Historical story

the source of trouble

The word “trouble” had its origin in the Yiddish language. This term is normally used to suggest some misfortune.

By Rainer Sousa

When we get into some kind of misfortune, many words are used to express our despair or unhappiness. Often, the desire to externalize the unhappiness caused by the situation, leads us to use many words that we can't even imagine their origin and meaning. Perhaps this is the case with the word “trouble”, which is so current in our everyday vocabulary, it even ended up becoming a verb.

To recover the history of this term, we have to travel to Brazil at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. During this period, Brazilian ports received a large number of Europeans fleeing the disturbances caused by the end of the Ancien Régime and the economic crises of the capitalist system itself. It is worth remembering that several immigrants arrived here hoping to enrich themselves by working on the growing coffee plantations.

In this context of transformation and instability, we see that many poor Jewish families in Europe were still suffering from the first waves of anti-Semitic attacks. In some cases, these families turned over their daughters to brokers who promised them to arrange a good marriage with a wealthy merchant who prospered in American lands. Seized by despair, many family heads ended up letting themselves be carried away by these deceptive promises.

In many cases, during the trip, these young women discovered that they were being smuggled as sex slaves in different cities on the American continent. Arriving in Brazil, these Jewish prostitutes became known as “Polacas” and, through their recurrence, integrated the life and imagination of several neighborhoods that made up the nightlife of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Naturally, these women suffered enormous discrimination because of the marginalized position they occupied in society at the time. Both the official authorities and the Jewish communities in Brazil reserved a great silence about the situation of these women. However, these prostitutes looked for bonds of solidarity that could offer them some kind of guarantee.

In many cases, these prostitutes used Yiddish – a language widely used by Jews in Central and Eastern Europe – to run errands among themselves. During their work, when they suspected that a client had some kind of venereal disease, they called the subject “ein krenke”. In the Yiddish language, the term was commonly used to define the idea of ​​“disease”. Naturally, the popularization of the term ended up becoming Brazilianized for our well-known “trouble”.

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