The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know

By Michael

The Yiddish language is a wonderful source of rich expressions, especially terms of endearment (and of course, complaints and insults). This article is a follow up on Ten Yiddish Expressions You Should Know. Jewish scriptwriters introduced many Yiddish words into popular culture, which often changed the original meanings drastically. You might be surprised to learn how much Yiddish you already speak, but also, how many familiar words actually mean something different in real Yiddish.

There is no universally accepted transliteration or spelling; the standard YIVO version is based on the Eastern European Klal Yiddish dialect, while many Yiddish words found in English came from Southern Yiddish dialects. In the 1930s, Yiddish was spoken by more than 10 million people, but by 1945, 75% of them were gone. Today, Yiddish is the language of over 100 newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and websites.

  1. baleboste
    A good homemaker, a woman who’s in charge of her home and will make sure you remember it.
  2. bissel
    Or bisl – a little bit.
  3. bubbe
    Or bobe. It means Grandmother, and bobeshi is the more affectionate form. Bubele is a similarly affectionate word, though it isn’t in Yiddish dictionaries.
  4. bupkes
    Not a word for polite company. Bubkes or bobkes may be related to the Polish word for “beans”, but it really means “goat droppings” or “horse droppings.” It’s often used by American Jews for “trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount” – less than nothing, so to speak. “After all the work I did, I got bupkes!”
  5. chutzpah
    Or khutspe. Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpah often connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.
  6. feh!
    An expression of disgust or disapproval, representative of the sound of spitting.
  7. glitch
    Or glitsh. Literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which was the origin of the common American usage as “a minor problem or error.”
  8. gornisht
    More polite than bupkes, and also implies a strong sense of nothing; used in phrases such as “gornisht helfn” (beyond help).

  9. goy
    A non-Jew, a Gentile. As in Hebrew, one Gentile is a goy, many Gentiles are goyim, the non-Jewish world in general is “the goyim.” Goyish is the adjective form. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich is goyish. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich on white bread is even more goyish.
  10. kibbitz
    In Yiddish, it’s spelled kibets, and it’s related to the Hebrew “kibbutz” or “collective.” But it can also mean verbal joking, which after all is a collective activity. It didn’t originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game – that’s an American innovation.
  11. klutz
    Or better yet, klots. Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person. See schlemiel.
  12. kosher
    Something that’s acceptable to Orthodox Jews, especially food. Other Jews may also “eat kosher” on some level but are not required to. Food that Orthodox Jews don’t eat – pork, shellfish, etc. – is called traif. An observant Jew might add, “Both pork and shellfish are doubtlessly very tasty. I simply am restricted from eating it.” In English, when you hear something that seems suspicious or shady, you might say, “That doesn’t sound kosher.”
  13. kvetsh
    In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).
  14. maven
    Pronounced meyven. An expert, often used sarcastically.
  15. Mazel Tov
    Or mazltof. Literally “good luck,” (well, literally, “good constellation”) but it’s a congratulation for what just happened, not a hopeful wish for what might happen in the future. When someone gets married or has a child or graduates from college, this is what you say to them. It can also be used sarcastically to mean “it’s about time,” as in “It’s about time you finished school and stopped sponging off your parents.”
  16. mentsh
    An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.
  17. mishegas
    Insanity or craziness. A meshugener is a crazy man. If you want to insult someone, you can ask them, ”Does it hurt to be crazy?”
  18. mishpocheh
    Or mishpokhe or mishpucha. It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”
  19. nosh
    Or nash. To nibble; a light snack, but you won’t be light if you don’t stop noshing. Can also describe plagarism, though not always in a bad sense; you know, picking up little pieces for yourself.
  20. nu
    A general word that calls for a reply. It can mean, “So?” “Huh?” “Well?” “What’s up?” or “Hello?”
  21. oy vey
    Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement. When you realize you’re about to be hit by a car, this expression would be appropriate.
  22. plotz
    Or plats. Literally, to explode, as in aggravation. “Well, don’t plotz!” is similar to “Don’t have a stroke!” or “Don’t have a cow!” Also used in expressions such as, “Oy, am I tired; I just ran the four-minute mile. I could just plotz.” That is, collapse.
  23. shalom
    It means “deep peace,” and isn’t that a more meaningful greeting than “Hi, how are ya?”
  24. shlep
    To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly. When people “shlep around,” they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I’m the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home, I shlep it.
  25. shlemiel
    A clumsy, inept person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his soup.
  26. schlock
    Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schlocky souvenir.”
  27. shlimazel
    Someone with constant bad luck. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he probably spills it on the shlimazel. Fans of the TV sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” remember these two words from the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant that opened each show.
  28. shmendrik
    A jerk, a stupid person, popularized in The Last Unicorn and Welcome Back Kotter.
  29. shmaltzy
    Excessively sentimental, gushing, flattering, over-the-top, corny. This word describes some of Hollywood’s most famous films. From shmaltz, which means chicken fat or grease.
  30. shmooze
    Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.
  31. schmuck
    Often used as an insulting word for a self-made fool, but you shouldn’t use it in polite company at all, since it refers to male anatomy.
  32. spiel
    A long, involved sales pitch, as in, “I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted.” From the German word for play.
  33. shikse
    A non-Jewish woman, all too often used derogatorily. It has the connotation of “young and beautiful,” so referring to a man’s Gentile wife or girlfriend as a shiksa implies that his primary attraction was her good looks. She is possibly blonde. A shagetz or sheygets means a non-Jewish boy, and has the connotation of a someone who is unruly, even violent.
  34. shmutz
    Or shmuts. Dirt – a little dirt, not serious grime. If a little boy has shmutz on his face, and he likely will, his mother will quickly wipe it off. It can also mean dirty language. It’s not nice to talk shmutz about shmutz. A current derivation, “schmitzig,” means a “thigamabob” or a “doodad,” but has nothing to do with filth.
  35. shtick
    Something you’re known for doing, an entertainer’s routine, an actor’s bit, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.
  36. tchatchke
    Or tshatshke. Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware. It also appears in sentences such as, “My brother divorced his wife for some little tchatchke.” You can figure that one out.
  37. tsuris
    Or tsores. Serious troubles, not minor annoyances. Plagues of lice, gnats, flies, locusts, hail, death… now, those were tsuris.
  38. tuches
    Rear end, bottom, backside, buttocks. In proper Yiddish, it’s spelled tuchis or tuches or tokhis, and was the origin of the American slang word tush.
  39. yente
    Female busybody or gossip. At one time, high-class parents gave this name to their girls (after all, it has the same root as “gentle”), but it gained the Yiddish meaning of “she-devil”. The matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” was named Yente (and she certainly was a yente though maybe not very high-class), so many people mistakenly think that yente means matchmaker.
  40. yiddisher kop
    Smart person. Literally means “Jewish head.” I don’t want to know what goyisher kop means.

As in Hebrew, the ch or kh in Yiddish is a “voiceless fricative,” with a pronunciation between h and k. If you don’t know how to make that sound, pronounce it like an h. Pronouncing it like a k is goyish.

Yiddish Language and Culture – history of Yiddish, alphabet, literature, theater, music, etc.
Grow A Brain Yiddish Archive – the Beatles in Yiddish, the Yiddish Hillbillies, the Pirates of Penzance in Yiddish, etc.

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322 Responses to “The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know”

  • Sheri Jo

    Fantastic post! I grew up in a town with many, many Jewish people and Yiddish sayings are 2nd nature to me. However, the town I have lived in for the past 15 years has a very small Jewish population in comparison. Consequently, whenever I use a Yiddish term, the response is either hysterical laughter or the “DAHHH… shmendrik” look. Thanks for a great post! 🙂

  • Daniel Scocco

    Interesting indeed, many of these words I had used in the past, without knowing their origin.

