My mother grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at a time when the neighborhood was largely inhabited by Yiddish-speaking Jews. This led to the amusing situation of her Irish-born grandparents, and a lesser extent, her parents, speaking a fair amount of Yiddish at home.

She doesn't remember most of the Yiddish she used to know, but when I was growing up, I was sometimes told to

"Mach nacht und geh schlafen"

(I'm spelling this via a combination of phonetics and my very limited knowledge of German).

The first time I tried to translate the phrase, I came up with something a bit too literal: I think it was "Make night and be laying down".

My question is twofold:

  1. Are my grammar, conjugations, word form, etc., correct?

  2. Is the literal translation of the phrase: "Make night and be laying down"?

  • 1
    @Gerhard - Better close this one too, and this one, and this one, and this one.
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 9 '15 at 9:36
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    do "night" and go to sleep. If I translate the first part into Hebrew (at least, the spirit of it), then it would translate to "say/bless goodnight". As often happens in languages the all-purpose verb "do" replaces whatever proper verb should've been there, and do night is actually do "(good)night" and off to bed!
    – Ran G.
    Aug 9 '15 at 18:55
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    As in: "Yossi, go to bed!", "but MOM, I can't go to bed now... I ... I .. didn't tell everyone goodnight!", - "then do 'goodnight' and go to bed". (a 3-6 years old boy, home alone with mom...)
    – Ran G.
    Aug 9 '15 at 18:57
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    @WadCheber: No, it's not. Yiddish is written in hebrew letters, German in latin letters. Type in the Yiddish sentence the way it is written correctly (i.e. in hebrew letters) and then click “detect”. Or enter this correct German sentence and then click “detect”: “Tom ist blond, arrogant, intelligent, minimal paranoid und total sentimental.” Google will report, that this sentence is English. Does this mean, that English and German are identical? Aug 14 '15 at 8:27
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question is not about German language, not about a German dialect and not about an old form of German. It is about another distinct language. Dec 31 '15 at 6:13

Answers to your questions:

  1. It would be “Mach Nacht und geh’ schlafen”
  2. Yes, the literal translation is “Make night and go to sleep”.

But: Mach Nacht makes — as the English translation — no sense. In German you would rather say “turn off the lights and go to sleep” (“Dreh’ das Licht ab und geh’ schlafen.”) or something similar.

  • 2
    Bei allgemein üblichen verkürzten Imperativformen (z. B. „geh!“) steht in der Regel kein Apostroph.
    – user9551
    Dec 30 '15 at 21:07
  • Hier in Südwesten haben Drehschalter weder in der Hauselektrik, noch im Sprachgebrauch überlebt.
    – Stephie
    Mar 31 '17 at 18:58
  • @Stephie Doch, doch, in meiner südwestlichen Verwandschaft ist "Dreh's Licht ab" durchaus noch in Gebrauch. Wie übrigens auch (fast häufiger noch) "Zend's Licht aus" (Zünde das Licht aus!), parallel gebildet zu "Zend's Licht aa!" (Zünde des Licht an!). May 29 '18 at 9:31
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    This is a question about a Yiddish text. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to treat it like it were German. There are differences, and "mach Nacht" may well be one of them. May 30 '18 at 19:17
  • @RudyVelthuis yes you are completely right.
    – geruetzel
    Sep 11 '18 at 11:03

A better Yiddish speaker than I recently apprised me of the fact that there is indeed such an expression in Yiddish as "machn nacht," meaning, roughly, "get ready for bed." "Mach nacht" is the imperative form one would use to address a child. The second part of your quote, "gey shlofn," undoubtedly means "go to sleep." So the what your mother said is in fact "Get ready for bed and go to sleep," or in Yiddish:

"מאַך נאַכט און גײ שלאָפֿן"


I do not think, that "Mach Nacht" makes no sense as @geruetzel says. It is just very unusual and you may never hear it in everyday language. There are other expressions like "Feierabend machen", "Pause machen" which follow the same precep. You would have to think about it, but I think you would get its message.

Also, while "Mach Nacht" is very uncommon you may tell your children

Mach Bubu

which translates to "go to bed", but is viewed as "childish language" or something you only say to a children. But as your mother said it to you while you were growing up it may fit.

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