Is a Secret Ancient Language of Wanderers a Harbinger of Our Future?

The European Travelers’ Tongue Rotwelsch—Which Gave Us the Phrase ‘in a Pickle’—Has United Outcasts for Centuries

Have you ever been “in a pickle”?

Then you have encountered Rotwelsch, an ancient language of the road, spoken by vagrants and refugees, merchants and thieves since the European Middle Ages. This tongue was based on a combination of German, Yiddish, Hebrew, a smattering of Romani (the language of Sinti and Roma, pejoratively known as Gypsies), Czech, and Latin—and was incomprehensible to all but initiates.

I was inducted into this strange language during my childhood in Southern Germany. My earliest memories were of strange figures, dressed in long coats that …