  • la di dah

    I love the word schmuck. Great post!

  • Daniel Quall King

    In Southern American Jewish Yiddish of the 1950s, to kibbitz just meant “to have a good chat”; but often with overtones of gossiping.

  • Yuri

    What hutzpa, ani roche ledaber lbeail shel atar.
    kan leiot 100 milim ze ata charih ladot.

  • Izzy

    41: Shtup
    Literaly “to stuff.” Used as a euphemism for sex. “He stopped shtupping his shiksa after she gained weight.”

  • Jim Walsh

    Shalom Aleichem! Great List! No other language has the expressive power of Yiddish – maybe because it’s a mash-up of several languages. Some other widely used Yiddish words you should consider for future lists (50 words?) include:

    1) Gonif – thief
    2) Shnorren – to beg or mooch
    3) Versteh – understand, get it? – use in place of “capeesh” (from Italian, capire) for a one word interrogative for “Do you understand? ”
    4) Macher – a “hot shot” or “big wig”
    5) Zaftig – buxom or hefty (but in a good way)

    Sei gesund!

  • Daniel Scocco

    Thanks for the additions guys, we might even update the list later to incorporate these.

  • Marc Savoy

    What yiddish words list is complete without the inclusion of “Shabbos Goy”? term for the local neighborly, gentile whom
    the Orthodox Jewish community knew to rely on in turning
    on electricity, light. fire, other activities they were forbidden
    to do themselves

  • JewishIn

    Some of these words also cross over to other languages like russian where they mean similar things and are used similarly to english… could yiddish be the hidden world language?

  • Robert Aitchison

    Yiddish is slang plain and simple, it’s the middle ages version of ebonics.

  • toneii

    Many of the words are German; here are some I recognize:

    bissel > bisschen (a little)
    mentsh > Mensch (man)
    kop > kopf (head)
    nosh > gnash (snack)
    spiel > Spiel (play)
    gornischt > nichts (nothing)
    schmutz > schmutz (dirt)

  • Bryan


    Also means “story” in Irish. Cad e an spiel ? == What’s the story.

    Remarkably similar meanings.

  • maus

    Schvitzing – Profuse sweating

  • Al

    Good list! You will find some Yiddush/Hebrew in the Star Trek movies and novels too. In one scene, Kirk uses a Klingon communicator and screams to the transporter operator: “Shmaltz! [beam me up]”

  • JH

    Great list.

    You can’t leave out nudnik — when the shlemiel spills his soup on the shlimazel, it’s the nudnik who asks what kind of soup it was!

  • jedrek

    I read #4 and thought ‘huh?’. The polish word for beans is… ‘fasola’.

  • Karen

    “No Chupah no Shtupa”…not advise I follow, but it’s what so many bubbelahs say!

  • Okrim Al Qasal

    Oh wow! Jewish people is so cool! I have to learn this words because gringos use them!

    You are useless… I mean, Yiddish.

  • mike

    May I add k’nocker – which is a big talker, full of hot air, without the ability to back it up; nebbish – an unfortunate nobody who gets picked on; shmatteh – which is a rag or inferior clothing [also the Apparel Business is known as the ‘Shmatteh’ Trade]; farblondget – hopefully lost or confused. Dreck is also an important word, means inferior product or worse..

    My, my, Mr. Poster of Comment #8, who’s the Racist? if you read your history, you will find that the Jews in Eastern Europe were excluded from many professions, forced to live in Ghettos [the Yiddish Word is Shtetl], and faced severe discrimination and Anti-Semitism. Often the ‘Grubbe Yungem’ [low class coarse individuals] would come into the Shtetl and Beat Up or even Murder a few Jews to feel good about things. Hence the Jews were understandably wary of Gentiles. Shabbes Goy was usually an agreeable neighbor.

    Yes, there is definitely overreaching on the part of some Israelis with their neighbors, but it happens in all races and religions, perhaps except yours, whatever it is, since you are so pristine.

  • zmarn


    Yes, many words seem familiar.

    gornischt > nichts (nothing)

    I would say its more like:

    gornischt > gar nichts (nothing)

  • Ed

    Most of these words come from the German language: Schmalz, schleppen, quetschen, Klotz, oweh, mir (accusativ of ich), Mensch etc. So what does that tell you about exclusivity?

  • Ed

    @nr 11, Jim

    No other language? Do you know any others than English and Jiddish

    Shnorren – German: schnorren, same meaning
    Versteh – German: verstehen, to understand (Verstehst du das?)
    Macher – German: machen, to make; Macher: an accomplisher
    Zaftig – German: saftig, from Saft=juice; ein saftiges Bussgeld – a heavy fine

  • Christie

    What about verklempt? It was made popular during SNL’s Coffee Talk sketch and it seemed that they were using it as “I’m emotional and unable to talk”. Some of my Jewish co-workers said that’s not the real meaning and verklempt was not being used properlyl

  • iwo

    Jiddish is a german language.
    Linguistic says.

  • Jim Walsh

    Hey Mr. Ed, commentator # 32,
    Your comment is worthless – several commented here already about the obvious German cognates with Yiddish. Nothing new – both Yiddish and modern High German stem from the older Middle High German. Yiddish also borrows from Slavic languages (e.g., Polish and Russian), as well as Semitic tongues (e.g., using the Hebrew aphabet). My post just suggested some other Yiddish words – that are used in vernacular English – for possible inclusion on a future list here. Just some constructive commentary on my part. Maybe you should try that, instead of making useless, persnickety comments about other posts. No one is impressed that you can conjugate a few German verbs. Und ja, Ich kenne andere Sprache – zum Beispiel, Italienisch: “Va’ fanculo!!”

  • Tom Ritchford

    “Ok and Marc you forgot to add “hypocritical” before “Orthodox Jewish”, truly observant (of halacha) Jews would not use legal loopholes to try to get around their own rules.”

    I think you are misguided here. The essence of the rules is that they are formal entities — you are required to obey the strict letter of the law, no more — and no less.

    If they bred a pig that chewed its cud, it’d be kosher. Well, probably, see here:

  • Josh

    Ah, Yiddish, what a language!

    Combines only the best of German and Hebrew/Aramaic!

    But you forgot the word ‘schvitz/shvitz’ meaning a sauna or to hand around and have a nice long chat.

    Remember, little ‘chats’ for Jews take much longer than for Goyim

    Signed Josh

  • Michael

    Great conversation, everybody. Maybe we’ll have to make another list. One challenge is to figure out the true origin of words. For example, in 1836, Charles Dickens wrote in Sketches by Boz, “‘Hooroar,’ ejaculates a pot-boy in parenthesis, ‘put the kye-bosk on her, Mary!'” The word kibosh sounds Yiddish, but it also sounds like the Irish “cie bais,” meaning “the cap of death” worn by a judge. Thanks to Elizabeth Mitchell for mentioning that.

  • Izzy

    The “origin” of kibosh reminds me of the story that in Russia, when the Tzar would come into one of the small Jewish towns, the army would be there before him to insist that the townspeople greet the Tzar appropriately.

    The townspeople didn’t know what to do. They all hated the Tzar, and hated all the things he did.

    So, when the Tzar rode through the town, all the townspeople shouted “Hoo Rah, Hoo Rah”

    (NOTE: in Hebrew “Hoo Rah” translates literally into “He is Evil.”)

  • ..L

    Is Yiddish a sister language of Arabic?

