Until I was 19 I’d hardly been outside London.
In fact I’d hardly been outside east London.
Then I went to art school in New York.
When I got chatting to the Americans they remarked on how quickly I’d picked up the New York dialect.
I didn’t know what they meant.
They said all the Jewish words I was using.
I didn’t even know I was using any Jewish words.
I asked what Jewish words I was using.
They said words like ‘Shmuck’ and ‘Klutz’ and ‘Nosh’ and ‘Shlep’.
I was really surprised, I didn’t think I knew any Jewish words.
They were just English, part of our language.
“Don’t be a shmuck.”
“Shtum, it’s the coppers.”
“I’m not shlepping that all over the pace.”
“What’s for nosh?”
“Who’s that shnook over there?”
“That song’s a bit schmaltzy.”
“Is this gear kosher?”
“I gave him a bit of a shpiel and he bought it.”
“Look at the size of that bloke’s shnozz.”
“I’d like to go, but I haven’t got the gelt.”
It was just part of our language.
But the Americans were surprised.
Because as they knew, every Englishman talked like David Niven, carried an umbrella and wore a bowler hat.
To them that language was only New York.
Whereas to me, that language was only east London.
And what I realised is people are people.
And especially poor people.
Which is why Yiddish catches on in the poor areas of big cities.
Immigrants bring it with them and it’s quickly absorbed.
The people who live there find it works, they use it, they own it.
As far as they’re concerned it becomes their language.
Which is something we should be studying.
How do we create stuff that gets into the language?
That people take on board and use as if it was their own?
How do we get something to go viral?
To jump from one person to another to another to another.
Massively effective free media.
How do we do that?
I was talking to art director Malcolm Gaskin about it.
I said it was funny but I’d noticed that cockneys get on well with scousers and well with geordies.
Better than with people from other parts of the UK in fact.
Gaz, who is a geordie, agreed.
He thought it was because they were all ports.
In big bustling port cities everyone’s thrown together.
People from all cultures and races.
It’s just the same in New York.
Eventually they get along, not by concentrating on what makes them different.
But by concentrating on what makes them similar.
What Bill Bernbach calls “Simple, timeless human truths”.
That’s what we ought to be studying.