The most abused expressions by frummies: “By”, “Baruch HaShem” and “Be Well”

baruch hashem by youY0u Jew Sure Do Talk Phunni! by Alan Busch

I guess the current politically correct usage would call this a “rant”, but there are a few things some of us say in the observant community with such frequency that you just “wanna” strangle somebody while shouting at the top of your lungs:

Okay let’s start from the top. Without question of the three expressions I’m going to discuss, regrettably the most abused, and I say “ regrettably” because it is easily the most important two word expression I can think of is … come on! You know which one it is! You abuse it too, don’t you? Uh huh! Thought so! Yep, it is …

“BARUCH HA SHEM” … stylishly trimmed to “BH” in the Jewish chat rooms.

It means simply yet profoundly “Blessed is The Name.” and we all know whose name we mean! It’s the unutterable name, the ineffable name! No matter that we no longer know how it might have sounded in the days of the first Beis Ha Mikdash! Even if we knew how to say it, we couldn’t. So, what do we do? We go overboard in its quasi-enunciation! Here’s what one commentator said:

“Baruch Ha Shem! Baruch Ha Shem! colloquially meaning “Thank God!” but which can mean anything from “Great!” to “Don’t even ask. My enemies should have my troubles!” Often, upon hearing a dubious sounding Baruch HaShem, the questioner will respond with, “Gee, what’s wrong?”

Surely you have heard the adage about the dangers of too much of a good thing? You know like eating chocolate and chopped liver everyday. I might even propose that the use of “BH”, like chopped liver, be restricted to Shabbat exclusively! I’ll tell you why … because after too many “B’H(s), they start to sound routine, rote, mechanical and, arguably worst of all … insincere. After all, if you are going to say “May God’s name be blessed!” the very least one should do is to be sincere about it and not spout it out in hope that pitiably gullible folks might think you a tzadik.

“Oy! Such a tzadik. Answers “Baruch Ha Shem!” to everything! Now, mind you there is another question here. From whose mouth is the “Baruch Ha Shem” coming?” If from someone who is genuinely shomer mitzvos and has a goodly amount of yiras shamayim, well that’s one thing altogether. On the other hand, if it comes from an insincere mouth, well … you know who that is, and if you don’t, pay attention next time you’re in shul.

Lend an ear. I’m sure you have heard these or something similar:

1. Sam, uh … your fly is open.”
Baruch Ha Shem!” (Read: ‘Oh my gosh!)

2. “The pizza hasn’t arrived yet.”
“Baruch Ha Shem!” (read: ‘Damn delivery guy. I’m gonna kick his a**!” )

3. “Zalman, you look terrible! Are you ill?”
“Baruch Ha Shem!” (read: ‘Yea, I am. I feel like sh*t!” )

A quick suggestion … try saving your next “Baruch Ha Shem” for the next time you receive good news, like when you have become an uncle/aunt for the first time or if and when a close friend walks away from a traffic accident completely unscathed. You just may be pleasantly surprised! :)

Okay. Moving on. What is it with the use of the preposition “by” in place of “with”? I mean what is
going on there? Witness:

1. “Yea. Moshe is staying BY us!”

2. “So, what’s new BY you?”

3. “No. I can’t. I’m having lunch BY the rabbi.”

What if we said …?

1. “Would you like fries By your hot dog?” (Picture fries lined up parallel to a hot dog.)

2. “Dear, please take the baby BY YOU to the bowling alley. I wanna get my hair done.”

A few more thoughts about “by me” as in: “He stayed BY ME.” … which implies that he was “at your side”, “alongside of you” which he probably was not. Now see what happens when we switch “by me” to “me by” and change the verb from “stayed” to “passed”: “He passed me by.” … which is to say that he neither stayed with you or by you for that matter.

Lastly, just a few remarks about “Be well!”

Now I do like this one very much. Has a nice and caring ring about it. Obviously it is very different from “Get well” (soon)!” which implies that the person whom we are addressing is ill to whom we should wish a “refuah shlema”. If we say “Be good!” we imply the other is prone to mischief and that he needs be mindful of his ways lest it happen that we have to say “Get well!” the next time we speak to that person.

There you have it. I’ve said my two cents worth.

Baruch Ha Shem! :)

Alan D. Busch

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ed Greenberg

    Baruch Hashem: My wife exclaims “Baruch Hashem” on only one occasion, which is when she can’t find room for things in the refrigerator. She considers the full fridge to be a blessing. (I agree, but she stumbled on the connection all by herself.)

  • Levy Bernstein

    The preposition “by” has irritated me to no end for years. I’m eating by your home? So I’m not going to be in it? Glad I’m not the only one who found that to be just wrong.

    • Rochl Laia

      My theory is that “by” used by native Yiddish speakers retains in English its Yiddish meaning. Same word, different meaning. In Yiddish “by” means “at.”