  • ..L

    Thanks for sharing, ..interesting to know

  • Michael

    A sister language to Arabic? That’s an interesting thought. Arabic is a sister language to Hebrew, which is a major source for Yiddish words. German speakers have told us about all the words that German shares with Yiddish. I wonder if Arabic speakers can recognize any of the Yiddish words which came from Hebrew.

    I should point out that Arabic is a colorful language as well, but Jews have been much more involved than Arabs in English-speaking radio, television and film. So fewer Arabic words have entered the English language than Yiddish words. Perhaps as other ethnic groups become more influential in American or British popular culture, their languages will also feed the development of English to a greater extent.

  • Sami

    Nice post. But what is even more interesting is the huge interest for Yiddish language.

    At e Yiddish we have started offering online Yiddish lessons. We were surprised by the demand. Another proof (if needed) that Yiddish is a living language and studied by youngster also.

  • red

    Cool list!
    Regarding the shlemiel and shlimazel, I learned a slightly different definition. Basically the shlemiel spills the soup on himself, and the shlimazel spills the soup on the person sitting next to him. The nebish (or nebich not sure on the spelling) sits next to the shlimazel…

  • Michael

    The mazel in shlimazel is also found in mazltof – it means luck. Or in his case, unlucky.

  • LeonardLennys

    Reply on Christie on January 17th, 2008 12:04:

    “What about verklempt?”

    It’s probably close to the german “verklemmt” which means “uptight”. Someone who’s not comfortable around others or a little unsecure. It can also relate to sexuality. In that case it means prudish.

  • LeonardLennys

    oops…I meant to write insecure (not unsecure) 😉

  • BillinDetroit

    #28 … Acts 10:9-15 comes in handy, sometimes. Otherwise, no calamari!

    The thing I, a Caucasian goy, appreciate about sites such as these and the other ethnic / racially oriented sites is that I come away with a better knowledge of the people around me. I have a sort of universal love for humanity … I wish I had time to truly know each and every decent human being I meet. Like Saul / Paul of the Christian Greek scriptures, I am indebted to every well-lived life I have ever learned from. Those aren’t his words, but I think that they do reflect his thinking at 2 Corinthians 7:13-16.

    As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is a distinct line drawn in the sand between myself and a modern Jew, but I do have a strong historical interest in the Jewish people. They are, after all, the kin of Jesus and that is the religion he was raised in and was thoroughly familiar with. Basically we differ in only one important regard … the anointed messiahship of Jesus. We were with you in the Nazi extermination camps with the important distinction that we were free to leave. All we had to do was repudiate Yahweh and walk out of the camp. With only a handful of exceptions, we stayed, choosing martyrdom over betrayal.

    I am leaving behind a link pointing to my blog regarding my beliefs. If you change the URL, dropping the word “beliefs” and adding the word “life”, you’ll find further insight into the world as I see it.

  • Mark Anthony


    Assuming a typo, that you aren’t actually a “caucasian goy,” are you a caucasian guy, or a caucasian gay?

    Anyway, I’m not sure what place your religious views have on a glossary of yiddish words. We weren’t really looking for lessons on how each word is to be perceived by various religions. This is more of a culture thing, though a religion is involved, it isn’t really religious so to speak. This isn’t, as you have assumed or mistakenly concluded, an “ethnic / racially oriented site.” It is a writing / language oriented site.

    ~ Mark Anthony

  • Michael

    The top nomination for “favorite Yiddish word that didn’t get included on this list” seems to be:
    nebbish (n) An innocuous, ineffectual, weak, helpless or hapless unfortunate.”

  • John B. Goy

    A nice post, many words which I use. My beef is not giving phonetic pronunciations. If these are 40 words people should know, shouldn’t they know how to say them correctly? Good luck pronouncing tchatchke correctly without help.

    So I’m a nudge (nooj). Sue me.

  • Michael

    Ah, but since we’re a writing blog, not a reading blog or a speaking blog, may we not be excused for our lack of pronunciation guides? Besides, the Southern Yiddish pronunciation is different from the Eastern European pronunciation. Okay, okay… to hear tchatchke pronounced, give this link a kvetch (audio in ogg format).

  • daniel levy

    Excellent! but what about ladino, the language of the jews who fledd from Spain to places like Istambul and Thesaloniki?
    It’s a funny language, very funny. Try to develope the issue. Daniel Levy

  • David

    What about gevaldig (great), draikup (crooked guy)

  • 31547

    i think it is interesting to know these words. thank you to the poster of them, as well as thank you to all that posted. i have a project at my school on children of the holacaust, and these words have come in handy because we have to pretend we are that child, and write a diary. i hope when people post, they arent doing it just to start stuff. because each person individually helps by adding what they think on this. as with, the caucasian goy, cool, that u thought to use the goy part at the end. 🙂 thanks to all that posted.

  • Steve

    I like your blog! It disturbs me that anti-semites would seek out such a site just to make caustic comments. I suppose all spoken languages started as some derrivative of another as “slang” if you will. At what point they become a legitimate language I don’t know. It’s true that many widely spoken languages have come and gone and the true roots of many words that we still speak have gone with them. I speak some German and naturally recogonise the commonalities. I think it is important to understand our linguistic heritage as something given to us from many cultures. Thanks, I didn’t realize some of these common expressions were Yiddish!

  • Helga Panton

    Can you tell me where I might find words which are not listed?

    Thanks for any help or advise.

  • Robey

    Great list, all words and expressions I am well familiar with, and being Jewish I love to see Yiddish get the respect and attention it deserves. One minor quibble though. This:

    Or mishpokhe or mishpucha. It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”

    Really? Was this necessary? “I’ll sell it to you at wholesale”?! Why bring up the stereotype of the Jewish person haggling over money? It’s such a great word and all it means is “family”. Why bring retail/wholesale into it at all? That just makes me sad. I’m sure it was just an oversight or maybe I’m being overly sensitive but I did notice it. Otherwise, great list.

  • peter isaac

    The word mishpocha for family and the Maori word mokopuna also means family indicating a rabbinical influence in codifying Maori into a written language 150 years ago.

  • Estelle

    My daughter and her husband insist that my husband used a word that described someone who sponges off another person is called a “kuchanika”. I have never heard that word. Is it a real word or is there another word that sounds similar. I would appreciate any help I can get to solve this dispute.

  • Michel

    Yiddish = Jewish….maybe in some cases but not necessarily.

    I grew up in Antwerp, a region known for its Diamaond trade which is largely handle by the jewish community. My dad himself being from Jewish decent married my mom (Of course) a shiksa herself. But though he no longer was considered jewish, he stayed very active in the Jewish community for both business and from a social stand point. many of the Jews in antwerp are Ashkenazi Jews. Ashkenaze being an old term for the Rhineland in Germany. Hence much of the Jiddish spoken there is influenced by german and quite easy for me to understand. Yet when I came to the US and even when I travelled to Israel, the yiddish I heard there, though very resembling the Euro Yiddish, there were distinct differences.

    I believe Yiddish is influenced a lot by the area the jewish people can be traced back to.

    Then again, just an opinion.

    Mazel Tov!

  • Alex Case

    Nice selection- better than wikipedia!

  • ruby

    yiddish is just german, stolen language. notice the reference to shikse and its connotations?

  • ruby

    yea josh, i bet your little jewish talks take longer than goyim. so typical.

    steal something and claim it as your own, age old trick.

    yiddish is german, and dont insult the germans by claiming
    you invented it.

  • Renata J. Beaudoin

    I just love the use of yiddish words….the meaning is exactly what the words sounds like…..In though I have gentile origins I have many Jewish friends and a Jewish daughter-in-law and grand daughter. I have a great appreciation and love of words but the Yiddish words are in a category all their own. Thanks. Renata J. Beaudoin.

