Words to Live By …In New York // I have had to learn a new vocabulary

As told to Yehudis Korn

When I moved from out-of-town to New York, there was plenty of culture shock for me to go through. Everything is at least somewhat different here. There are many more buildings, all on top of one another, for example. Crossing the street is an aggressive form of social negotiation. But one type of difference repeatedly startled me: language idiosyncracies (idiomsyncracies?) that I never expected.

One of the words that I heard on the streets of Brooklyn when I first moved there, which I had never heard before, was “tumblesauce.” “I did a tumblesauce,” someone would say, and I would be confused about their intentions.

A tumblesauce, as I eventually figured out, is what the rest of the US and other English-speaking countries refer to as a somersault. A somersault, of course, is when someone flips his or her body head over heels and ends up back in the upright position. But tumblesauce? 

A little research revealed that tumblesauce is a regional variant of tumblesault, which itself is a regional version of somersault. “Sault” in both words comes from the French word for “leap.” “Somer” comes from the French word for “above.” And “tumble”? Well, it probably means what tumble means in English. You know.

But the word degraded further, and that led to tumblesauce, the version of tumblesault that seems to have been adopted in New York City, at least in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as some Southern states and some other Northeastern areas. 

Let me just say: None of them should have chosen that word.


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