“Lick-My-Ass Enterprises”

This is the story of a bygone Hollywood recording studio whose name was an acronym for a sweary Arabic-Yiddish (and also maybe Turkish) epithet. I learned about it in a comment on a blog post about a Korean-English translator.

Needless to say, I love the internet.

The post, “Why She Learned Korean,” appeared in Language Hat, Steve Dodson’s excellent and often scholarly blog about language. About halfway into the comment section, the conversation turned to acronyms, and a commenter identified only as “Y” offered this, à propos of nothing in the original post but extremely interesting to me (and to you Strong Languagers, I’ll bet):

TTG Studios, who recorded several seminal albums of the 1960s, got their name from the Arabic-Yiddish compound Tilas īzī Gesheftn, ‘Lick my Ass Enterprises’, which had been used as a code/inside joke in the anti-British Jewish underground in Palestine.

The other interpretations of the name, “Two Terrible Guys” or “Two Talented Gentlemen”, are apocryphal.

 

This turns out to be a highly plausible account, for reasons I’ll get into in a minute. But what about those “apocryphal” stories?

The link in Y’s comment goes to a Wikipedia entry that gives three citations for the “Two Terrible Guys” interpretation, none of them a primary source. One of them, a 2010 article in Analog Planet, is an incomplete reprint of a 1997 Analog Planet article – so incomplete that the name of the interview subject was lopped off and identified only by the initials “BB.” Piecing together the evidence, I surmised that BB was Bruce Botnick (born 1945), an American audio engineer best known for his work with the Doors. He told Analog Planet’s Matthew Greenwald:

The rest of that album [the Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun”] was recorded at TTG Studios, which stood for “Two Terrible Guys” (laughs).

Was “BB” laughing because he knew the real story of what TTG stood for?

BB continued:

They weren’t terrible guys. It was Ami Hadani and Tom Hildley [Hidley], the same guys who designed and built all the famous Record Plant studios. Anything but two terrible guys. The cool thing about Ami was that he was a General in the Israeli Air Force, and he’d be doing a session and there’d be problems and he’d have to leave the session and go fly off to Israel, fight the war, then come back and finish a session. Weeks could go by, it was kind of funny.

This would have been the late 1960s, around the time of Israel’s Six-Day War with Egypt. (Update: See the seventh comment below, which corrects my chronology.)

The early history of Amnon “Ami” Hadani, who also went by Omi Hadan, is vague. After he and Tom Hidley founded TTG, at 1441 North McCadden Place in Los Angeles — a stone’s throw from Hollywood High School — they recorded many of the era’s prominent rock musicians: the Doors, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Jimi Hendrix, the Monkees, Linda Ronstadt. Hadani died in 2014; I was unable to find an obituary, but I did find a short tribute that audiophile and music-restoration specialist Steve Hoffman published in one of his music forums. The tribute misspells Hadani’s first name and gives the wrong location for TTG Studios, but it includes this bit of information:

For those of you who remember TTG Studios, TTG stood for Tilhas Teezee Gesheften a name of a group of Jewish Brigade members formed immediately following WWII. Under the guise of British military activity, this group engaged in the assassination of Nazis and SS conspirators, facilitated the illegal emigration of Holocaust survivors to Israel, and smuggled weaponry for the Haganah.

The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization during the British Mandate of Palestine; after Israeli independence in 1948, it became the core of the Israel Defense Forces. Assuming that Hadani was in his 30s during the prime TTG years, he would have been a teenager during the Jewish Brigade era, and he may well have learned the stealthy acronym then or later.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Israeli TTG:

The three words that make up the phrase are Arabic [تِلحسْ طِيزي, “tilhas tizi”, “lick my ass”] and Yiddish [געשעפטן, “gesheften”,”business”], combined to form a modern Hebrew slang expression, meaning “You-lick-my-ass business.”[1] It has been more colloquially translated as “up your ass/götveren”,[2] whereas [sic] “götveren” is a vulgar Turkish slang term for “queer/fag/faggot”.

The footnotes reference Howard Blum’s 2009 book The Brigade: An Epic Story of Vengeance, Salvation, and World War II.