  • Chris Chapman

    I thought this was about Yiddish expressions, but instead I see it is a list of Yiddish words. Just like the pronunciation of words depends on the origin of the speaker, so the selection of words reflects the country where they are taken up. Thus American obsessions with hygeine, sex and prurience, and the ignorance and stupidity of others gets promoted. Sorry for pomo rant,

    “No other language has the expressive power of Yiddish” – with imagination like this Jim Walsh should be writing advertising copy.

  • Alina

    In Russian we also say “FEH” or “FOO” for “ew” and “NU” just to answer any question or to “fill the silence”)

    Thanks for the list!

  • motormind

    I am not familiar with most of these, but I am fairly sure that “shtik” is supposed to be spelled “shtick”, since that is the only word I use regularly.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Chris Chapman, the title of the article is pretty clear.

    @motormind, you might be right.

  • AltMichael

    Most (but not all) of these words would be inappropriate to use in English, because they are not established borrowings in the English language. The purpose of language is communication, so if you use foreign words, you will not be understood. (By “foreign words” I do not mean words of foreign origin. The origin of a word is not relevant, only whether it is an English word today.)

    Also, I found that many of them are appropriate only for Jews to use. Being a non-Jew, I would never use the word “goy”. I think it’s silly to try to sound Jewish, unless you really are Jewish.

    To settle the origins questions (Linguistics was my college major), Yiddish is classified as a “High Germanic” language. The only other one being Modern Standard German. It is really a Jewish form of Middle High German. There have been Jewish versions of other languages as well. The reason that Jews had their own versions of a language is because they were segregated for most of European history. Like species, languages tend to diverge when groups of speakers become isolated from each other.

    Finally, Yiddish is the only Germanic language that is not written in the Roman alphabet. It is written in the Hebrew alphabet. Writing systems have nothing to do with the origins or relatedness of languages.

    (BTW, it’s Hebrew that is related to Arabic, not Yiddish. Both are members of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages.)

  • Michael

    I always thought shtik was spelled schtick, in German style, but the mavens at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research have standardized the spelling. Actually, we’re all wrong. The correct spelling is שטיק. So nu.

  • Kimbo

    I saw some of these and immediately thought of the nadsat language Burgess invented in “A Clockwork Orange” – mentsh, for instance. I had no idea it came from Yiddish!

  • adam

    You forgot the worst and most used of them all:

    schvatza from the german word schvatz or schwartz meaning “black” albeit, it has a derogatory meaning similar to the “N” word. Not to be used at all in my opinion.

    by the way, a schmuck in german mean jeweler and is still used today on storefronts and small jewelry repair shops

  • zack kushner

    Nice list! I studied Yiddish briefly in university and it’s a fascinating language that’s rapidly dying. My bubbe speaks it, but she’s 93. It is mostly cribbed from German, but it also blends in bits of other languages like Russian and Hebrew.

    Pronunciation is key with Yiddish. Saying a Yiddish word the wrong way ruins the effect. Getting the “ch” of “chutzpah” makes the difference! Since some letter combinations used in Yiddish don’t exist in English, it can be tricky. The “tz”, for example; although it can be found in the “zz” of pizza.

    The other key piece to Yiddish is Yiddish curses. There’s a fantastic book full of them I used to have but which has disappeared somewhere. The most well known (I think) is “gay kaken aufen yam” which translates to “go take a sh** in the ocean,” but there are much more colorful ones. I did a search on Amazon for the book, but can’t seem to find it.

    The other one I remember is “May you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground!”

  • bluespapa

    A few more:

    Putz = schmuck

    nebbish, he’s a nebbish, a nothing, no personality.

    Gesundt, as in, a gesundt (or gezundt) on old people. Health, straight from German.

    Schmatte, schmahte, rags, where did you get that schmatte? You couldn’t dress up?

    A tchochka in its diminutive, tchochkale or tchochkele, a plaything, sometimes a gentile you’re playing with but won’t marry.

    drek, literally feces, but garbage you want in any event.

    I think I read in Philip Roth that he grew up thinking the word “aggravation” was Yiddish–and literally I did, too. Helped but not remedied with a seltzer.

    Cronk, sick, a bisl cronk is what you are right before you die in some dialects. He was a bisl cronk, alov ha-shalom. (rest in peace).

    Poylishe, a way some have to talk to certain gentiles.

    Crook, worse than a gonif.

    Eyin harah, the evil eye, straight from the Hebrew.

    Punnim, or poonim, face, usually cute.

    Sheyne, or sheynie, beautiful. A sheynie kop. Beautiful head, but more like cute, a real beauty, a sweetie.

    Kugl, overly romanticized hard noodle casserole, sometimes onions, sometimes sugar, but not my favorite.

    Kishke, a dumpling with meat stuffed in it, and therefore kishkes are testicles. I got to pronounce this at a spelling bee to a sixth grader during a year Scripps-Howard emphasized foreign words in English, and I looked forward to the kid asking me to use it in a sentence. He thought he’d freeze his kishkes off.

  • Ed O’Leary

    A shlemiel is someone who can fall on his back and break his nose.

  • Shulie

    Actually, “shikse” is derogatory, even more in Yiddish than in English. The meaning of the word is NOT “non-Jewish woman” and it certainly doesn’t mean “beautiful.” It’s an insult.

  • beth johnstone

    my husband loves to say he’s kibbitzing ….only he doesn’t realize it but he’s pronouncing it wrong. it’s KIB butz ….not ke BITZ. the emphasis is on the first syllable. so it’s KIBBIT zing….not Ke BITTZING.

  • Eric H. Roth

    Great list! The curious might find Leo Rosten’s book “The Joy of Yiddish” worth browsing through.

  • mary a

    great article, i think that one word in yiddish sums up everything, i am an irish catholic, and i love to speak yiddish.

  • joy

    I think many Yiddish words are like onomatapoeias (sp?) – or – words that sound like their meanings. It is the picturesque quality of the language that is so appealing to me.

  • Liz

    Can you have pronunciations on all of the words?

  • teacher

    By the way, kosher is required for all jews, not just observant ones. Though they may be the ones who keep Kosher, that does not mean it is not required for everyone. That is like saying it is only required of upstanding people to drive within the speed limit. It is required for everyone, but only some people actually do it :).

  • walid

    thank you

  • Deirdre

    It would really add to the functionality of this site if people (like me) could email articles (like this) to our friends…easily. Any plans?

    Just a thought…

  • Deborah

    I think this is an awesome website, i grew up with Yiddish and Hebrew in my family and i think they are a beautiful language.

  • helen burdett

    how about tserdrait..meaning mad.
    love that word. usually accompanied with a Bissel.
    so discriptive of a neurotic person.

  • Amy W.

    “Nu” is really used to mean “Hurry up” or “What’s taking you so long?” Most people would say the official definition is “What are you waiting for, the Messiah?”

    You left out the one I use the most, “keinohorah”, meaning “without the evil eye”. It is kind of the Jewish equivalent of “knock wood”.

    “Machatunim” should be included because there is no English equivalent. When two people are married, his parents’ machatunim are her parents and vise/versa.

  • Maris

    Now that it’s almost Purim this word is heard every day in the meaning “play” as in performance. The “Purim Speil” is the re-enactment of the story of Queen Esther and her Uncle Mordechai who saved the Jews in ancient Persia under King Achashverosh and the evil Haman.

  • Maris

    I really enjoyed this. Now I keep the site in my favorates. Thanks.
    Shabbat Shalom from Israel.