  • fakewood

    the word by is Yiddish syntax.

  • Izzy

    I disagree on your take on the word “by.” It is quite common for one to hear, for example, “I stopped by Dunkin Donuts and picked up a dozen bagels.” In this example, the word “by” is not used to mean “in proximity to.” The speaker actually went into Dunkin Donuts and purchased bagels. Such usage of the word is not limited to the frum community.

  • ish chusid hoyoh

    I think the mistaken “by”, comes from the first yidden who came to English speaking countries, and first language was yiddish. In yiddish the word “bai” is always used in such a sense, such as “der shabbos gai ich essen BAI Chaim” (this shabbos I am eating BY Chaim), or “ich zitz yetzt bai a shiur” (I am sat by a shiur), I think this comes from them literally translating what they were saying into English.
    Most people speaking a foreign language do this and if you look closely at yeshivish English you can find many examples of this, another example is the way the word to “learn” is used in places where most goyim would use the word to “study”, like when people say “he is learning in yeshiva”.

    • Greatsayain

      I totally agree with what you said about “by”. It’s perfectly explainable and understandable for the immigrant generation for whom english is their second language.
      However if someone who was born in an english speaking coutry is doing this then thats confusing. I don’t know why anyone woudl intentionally sound like they don’t fully know the language they are speaking when they do. MAybe they think it’s cute, I don’t.

      • Elisha

        Pretty sure it is borrowed from the way Slavic languages use the word “by”. In Polish and Russian you say that someone is by you, etc if they are at your house.

  • Yochanan

    Izzy,

    In the example you gave, the time at Dunkin’ Donuts is very short. It’s an in and out thing. However, if you were to stay there for a long time, most regular English speakers would say “I was at Dunkin’ Donuts for 2 hours.”

    “By” would mean either in the parking lot, or at a nearby store.

  • Dan

    This ‘article’ is lame.
    Here is a much better one.
    http://www.theknish.com/articles/baruch-hashem-usage-epidemic-levels-baruch-hashem/
    Hesh, you should learn from them.

    • http://www.frumsatire.net Heshy Fried

      Two things – first off, I did not write this article – second of all, I wish Mordy (theknish dude) would put out a lot of material, thing is they work for a long time on each piece whereas mine come right out whenever – yeh it can be sloppy but you cannot get perfection when your posting 4 times a day.

  • Izzy

    Agreed. My point was only that the author of this post seems to limit the word “by” to its usage as ““at your side”, “alongside of you.”” I agree that the frum usage of the word is a yiddishism, but it is closer to the common usage then the post suggests.

    • http://www.authorsden.com/alandbusch1 alan d busch

      Dear Izzy,

      The tone of my piece is clearly tongue in cheek. I wrote it to poke a little fun at ourselves, to make someone chuckle perhaps :). Oh, by the way, I’m working on a new piece decrying those who confuse “then” with “than” or was that a typo? Probably the latter. I should know-terrible typist that I am.

      Alan D. Busch

  • seebee

    Izzy is right in this context. The Longman dictionary lists this meaning as
    “VISITING – in order to visit a person or place for a short time: On the way, I stopped by the post office”.

    • http://www.authorsden.com/alandbusch1 alan d busch

      Dear Seebee,

      If you go back and reread that section of my piece regarding “by” you’ll see I limit my criticism to those instances when the more correct “with” is clearly meant and, arguably, should have been used. Of course there are many other correct usages of “by” such as in stopping “by” the post office, but that is my point. We would not say ” I stopped “with” the post office.

      Sincerely,

      Alan D. Busch

  • seebee

    Alan, you’re right to say that B”H shouldn’t be misused. But I must say that I am impressed when I compare frum society to the secular world, where nobody seems to be grateful to anyone (let alone G-d!) anymore.

    • http://www.thebookofben.blogspot.com Alan D. Busch

      seebee, no argument from me on that point.

      a. busch
      http://www.thebookofben.blogspot.com

    • http://www.thebookofben.blogspot.com Alan D. Busch

      dear seebee,

      you’ll get no diasagreement from me on that point.

      a. busch

  • J

    Speaking of over used putting a smiley face after things you say is pretty over used as well.

    • http://www.authorsden.com/alandbusch1 alan d busch

      I agree entirely. :)

      Alan D. Busch

  • Jennifer Krieger

    I married my sweet Jewish husband 35 years ago and quickly noticed the “by” usage. That is just not the way we do it in WASP households. I still notice it, but see it as a cultural thing. No problem.
    Jenny

  • Shtendik Lachn

    The “by” thing as others have pointed out is from Yiddish, but what is really funny is when ba’alei tschuvah use it because they did not grow up in frum communities most likely where people are used to saying it (even if a frummie doesn’t know Yiddish; for them, it is like how a gentile can use the word “schlep” and not know where it comes from linguistically). Rather ba’alei tschuvah will say “by” to make it seem like they know the lingo but of course, this leads to hilarious consequences such as using it too much or incorrectly.