Modern spoken Hebrew is a young language; the first child raised to speak only Hebrew was born in 1882. That child’s father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, compiled the first modern Hebrew dictionary, for which he coined hundreds of new words. (“Ben-Yehuda” is to modern Hebrew lexicography what “Webster” is to American.) But there were no swear words in the lexicon: with the exception, say, prostitute and bastard, off-color words were absent from the Hebrew Bible or its commentaries, and the high-minded Ben-Yehuda and his protégés had no place for them.

Still, swearers gotta swear, and so modern Israelis turned to their Arabic- and Turkish-speaking neighbors (and not infrequently to English, Russian, and Yiddish) for linguistic relief.

I’m still searching for the definitive lexicon of Hebrew swears. In the meantime, I can point you to this glossary of swears used by Israeli soldiers, in which Arabic shows up a lot; and to this video tutorial from Swearport, which is disappointingly mild but at least provides a Sabra (native) pronunciation.

 

12 thoughts on ““Lick-My-Ass Enterprises”

  1. sesquiotic May 27, 2016 / 1:20 pm

    This reminds me of the Pogues, whose name comes from “póg mo thóin” (which was rendered into English spelling as “pogue mahone”), which means ‘kiss my ass’. Hmm. I wonder how much analingus there is in the biz?

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  2. Y May 27, 2016 / 5:44 pm

    Gosh, thank you! I credit my mom for first telling me about TTG.

    Gesheftn means ‘business’. I took a bit of a translator’s license to translate it as ‘enterprises’.

    The story of TTG pre-Avengers is told in great detail by Patishi, in his book “An Underground in Uniform. The Haganah and the Jews of Palestine in the British Army, 1939-1946” (in Hebrew; חנוך פטישי, מחתרת במדים). In a chapter entitled “the origin of the expression ‘T.T.G.'”, Patishi explains that TTG was a codeword for any clandestine activity. It apparently had originated with Jewish soldiers in the British Army who were using military vehicles to smuggle weapons from Egypt for the Haganah. For every trip using a military car, the driver was required to fill a detailed form, including the purpose of the trip and the authorizing unit. For the latter, TTG had been coined. On the rare occasion that an inspecting sentry inquired about TTG, he would be told that it’s a secret. The expression originated in 1942 with one Sgt. Patrias, who once muttered, disapprovingly, about the smuggling operations, “it’s all T.T.G.”. That expression became widespread within the squadron, and from there spread to all Jewish units operating in the Western Desert.

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    • Nancy Friedman May 27, 2016 / 6:18 pm

      Y: Thank you for adding this information. I wonder — did the Haganah soldiers use the English letters (T.T.G.) or their Hebrew equivalents?

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      • Y May 27, 2016 / 6:58 pm

        They used the English letters. Remember these guys were in the British Army at the time.

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      • Y May 27, 2016 / 6:59 pm

        …and that was also a part of the joke, that the Arabic and Yiddish were hidden behind the respectable-looking English abbreviation.

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  3. Banana May 27, 2016 / 7:15 pm

    Just subscribing to updates

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  4. יובל פינטר May 29, 2016 / 2:06 pm

    There’s Ruvik Rosenthal’s slang dictionary, but that probably has not been translated into English.
    Other than that, the six-day war probably just required a single trip for an air force pilot. That anecdote must refer to the war of attrition which took place basically from 1967 (more pronounced since 1969) to 1970, and was mainly in the skies.

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    • Nancy Friedman May 29, 2016 / 3:28 pm

      Thanks — I’ve updated the post to include your correction.

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      • יובל פינטר May 29, 2016 / 5:10 pm

        Terrif.
        This just in (got home to actual computer) – Hadani wasn’t a mere teenager back in 1948. He was in the brigade himself! Here’s a photo (on the left. Taken from the Hebrew Wiki page of the guy on the right). Oddly enough, neither obits nor search reveal his birth date for a sanity check.

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      • Nancy Friedman May 30, 2016 / 3:33 pm

        Impressive research — thanks so much!

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  5. cyclops2 June 27, 2016 / 2:03 am

    Hi, I’ve tried tracing the 1948 photo in order to verify that the figure on the left is indeed Ami Hadani, but have only found identification of the figure on the right, Yehuda Gavish. How certain are you that the man on the left is Hadani?

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