  • Maris

    Kishkeh is literally intestine. The kishkeh that some people eat (NOT ME!) is the intestine of a cow stuffed like a sausage but with grains, spices, probably onions fried in schmaltz. The stuffed kishkeh is then cooked in a pot with vegetables and water.
    Lo aleynu, but a lot of people love it.
    Sottish haggis resembles it.

  • Jenn

    @AltMichael – I beg to differ. I grew up in a community with a large Jewish population, and while I am goyische, they became a regular part of my vocabulary. One day I was cleaning house with my German born mother-in-law and told my daughter to clean the schmutz off the floor, and my MIL demanded to know how I knew German words!
    I use schmutz, schmaltz, schtick, tuchus, tchotchke, spiel, chutzpah, and many more on a daily basis without thinking.

  • Jim Ashley

    I grew up in a Toledo ‘burb with a large Jewish population and lived in New York, so Yiddish (and Italian) expressions are part of my vocab. However, when I attempt to acquaint anthropology and cultural geography students with Yiddish words and phrases at the university where I teach, I am greeted with the blank, unknowing stares of the clueless. Here in the Heartland such rich language is practically absent. Perhaps the incessant two-thumb texting that pervades our campuses (what the hell are they saying) serves to narrow the verbal capabilities of the young to a truncated lingo that has turned their expression into a new and sterile teen-speak devoid of the rich meanings of the past. “LOL” etc. – feh!

  • japanese words

    Great list. Most of these I hadn’t heard off and the a few that I did I didn’t really know where they came from

  • Kathe

    Words I’ve known so long I had no idea other people didn’t know them. And I’m a gentile, nonetheless.

  • Junior

    I love Yiddish for the descriptive nature of the words. They are words with meaning and depth. I am not a Jew but I use these words all the time to fill in for the lack of words in the English language to cover these descriptions and emotions.

    Great stuff. Great webpage. Thanks!

  • Mark R.

    If anyone would like to further delve into and profoundly understand alittle about Yiddish Civilization and its influence upon the world and the world’s influence upon the rise and fall of a forgotten nation, Paul Kriwaczek wrote a great book entitled:
    Yiddish Civilization: The Rise & Fall of A Forgotten Nation, A Vintage Book 2005 ISBN10:1-40000-3377-2

  • Schlomo Epsteinbergfishbein

    Tribalism that has wreaked havoc wherever it went. Do you think that when they decided to despise someone, they picked a “J” out of the hat?
    Another fine example of superstition and tribalism that has plagued the Middle East for centuries.

  • jenn

    for #3, bubbe (bobe), you noted that bubbele is not in dictionaries – that’s because the -l (-el in transliteration) is a diminutive form. -le is even more so. for example, if a child’s name is chanah (hannah), a grandmother might call her chanele (KHah-nuh-luh) as an affectionate nickname. see also yentl (like the movie, from yenta), or kindl (little child, from kind, not to be confused with the amazon kindle). it won’t be in a dictionary… because it’s a morphological form of another word. that’s all =)

    also, if you’re interested in any books on yiddish, look for anything written by neil jacobs or david neal miller, my yiddish professors from the ohio state university. brilliant gentlemen.

  • Don

    The third word in your list “bubbe”, (grandmother) is very important, but what about “Zaydeh” (grandfather) which you left out?

  • PetrosinGirpri

    I think 31547 = BillinDetroit.

    Anyways, mazltof is from Hebrew mazal (where the luck part comes from) + t.ov (Hebrew for good). Does it ever have a bad connotation then? One poster seemed to think it does sometimes – but how can one have bad good luck? I ask because I do not know Yiddish, and since words in new linguistic settings can lose part of their meaning or take on a redundant addition.

  • jenn

    Re: PetrosinGirpri:

    mazel tov is never used to mean something bad, as far as i know.

  • Miquel

    Shikse: Although people try to make is seem nice, there were stickers on guys dorms rooms in college that said “Shikses are for practice”. It’s not nice, and the thing about Yiddish, while often sweet, when viewed in context can often be alarmingly elitist, racist and mean.

    Don’t be fooled.

  • Miquel

    How come “schvartze” isn’t on your list?

  • Dana

    Great site…
    My husband is “a Goy”, and he loves to learn yiddish words from my childhood.
    One day at the table he announced to my father and my self that he wanted his own ” Knippis Money”.
    After all the giggles died down we explained to him that knippis money is what the wife hides in her bra in case her husband runs away with the blonde down the street.

  • Hillary

    One of my favorite expressions is Gai kakhen afenyam – Go shit in the ocean. I say it at work a lot.

  • Dana

    Obviously commenter Miquel needs some help here…While the yiddish word shikses does translate to a female non-jew, I am quite sure there is no yiddish word that translates to that childish and ingnorant phrase found in a male college dorm that he reprinted. Language like anything else in the wrong hands can be made ugly and evil. And to answer why the word schvarzte is not on the list…simply, it means the color black..not interesting..but if you want to give it a mean or racist connotation then go ahead if thats where your brain lives.
    Look around you and see the beauty in the world Miquel..not the ignorant ramblings found in college dorm rooms.

  • Crystal Hicks

    My friend and I are trying to remember the Yiddish word for a “super salesman”. ( You know… the one who can sell ice to Eskimos.) Any help with this?


  • TonyB

    My Brooklyn-born father of Irish decent loved Yiddish slang and used it often as I was growing up. One term in particular I remember but can’t seem to find online is (phonetically): sim-itz. It usually came out when something needed to be described as a clusterfu*k, total confusion, an out of control situation. Any help on this would be most appreciated! Thanks in advance…

  • Don

    Re: Tzimmes

    Literally, it refers to a traditional Jewish side dish composed largely of diced/sliced/mashed carrots.

    Colloquially, the word is used to mean: making a big fuss over a situation, and usually implies that the fuss being made is much greater than is warranted and is referred to as a making “big tzimmes” over a relatively trivial thing.

  • Jai

    Let’s not overlook:

    One of my favorites: Farshtunken (stinky, smelly)

    Shlufen, as in “The kids are shlufen in the back seat.”

    Pisher (a litle squirt, a nobody)

  • Matt

    What about:

    Pupik – bellybutton

    Purimshpieler -a very amateur entertainer(derogatory)

    Chalish – expire, pass away

    Nachas – pride/happiness over particular event or person

    Nuch besse! – even better! (Sarcastically used)

    Hak meir ein chainik – literally, bang on a tea kettle, used for “nagging” – “quit hakking me already!”

    Shlep – long inconvenient journey

    Keppy or keppelah – head

    Dray – to drone on and on

    Lozzem gemacht – leave ’em alone

    Shtimmer bebik – a stupid person

    Yachne – an annoying gossip or talker, won’t shutup

    Tatelah or mamelah – little father or mother, affectionate

    Yoiner – a dense person, a clod (often used ina derogetory way for a fat person, a “fat yoiner”)

    Shlong – penis

    Shmekel – penis

    Shtarker – a big bruiser

    Emmis – truth

    Neshtuggidacht – an expression of sympathy

    Rachmunis – pity, sympathy

    Nudnik – stupid, annoying but ultimately harmless fellow

    Kvel – to swell with pride

    Lukshen – noodles

    Shander – a public shame or sin – “a shander fur der goyim” a “shame before the gentiles” a disgrace for the whole “jewish” community

    Bobbemeintze – nonsense, obviously false stories

    A note on pronunciation: many words with an “er” or “ar”when spelled I heard as “ah” growing up, probably bc my family were all new yorkers. So for example “shtarker” was heard as “shtakah”,”schvartzer” was heard as”schvatzah” and “shander” was heard as “shandeh”.

