Any linguists or Yiddish experts out there? I would like some help settling a dispute with my wife, please. Early on in our relationship, she introduced me to a brilliant new word: beshwiggled. Ever put on a jacket over a bunch of layers and everything feels crumpled and you’re all hot and bothered? You’re beshwiggled. Ever tossed and turned at night and your bedsheets feel tangled and uncomfortable? Beshwiggled. Evocative with a satisfying mouthfeel: I reckon Lewis Carroll would have had a good chortle at the word. It sounds like something he might have conjured up in Jabberwocky.
Carroll didn’t invent it though. According to my Jewish-American wife, beshwiggled is a Yiddish word. Curious about the etymology, I spent a while Googling different spellings of beshwiggled (geshwhiggled, b’swiggled) and consulting online Yiddish dictionaries, but couldn’t find any information. I think your family made it up, I finally informed her. “No,” she insisted. “It’s a real word!” I don’t want to be a schmuck, but I’m not sure it is.
You’ve just discovered how language works. Each and every family – heck, any social grouping – has its own neologisms. Sometimes those take off and infect an entire language grouping. Mostly they don’t. Even those that do tend to do so on a regional basis. Which is how we get accents and dialects and over time those develop into new languages. There are centralising forces too – mass media being an obvious one. Print was an earlier example. Most European languages got nailed down to a single one of those regional variants with the publication of the first vernacular Bible (for some reason I know that there was considerable argument over which version of Slovak should be used).
Give it a couple of millennia and we’ve got Latin breaking up into Romanian, Spanish, Portugee and so on. Or the varied Italians. Yes, other influences too, but absolutely part of it is just families and groupings inventing a word and it takes off among a wider group but not all Romance language speakers. We have another example in the Bantu languages, again over a couple of millennia. Or, of course. Old Germanic into German and Scandi and the influence upon English (which is an oddity, being a blend across two major groups) or the varied forms of Slavic.
At some point some Lombard started using birra instead of cervisia and it spread, but not to the similarly Latin speaking Spanish or Portugee. Same with tavola instead of mensa.
That’s just how it all works. Languages are naturally fissiparous precisely because families always do invent their own new words.