn.’

(The title of that book makes me wonder about posh. The 1903 citation of that word in Wodehouse is with that spelling, assumed by many to be a typo or printer’s error. Not sure what or who the push of Benno’s were, but if it’s meant to be posh, that is interesting.)

Posted: 17 August 2013 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Joined  2007-03-21

I don’t know how much currency it has oop North, let alone in Leftpondia.

Posted: 17 August 2013 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Joined  2007-02-19

makkes, ult. Heb. makot

The Hebrew word makot is a reference to the ten plagues (asseret hamakot) of Egypt, described in the Book of Exodus, and recounted in detail in the Passover Haggadah.  It is the plural of makah, which means either a figurative or a physical blow.

I believe Australian slang has several Yiddish words, e.g. goniff (a thief), shikker (inebriated)

Posted: 18 August 2013 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Joined  2007-01-29

Oop Narth - no currency, though I understood it perfectly well. I’d probably say “put the kibosh on it/knocked it on the head/scuppered” and more that I can’t think of.

Posted: 18 August 2013 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Total Posts:  156
Joined  2007-02-15

As a preface I know next to nothing about Yiddish, Dutch criminal cant or the particularities of early twentieth century Dutch… and though this might be a tad tangential, it may just ring a bell with someone…

The expression ‘to put the mockers on [sth]’ is well-known to this Brit and it took a wee while for the connection to bubble up in my mind, but now that someone started a thread about it, it reminded me of a Dutch slang word for ‘hardship, handicap, plague’: makke. But I only found that out once I looked it up as I knew it from a different expression used nowadays in a figurative sense which does not require you to know what the word means, only the meaning of the whole expression (geen cent te makke - ‘not a penny to rub together’, if anyone wants to look further).

Dutch slang today has a large core of Yiddish/Hebrew words at its centre.

After a quick online search I found a lemma for it in the Dutch Institute for Dutch Lexicology (INL). The first citation is from 1906 but I’m struggling to translate it exactly due to oddness (to me) of the grammar or the vocabulary. It’s from the work quoted after the citation which has a subtitle of ‘Ghetto sketches and stories’ and I have never heard of it. But the general gist of the sentence is probably clear enough.

Uw broer kan u toch niet altijd geve, en uwe schoonzuster, ‘n woord voor ‘n makke op me hart wat ze op u geroddelt het, integendeel, JUL. DE VRIES, Ghijn en Onghijn 45 [1906]

Your brother really cannot always give you - or your sister-in-law - a word for the pain in my heart that she gossipped about you, indeed, the very opposite

I then thought about the Australian origin mentioned previously and it struck me that it may have first been used in Australia by Jewish people who had migrated to Australia in the early twentieth century, only thereafter to be carried back to GB through sailor’s slang.

Just a shot in the dark. I have no idea of the history of Jewish or Yiddish slang and how it moved through Europe by migration. If that even is the case!

Anyone make any connections?

Otherwise sorry for the intrusion.

Posted: 18 August 2013 10:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Total Posts:  2018
Joined  2007-02-19

BlackGrey, FYI: Yiddish has been spoken for more than a thousand years, by Jews of Eastern Europe, who in the early Middle Ages began migrating Eastward from the Frankish empire ("Ashkenaz"), to get away from increasing religious intolerance in Western Europe (much good it did them, eventually....). There arose, naturally, many local varieties of Yiddish, but all of them incorporate many Hebrew words. These are said with the Ashkenazic pronunciation, which is very different from the way Hebrew is pronounced by Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish communities.  “Makke” or “mocke” (with the accent moved from the second to the first syllable) would be the Yiddish way of pronouncing makka, and “makkes” or “mockes” the Yiddish version of makkot (in the Ashkenazic pronunciation of Hebrew, the final plural taf --a hard “T” in Sephardic and Eastern Hebrew --- would be pronounced as a sibilant, and “a” in certain cases pronounced as “o").

I have little, if any, doubt that your Dutch citation has the same Yiddish origin as all the previous citations (the subtitle clinches the Yiddish connection—the word “ghetto” has a very specific European Jewish connotation), and that the term “makkes/mockers” is hundreds of years old. Whenever Eastern European Jews arrive as immigrants in a new country, and learn to speak its language, they season their speech with Yiddish words, some of which make their way into the local slang. You will be likely to find Yiddish words wherever English is spoken, from Alaska to KwaZulu-Natal; and, as you have observed, in Dutch and other languages too.