  • Lisa Y.

    So many of these words I grew up with, and use, but didn’t even realize they were Yiddush! This is a great site.

    My grandmother used to sing a song to me when I was very little and draw circles on my belly, singing “Measala Mazala” and then tickle me. Could that be a Yiddish ‘jingle’ her mother did to her when she was a little girl? I saw a posting above that mazal means luck, and seeing it spelled that way, it clicked that this little song she sung could be Yiddish. Thanks for any info!

  • mnm

    To Bryan who said ‘spiel’ means story in Irish . It doesn’t!!

    Sceal is story in Irish. Cad e an sceal? – What’s the story.

  • Niall

    Isn’t the the definition of ‘chutzpah’ found in the old joke about the man convicted of murdering both his parents, who pleaded for mercy from the court on the grounds that he was an orphan?

  • BRB

    Question – Where can I find English words translated to Yiddish?

  • BDR

    One of the best Yiddish sayings ever: “Kush meer in toches!” – meaning “Kiss my A…”
    When growing up I often remember my parents telling each other to “Kush meer in Toches!” Always said in jest however… 🙂

    As a South African Jew, I have noticed that sadly yiddish terms are being used less and less in SA. Our family do however always throw in some words when appropriate – a great language!!

  • Learning Yiddish

    So, by way of review, I could say something like:

    A shmaltzy young schmuck of a goy
    was shmoozing a yenta named Gert
    kibbitzing all cutesy and coy
    his shtick was so thick she was hurt.

    “Oh stop with your bupkiss and spiel
    your kvetching’s offensive and gay,
    you’re such a non-kosher shlemiel
    just shtup me and be on your way!”

  • Alice in wonderstein

    Great list.
    By the way u shud add meis kiet n drai mit nir kain kot -which means leave me alone or dont bother me.

  • SholomB

    Until I was about 4 years old, I understood a bissele Yiddish & spoke less, mainly to Boobie [oo as in good, not goof] Sara, or Sonia, my ailing mom’s mom, then living her last months of life with us. Though here forty years by then, she, like many immigrants, preferred her first language with family & friends & to follow the news, sometimes bis radio, or read aloud to her. So, sitting under the table as she & my mom cooked & talked, I was learning more than kitchen/kiddie Yiddish… Then Boobie Sara died, & shockingly took my Yiddish with her, since my mom, rather than continuing to use it with me, her son & only child, held it back, as was also common then, to use as a secret code with adults & talk freely with Yiddish-speaking girlfriends. However, my dad knew much less of it than my mom, having lost his Yiddish-speaking mom when he was only eight to the 1918 “Spanish Flu” which BTW had actually come her from Asia. Anyway, he & my mom soon resorted to whispering, & yelling, in English.
    Thus, for about the last sixty years, Yiddish has remained almost literally my emotive mamaloschen, romantically preserved in my memory a a kind of Platonic mother tongue. Schmaltzy or not, it’s sometimes hard for me to hear or see it without feeling my face start to smile or my eyes tear up. So this site, & especially this discussion, which I’ve just read instead of working on a paper due tomorrow at 1PM, is bittersweet for more than one reason.
    The Nazi war machine didn’t just murder a third of world Jewry, it inadvertently vindicated Zionism’s ardently national-colonial project as it wiped-out the Bund’s competing Yiddishist autonomism, along with the rest of “Ashkanzia’s” wonderful borrowed, demotic, mongrel, exilic culture, including of course, its crown jewel (& sometime schmuck)–sarcastic, secular Yiddish. Still, as a fine & famous goyische US writer, recently deceased, was fond of, & famous for, saying, “There are no unmixed blessings.”
    Amen I guess.

  • Kellie F.

    There should really be info about how to pronounce these words!!

    Glaring, glaring omission!

  • Rebekah Phillips

    I am doing an assignment on Ellis Island I need to know what how much is in Yiddish!!! please help me

  • Noghar

    Hey, it’s your assignment. Write all of it in Yiddish if you want… though you better check first that your teacher can read it.

    (weird question…)

  • emanuel

    I like to learn this language I am loving this beautiful language please if your can help me i am emanuel, add me a this facebook please

  • Jewish chick who knows yiddish and german

    Speaking schwarza, it is NOT a bad word! It only means BLACK. If you know German at all, SCHWARZ = BLACK.

    A schwarza is a black person. PERIOD. It is we American Jews with pcness that attached the N-word connotation to it. It does NOT MEAN that at all.


  • Dick Hurts

    The best part of any Jewish joke book is the glossary. Any Momzer knows that!. Try these on…

    Poopik… Technically a belly button, used in Yiddish to denote something small & insignificant.

    Shikker… Drunkard

    Chozzer… Pig or Glutton

  • Baruch Atta

    “…So fewer Arabic words have entered…” The only truly Arabic words used in English are
    Bakshish – bribe
    Hashish – hashish
    Assasin – assasin
    oh and

  • Noghar

    15 seconds Googling reveals 900 commonly used English words that are Arabic in origin, from admiral and albatross, through muslin and mattress, to zero – everyone should know the last one, since Arabic philosophers revolutionised mathematics by inventing the concept.

    It’s a pity that a thread on a lovely language like Yiddish should be hijacked by people wanting to smear and misrepresent other languages…

  • Baruch Atta

    Dear Noghar
    It is not amazing that you can read my mind? Who is “wanting to smear and misrepresent”?
    Thank you for the update. I really was not aware that there were more Arabic words in English. Perhaps you could write an article on Arabic in English usage for this website. I would like to read it.

  • ShalomB

    Medieval Christiandom, aka Europe, emerging from its “Dark Ages,” learned both algebra & zero from its Arab neighbors & opponents, along with a lots else. However, these technologies had been developed centuries earlier by Hindu mathematicians, who had themselves borrowed some ideas from classical Greece.

  • Csprrr

    in Amsterdam — Dutch, but hey, we got (among others): ‘mazzel!’ or ‘mazzels!’ meaning (informally) ‘bye!’ or ‘see you!’ though maybe still with connotation of good luck or success, which I like.

    I also like ‘feh!’ a lot, but learnt only now it’s from Yiddish.

  • xxSay


    I almost didn’t give you the pleasure of acknowledgement.

    Yet, here I am.

    No one here claimed anything even remotely near the thought that Yiddish isn’t made up of other languages. Infact, many people here told stories about relating these words to other words they knew. If you were paying attention or read the other comments you might have picked up on that.

    But I have a feeling you were here to vent out some pent up frustration, and I honestly don’t think this is the place.

    Also, I noticed that you speak English. Let me tell you a story.
    Once upon a time, the Germanic lands were made of different tribes. Cultures began to spread, as cultures will do, and English started forming just West of these tribes. There were some battles, and the places forming English generally put the losing side of the German language inside the “Commoner’s words” that everyone would use, such as “Hand”. French became the influence on the winning side, in those who gained money for things such as “Antiques” and “Banquets”, French words that became common English. There was also a mix of Latin. The end.

    Maybe you’d want to consider where your own words derive from before you use them to slander another culture, no?

  • xxSay

    Maybe I was a little harsh in the above comment.
    Not on you, Ruby- no, you need harsh words to help understand some ideals obviously not ever placed on you.

    What I want is to make clear that I love the German language. It is what I took in High School and I know more about it than I do Yiddish, which is saying something considering I am not at all German and half my relatives are Jewish. (I came to this site to help with the balance of that…) I went to Germany with meine Mutti for my sweet sixteen, and it was a gorgeous and wondrous land. I don’t think they would appreciate your “help”, however, in trying to award them “the real credit”, considering how hard the German government works to remain neutral.

