Emess: The Unvarnished Truth


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

The essence of EMESSNESS is often how there is immense ridiculousness and remarkable absurdity underneath the garb of seriousness and objectivity in our society. 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 very best Coen Brothers movies, especially ones like, “A Serious Man”.

Emmis or Emess simply means The Truth, the Real Truth. Here I’m not talking about revealed truth like some Kabbalist or Biblical Fundamentalist. Nor am I referring to even some kind of eternal truth, just the plain, easily verifiable but often bizarre truth about the real world and all the amazingly absurd situations we encounter. Of course that includes all the nutty contradictory people in it, including our family members and  ourselves. Real honesty and outspoken truth telling is something often talked about and seemingly valued but rarely realized. Most often it’s not realized because the truth hurts and denial is an easier road to hoe for most people. To me Jesus probably should have really said, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they have done. They are in denial and they prefer it that way”.


Some people such as myself absolutely revel in ludicrousness and contradiction but in the end prefer the real emess.  Translation: Life and the so called truth are often complex phenomena like a complex crossword puzzle but most people prefer to resolve complexity by reflexively going along with their own prejudices, their self-centered interests and biased perspectives (one side of a multi-sided coin) or even worse basing their beliefs solely on a simple but pronounced (rather than profound) feeling/emotion…… 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 in the rearview mirror to see if maybe we made a big “boo-boo”. There’s actually a ginormous shitpile of boo-boos out there….. some of course much 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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2 Responses to Emess: The Unvarnished Truth

  1. Leslie says:

    Is this where heuristic logic and rationalization come into play? Decisions based on emotions and to hell with the boo boo consequences?

    • captaincliff says:

      Heuristics themselves are reasonable/decent tools for learning and communicating efficiently. We all “clump” data to keep ahead of the charging rhino. Too many boo-boos are made because humans get lazy and fail to check their work as elementary school teachers suggest. That plus hubris plus operating too often from the lizard brain fight or flight amygdala…yes.

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