  • MM

    In New Orleans, everyone says ‘by’, as in “He stays by his mama,” meaning “He lives with his mother.” “Be well” is a calque (literal translation) of the Yiddish “sei gezunt” (as my father said) or “sei gezint” (as my mother said). When I was little I said, “Sei gezint-Sei gezunt,” so everyone no matter where they came from in Europe should live and be well.

    • http://michalbasavraham.blogspot.com/ Michaltastik

      Yes, there’s another sector of the population who is keen on the phrase, “who do you stay by?”

      I used to have a black friend who was into the “be well.” She had a close friend who was a secular Jew. I think she picked it up from him.

  • lawschooldrunk

    it’s a big turnoff for me if my dates keeps saying baruch hashem at the end of every sentence.

    ok-next one!

    maybe mix it up with a thank g-d…?

    • http://www.frumsatire.net Heshy Fried

      I say thank the Lord

  • http://www.frumfemale.blogspot.com frum single female

    the “by” thing is from yiddish, but annoying just the same. i think that new yorkers are the biggest offenders.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a little confused. Who uses BH when saying bad things?

  • http://mkebikecommuter.blogspot.com/ Bryan

    I don’t like it when people start all of their responsive setences with “So…”

  • http://welcomebalance.blogspot.com sarah b.
  • http://welcomebalance.blogspot.com sarah b.

    btw, I’m s(b.); not sure why it’s getting my name right, but that’s fine.

  • http://www.myweirdkids.blogspot.com/ tesyaa

    I warned my daughter that if she uses the preposition “by” with the Yiddish meaning at college interviews, she will end up in community college, at best. So she better shape up!

  • Linguist

    The ‘by’ problem comes from people who speak Yiddish at home and their English is nothing but an oftentimes literal translation of Yiddish. Some examples: “Where are we holding?” is not an English expression but rather a tranlsation of the Yiddish “Vu halt men”. (Halt means to hold but the context is “where are we up to” or “what’s goin on”)
    Some more examples: “Close the lights” instead of “Turn off the lights” – “Farmacht di lecht”;
    Do you want I should…” instead of “Do you want me to…. comes from the Yiddish “Du vilst az ich zol…” “Zol” means should;
    “… a whole day” instead of “all day [long]” comes from the Yiddish “a gantze tog” literally a whole day.

    I had a roomate in Yeshiva who was a repeated offender of these and many more linguistic slip-ups. Great guy though ;-)

  • Shayna

    Laugh out loud brilliantly fun article! : )

  • D123

    Baruch Hashem!! . for the good and maybe not so great . for the blessings and for the blessings in disguise. There is no wrong moment to say Baruch Hashem.. People including myself should try to work on being more sincere when thanking G-d…

  • Yochanan

    Shalom.
    Is there an alternative to B”H when starting writing a letter ?

    I have seen once a 3 letters starting written on right upper part of a letter.

    Time passed and i do not recall.

    Can You help, please.

    I always use B”H but interested to know alternatives.

    Todah veShalom.

    Yochanan.

  • Ashleen

    Alan: I can’t believe you kept this blog hidden from me all this time!

  • Craig Brenner

    When we say Baruch Hashem, we are fulfilling the mitzvot of making a bracha. As you are aware, Jewish men should make at least 100 brachas a day! This counts! If you use the 3 expressions Baruch Hashem, Shalom Aleichem and Chas V’Shalom, you will have somting to say in every social situation!!!!!!!! Baruch Hashem!
    As for the words “by” and “be well”, by saying “by”, you are implying that you are “with human beings”. (I am eating by your house). To say “I am eating at your house” imlies that you are not there to see the other person!
    “Be well” is a polite way of saying I hope you are healthy! As you know health is not just physical but spirutal and mental as well. We must bring those who are unwell in these realms into our lines of thought! Be Well! Baruch Hashem!

  • http://www.jewunderconstruction.com Elchanan

    hmmm… in “Wisconsin Speak” we tend to use by in the exact same way. We have lots of German ancestry here so it’s basically a corruption of the German “bei” which can mean at, in, near…. really anything. I assume it means the same in Yiddish (which I believe has already been confirmed by someone up there…)

  • voolf

    I hold BY rav shmeckelstein, Baruch Hashem

  • Alexandra Aalto

    Hello Heshy, I am not Jewish, but I ‘happened upon’ your site quite by accident. I do however have Israeli friends who have been my family for over 22 years so the word is not new to me. I liked your article very much! Sadly, insincerity in religion is nothing new… Thank you, Alexandra

  • Fivish

    One of my email addresses is BaruchHaShem@. I am going to see if RefuahShlema@ is available! You never know, it may come in handy.

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