    “yiddish is german, and dont insult the germans by claiming
    you invented it.”

    I adore your grammar. Proper capitalization and apostrophe placement must not be an important enough concept in your “love so deep for whatever language you are representing” to have shone through your hateful comments on how another form of words is written.

    That is all.

  • jenn

    @ xxSay – i by no means want to make you think that i agree with “ruby” in any way; i actually have a degree in yiddish and can draw you a map on a beverage napkin at a bar to show the 4 dialects of yiddish and how it evolved alongside german. (oddly enough, i’ve done just that… people make strange requests when they find out you have a degree in something they’ve never heard of. especially when drinking!)

    that said, i just had to jump in after your grammar comment… as a former proofreader (yiddish major, remember? ha!) i definitely feel the pain of improper apostrophe use; that said, i don’t feel the same about capitalization, and that actually grew out of my time studying yiddish. writing yiddish (or hebrew, for that matter), there is only one case – and everything works out just fine! i do use capitalization regularly for emphasis, and for some acronyms, and of course in professional writing.

    just thought i’d throw that out there! i’m definitely with you for the rest of your post(s). it bothers me when yiddish is described as “a mix of german and hebrew,” or “german written with the hebrew alphabet” – because neither is true.

  • ShalomB

    Please say more about your rejection of the characterization of Yiddish being, “German written with the Hebrew alphabet.”

  • Moishe Pippik

    Enough Already!! The responses to the Yiddish Handbook are supposed to be discussions of Yiddish Words, not a forum for neurotics — or should I say meshugenahs — venting their problems

  • jenn

    @ShalomB – you can take an entire class on the topic, but the short version is that yiddish and german evolved alongside one another. german was spoken germany, but yiddish was spoken throughout ashkenaz – from the western boundary which was the same as the westernmost edge of germany, stretching east to russia (belarus, lithuania, rumania, poland, etc.) while western german sounds very close to german (in terms of vowel pronunciation, etc.), eastern german does not – i used to try to compare vocab pronunciation with a german friend, and the closest comparison we could make is someone speaking a southern dialect of american english (e.g. south carolina, or alabama) talking with someone from australia – you have a lot of the same words, but with very, very different vowel pronunciations, and a good deal of different vocabulary because you have loanwords from different languages. don’t let this be misleading, though – while these examples are different dialects of the same language, both german and yiddish are unique languages, each with their own various dialects.

    bottom line, yiddish and german are not the same language – although they are both germanic languages. yiddish was the third most widely spoken germanic language in the world, behind english and german, prior to wwII. they are in the same language family just as hebrew and arabic are both semitic languages – this does not mean they are the same language written with different alphabets. but they evolved alongside one another, in a similar geographic area, and therefore have many similarities. the same can be said for the romance languages, sugh as spanish and italian, which both evolved from latin (amongst others, including french, portuguese, etc.), and do not have entirely separate alphabets, but certainly differing characters/diacritics. i have not studied german extensively, but i do know there are very different rules for constructions in german than there are in yiddish. (yiddish does not have the long compound words you’ll find in german.)

    i’ve already gone on too long, so in an attempt to avoid going into specifics about morphology and other areas i struggle to remember without consulting old textbooks, if you’re interested, i highly recommend anything on the topic by neil jacobs. a good start would be _Yiddish: a linguistic introduction_ By Neil G. Jacobs.

  • jenn

    oh dear, in the first paragraph, “western german” should be “western yiddish,” same for “eastern german” > “eastern yiddish” – sorry, it’s after 1am and i think i’ve stayed awake longer than i should have.

  • Maeve

    I just got around to reading this fantastic post. It brought back my German granny’s voice.

  • ShalomB

    Thanks so much–really appreciate the indicative remarks. If I get a taste for linguistic detail, I’ll check out Jacobs…

  • xxSay


    I wasn’t aware that there was only one case in Yiddish. It actually seems like a good idea not to have to worry about capitalization and focus solely on your words. Unfortunately for my brain, I grew up capitalizing English and adding in even more upper-case letters in my German writings, and although it’s a cool idea, I don’t think I could handle it. 🙂 Thanks for the info, however. It’s fun learning things like that and really, this site was made just for the purpose of doing so.


    Very well Ruby, (what luck for you that I learned something) I won’t reprimand you on that part of your post, but I still feel the need to call you on your attitude.

  • Baruch Atta

    “…draw you a map on a beverage napkin at a bar to show the 4 dialects of yiddish and how it evolved…”

    It’s one of those things that you knew existed but nobody ever mentioned – the four dialects of Yiddish. I never. But then, I can understand some Yiddish, but not all. Die Gemmora ist Bleib schwere.

    But I am interested – what are the four dialects of Yiddish?

  • stedgy

    did you know that schmackel means willy?

  • Sandy

    A word I use all the time is Shmei–meaning to shop, but not too seriously. ‘Shmeiing ” is sort of like window shopping, but you might buy something. That word has found its way into the vocabulary of all my friends-Jewish and not. My Hispanic co-worker asked me if I wanted to go shmeiing after work today!


  • alpna

    this is the best book for me but i want to see basic rules of grammer .which did’n i find.

  • jenn

    @ baruch atta:

    “It’s one of those things that you knew existed but nobody ever mentioned – the four dialects of Yiddish. I never. But then, I can understand some Yiddish, but not all. Die Gemmora ist Bleib schwere.

    “But I am interested – what are the four dialects of Yiddish?”

    the easiest way to explain without the ability to draw a picture is to have you imagine a rectangle – thinking of pre-wwII europe, on the left (west) is germany, on the right (east) is lithuania, romania, poland, russia, etc. the 2 main dialect groups are western and eastern yiddish, divided that way. i’m not as familiar with western yiddish because it is much closer to german in terms of pronunciations (as they evolved side-by-side) and we studied primarily eastern yiddish. i believe there are subdivisions within western yiddish, though, perhaps not as clearly differentiated as those in the east. within eastern yiddish, there are 3 major subdivisions: northeastern yiddish (which we studied, specifically – as spoken in belarus, russia, etc.), southeastern yiddish (more like what was spoken in the areas including romania), and central yiddish (spoken in the areas in between, including poland). along with the different dialects came different customs and cultural differences; this is similar to how in the united states you have american english divided, simply speaking, into 3 dialects* northern, central (or midland), and southern, but within each of those dialects there are sub-dialects (e.g. boston vs. brooklyn vs. minnesota in the north, washington dc vs. pittsburgh/appalachia in the midland dialect, or williamsburg va vs. tennessee vs. texas in the south).

    * NOTE: i used the 3 major geographic dialect groups, and did not include AAVE aka ebonics, for the sake of simplicity – not because i discount AAVE, but because it doesn’t fit perfectly into my analogy of yiddish vs. american english linguistic geography since it’s a different type of dialect group not bound by geographic constraints…

    hope that was helpful and not entirely confusing!


  • Big Steve from Houston (by Gawd) Texas

    Weigh two meny mispelings hear. BTW, Yiddish is empirically a language derived from German. There is no argument — even among those who profess to have college degrees on the subject. Sure, other stuff crept in due to emigration, immigration and the tight Jewish community. But just like Pennsylvania Dutch, like duh, it’s German.

  • jenn

    i DO have a college degree in yiddish. i’m not sure if you made it down to my most recent comment (in response to another commenter), but while yiddish is a germanic language (as are english, and swedish…), it is NOT derived from german. please look into finding books from an actual academic/linguistic perspective, such as _yiddish: a linguistic introduction_ by neil jacobs.

