Mama, Don’t Let Your Kids Grow Up to be Tummlers

A delightful co-worker shared an interesting word with me last week. She sent the URL of an on-line article about a brouhaha that is broiling in England. (My Reader’s Digest condensed version of the article: the Labor Party in England has gone broke during the 10 years under Tony Blair’s prime ministership and Blair turned to his friend, Michael Abraham Levy, to raise money.) The article called Levy a tummler – which was the word pointed out to me by my co-worker.

From the American Heritage Dictionary, we find that tummler (toom-ler) is a noun that describes someone such as a social director or entertainer, who encourages guest or audience participation. (Social director – that describes me at the banana split social that I held last week.) The second definition is one who incites others to action. (That describes me at the banana split social as I tried to get attendees to participate in an activity!)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a tummler as ‘someone who acts the clown, a prankster, specifically a professional maker of amusement and jollity at a hotel or the like.’ (Mmmm . . . that does NOT describe me . . . .!)

Dictionary.com provides this definition for tummler: a male entertainer, as formerly employed by resorts in the Catskill Mountains, who combined the duties of a comedian, activities director, and master of ceremonies to keep the guests amused throughout the day. It also provides a second definition: any lively, prankish, or mischievous man. I wonder if Michael Levy got his tummler training in the Catskill Mountains. . . .

Tummler comes to us from a Yiddish word that means to make a racket. I’m assuming it refers to the ‘noise’ kind of racket and not the possible illegal money making ‘racket.’

This article linked to yet another one by the BBC News. In this second article, Levy was described as an impresario in the 1960s.

Impresario (im-pruh-sahr-ee-oh) is a noun that describes a person who organizes or manages public entertainments, especially operas, ballets, or concerts. An impresario is a manager or director. Apparently, Levy managed a singer or two and founded Magnet Records, which he later sold to Warner Bros. for a nice hunk of change.

Now, by never having met the man (Michael Abraham Levy), I am getting quite the picture of what type of personality he must be. Levy the tummler. Levy the impresario. Levy what an interesting, interesting person you must be!

The first article also used another great word. That word was vituperation. Vituperation (vahy-too-puh-rey-shuhn) is a noun that means verbal abuse, violent denunciation, or condemnation. This word was used to describe the Marconi affair from the early 1900s in England. And, since this blog is about words and not history, I will leave it up to you, Dear Reader (if you want to know about this affair) to research it out on your own!

The adjective form of vituperation is vituperative. There could be a vituperative newspaper article denouncing drunk drivers who kill innocent people, or drug peddlers who sell drugs to seven-year old children, or Boy Scouts who refuse to help little old ladies across the street. Business partners who are having a falling-out could have a vituperative conversation where they berate each other for their current financial woes. If someone verbally abused or severely scolds you, they are being vituperative.

I think I’ll quit my day job and become an impresario . . . . .

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