Emess: The Unvarnished Truth


  • When I think of being REALLY honest (truthful) with myself and with others I think of the Yiddish word Emess. Two sources come to mind: 1) my mother who always said “It’s the Emess”, when she either told the truth, lied, or didn’t know she was lying and completely made shit up out of thin air (confabulation) and 2) from the late great comedian Lenny Bruce who would tell the most outrageous and unbelievable stories, while swearing all the time that they were absolutely true. And–they WERE! Poor Lenny, toward the end of his unfortunate life became a Lenny Bruce comedy routine himself, a sad, not very funny, one. During his criminal trial for obscenity, he jumped up as an undercover cop was describing his stand-up routine and tried to inject Emessness into the proceeding by yelling “I object! He’s stealing my routine and not paying me for it.” One laughed and cried at the same time. Lenny became a quasi- scholar of the Law and it’s often unfair and unjust application, and worshipped (with tongue in cheek) its linguistic complexity as it was destroying him. As he pored through legal tracts and page after page of its overcomplicated legalese jargon, he remained in awe of its apparent “Majesty”.

The essence of EMESSNESS is often total ridiculousness and absurdity underneath the garb of seriousness. Its the “stuff” in life that makes you drop your head in disbelief and mutter to yourself, “I can’t fucking believe this…”   It’s a concept liberally sprinkled throughout the best Coen Brothers movies, especially ones like, “A Serious Man”.

Emmis or Emess simply means The Truth, the Real Truth. I’m not talking about “Revealed Truth,” like some Kabbalist or Biblical Fundamentalist. Or even some kind of “Eternal Truth,” just the plain, easily verifiable, often bizarre truth about the real world and all the absurd situations we encounter. Of course that includes all the nutty contradictory people in it, like ourselves. Real honesty and outspoken truth telling is something often talked about and valued but rarely realized.
Borrowed from another blog here is a good example taken from my favorite source, the aptly termed “weird news”. There was a case many years ago in Miami Beach, which involved a bartender calling the police to complain about an unauthorized person using a “private women’s bathroom.” In response three PLAINCLOTHES officers rushed to the locale, and two of them broke down the door to the toilet stall, with guns drawn. The occupant then bolted and was shot and wounded. He then sued the establishment. The above-description only reflects the plaintiff’s side of the story–which is obviously not a real Emmes.
First, the place is Miami Beach, well known for its gayness…..not that there’s anything wrong with that. Was the plaintiff (a former NFL football player) barred from the premises for being Gay or not Gay, Hetero or something else far more “fluid”–and why was he in the ladies room? If the only complaint was that of trespass, why three armed cops? All in PLAINCLOTHES? Did any of them bother yelling the simple word “Police” prior to or during the bathroom break-in? Or, is this Syria or Afghanistan , where everyone just takes his or her chances? Why shoot the guy? Was he a known drug dealer, or nearly as dangerous, a former player for the Miami Dolphins with concussion syndrome?  In short, what’s the Emmes behind the Apparent Emess?


This case is a paradigmatic example of Emess-ness and I choose it only because the real Truth is often ludicrous and elusive–and some people such as myself absolutely revel in ludicrousness and contradiction. Translation: Life and truth are often complex phenomena but most people prefer to resolve complexity by reflexively going along with own prejudices, self-centered interests and biased perspectives (one side of a multi-sided coin) or even worse based solely on a simple but pronounced (rather than profound) FEELING…… Feelings? Nothing more than feeling?  Summary:  raw unfiltered emotion is not usually recommended as the very best way to do business, elect an American President or judge someones innocence or guilt……and yet we all do it, practically every day of our lives, and often without ever looking back to see if maybe we made a big “boo-boo”. There’s actually a lot of boo-boos out there….. some worse than others.

About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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