A family’s secret language, a reckoning with a Nazi past

As a young boy growing up in Germany Martin Puchner loved to hear his family use Rotwelsch, an obscure argot of slightly suspicious words, colorful-sounding phrases, and even rudimentary symbols used for centuries by itinerant outsiders. To his delight, an hasn machn, which translates literally as “making a rabbit,” meant a quick escape. Saure-Gurken-Zeit, which literally means “a time of pickles,” became being in a pickle, a very old idiom that trickled down to English.

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