  • Robin

    @ AltMichael – “Finally, Yiddish is the only Germanic language that is not written in the Roman alphabet. It is written in the Hebrew alphabet. Writing systems have nothing to do with the origins or relatedness of languages.”
    The German language belongs to the indo-european language family and uses the Roman alphabet. Persian (farsi) is likewise an indo-european language; however, it uses the Arabic alphabet and in some regions the Cyrillic alphabet. Which does not detract from the main thrust of your argument, although your statement is incorrect.

  • Azar

    Fascinating! Thank you for all the comments here. I was under the impression that Yiddish not only iincluded German, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Russian, but also French – as the servants to the Russian court were Yiddish speaking Jews, and the Russian court spoke exclusively en Francais. Can you elucidate on the veracity of this point?
    Many thanks,

  • rebecca

    It was an interesting list of Jiddisch words and I have only one remake on the last word on your list. Jiddisch Kopf and Goyim kopf and want to remark, as a goy, that meanign of these words work for me the other way around. This sounds only fair I believe.;-)

  • call me Ishmael

    Some years ago I discovered that Gabby Hayes’ nickname, “Crazy Old Galoot” was derived from/related to Jewish peddlers in the West, living far from their families/synagogues, scratching out a living as the ultimate non-conformists to WASP culture, living in the /galoot/ (diaspora).

    Last night, after sundown, I watched Bogart & Bacall in “The Big Sleep” on our free netflix account. Suddenly I hear Bogie referred to as a Shamus/Shammus and thus recalled countless 30s to 50s movies and tv shows referring to private detectives and even occasionally to police with that term, and then the penny dropped: those guardians of law & order, truth, justice and the American way, were named after the guardian candle on the Menorah, the one that brings light to all the others, and to the guardian/ custodian of a synagogue.

    How many other hidden HollYiddishisms have we missed?

  • Lars H

    Great site and a very interesting discussion.
    @ Jenn . You wrote “yiddisch…it is NOT derived from german” and that sounds quite odd to me.

    When small groups of Ashkenazi jews settled in the Rhineland in the Middle Ages, they developed a Germanic language so close to German that anyone with knowledge of German – or any Scandinavian language (I am Swedish) – could grasp the content. I have also seen some yiddisch texts written in latin letters and it seems like the grammar is very close to German.
    If Yiddisch did not derive from German, either the German language derived from Yiddisch (which it did not, since German came to the Rhineland long before Yiddisch), or the two languages have different roots.
    But since the two languages seem to share grammar and most of the words I do not think that you can seriously claim that they have different roots, at least not from a linguistic point of view.
    So as I see it Yiddisch is a germanic language, it has derived from German and it has over the centuries evolved further away from German, both in spelling, pronounciation and by adding new loan words. Or did I miss anything?

  • Baruch Atta

    “Crazy Old Galoot”
    I can not imagine that galoot is related in Yiddish to “golus” (exile). I thought galoot was Irish.

    “Shamash” is Hebrew for servant. So, the candle in the middle of the menora is the servant for the other eight. The custodian of a synagogue is the servant to the synagogue. Shamash does not have the connotation of a slave/servant, it usually is more like “public servant”, i.e. police officer, mayor, teacher, etc. Therefore, as a metaphore, a PI is a shamash. Sort of.

    I can’t believe that this thread is still going. Enough with Yiddish already! Pick on Irish maybe?

  • jenn

    @lars – you are right, they are very similar in many ways, but that does not mean one was derived from the other. they evolved alongside one another in a particular geographic area. western yiddish (spoken in areas in and around germany) sounds much closer to german than central or northeastern yiddish (spoken in russia, lithuania, etc.) – same language, different dialects, much like the differences in pronunciation/vocabulary between alabama, and pennsylvania, and minnesota. german, yiddish, english, swedish, etc. are all germanic languages with many similarities in grammar, syntax, morphology, etc. just as hebrew and arabic are both semitic languages, and how italian, portuguese, spanish, and french are all romance languages. much as the romance languages all evolved from a common ancestor (latin), the germanic languages all evolved from an older, pre-german (or proto-german) language. to suggest that yiddish is derived from german is similar to insisting that french and spanish are derived from italian since latin was the language spoken in rome. a more accurate understanding is that these language families are made up of members who evolved alongside one another from a common ancestor, with many similarities in structure as a result of that commonality, however also many differences thanks to the geographic, cultural, and religious separation.

    i know i’ve said it before, but i really must recommend the works of neil jacobs, especially _Yiddish: A Linguistic Introduction_

  • Lars H

    @ Jenn: I’m afraid your our comparison Latin/Pre German doesn’t work, due to timelines. First, yes. At some point in history there was a common Proto Germanic language that later evolved into a number of different languages. But! 1000 years back (give or take a century), when the Jewish settlers came to the Rhineland, the majority population did not speak “Germanic” or “Pre German”. At that point the proto germanic language had since long already evolved into (very simplified) “Anglo-Saxon” (see Beowulf) “Danish Tongue” spoken in Scandinavia (Swedish has derived from this), “Gothic” (East Germanic, extinct today) and “Diutisc” Medieval German (Althochdeutsche) for “the language of people” (as opposed to Latin). So, when a small population, previously not very well known as speakers of any Germanic language, settles in a German speaking area where they become a very small minority, and they start to speak a germanic language, how could that language not be derived from the language of the majority?
    And further on, in the Middle Ages I have understood that Yiddisch was called “taytsh” (טײַטש), compared to “tiutsch” (the name om German had developed).
    This is not about history, culture or ethnicity, my view concerns only the linguistic aspects.

  • jenn

    sounds like you should read the book =)

  • Annabell_Leigh

    Thanks to Michael for the great post and thanks to all the commenters who provided additional helpful info.

    I’m trying to achieve authenticity in a Jewish character I’m writing. His father came to the U.S. from Poland when he was a little boy, after his grandparents were killed during WWII. My character grew up in New Jersey in a Polish immigrant community with a significant Jewish population.

    I use Yiddish in both his internal and external dialogue.

    Do you prefer to read Yiddish and/or Hebrew words that have apostrophes and other punctuation or the plainly-written words (as you see in Michael’s list above)?

    Does the spelling used, i.e. using the “s” version of a word vs the “z” version, have any significance and does it need to be consistent between different words? By way of example, the word “shikse” in Michael’s list can be written as “shiksa.” Would the character who used the “e” version of this word also need to use the “e” version of other words?

    I appreciate any thoughts you have. I also welcome links to online resources that might help me develop this character authentically.
    Thanks! Anna

  • Baruch Atta

    In English, you can read a misspelled word and still understand it. In Yiddish, you have to. That said, I would spell the words like this.

    baleboste – balabasta
    bupkes – bubkis
    kvetsh – kvetch
    mishegas – mishugas
    plotz – platz
    mishpocheh – mishpacha
    shlemiel – shlamiel
    shlimazel – shlamazel
    shikse – shiksa

  • JUNE

    Look, Yiddish is a simple cultural identity. When you’re traveling and you hear someone speak Yiddish (or Hebrew), I’ll bet it registers–whether or not you reply. You can call it slang. You can call it vulgar. You can turn up your nose or down your thumb. But you know what it is, and so do I. When Eastern European Jews were forced to flee (often), what did they take with them? The Torah, their fiddles, and Yiddish.

  • Barbara

    The Jewish side of my family comes from Odesa (Ukraine) and most of the above were used by my family on a daily basis, especially: (most of these will be misspelled, I never saw them written down)

    schmear (a touch of cream cheese or butter on bread or bagels)

    Svelt (curvy woman)

    kinna hera (some us it different but we used it like “she finally met someone/bought a house etc, kinna hera

    OyVey izmere (oh god, poor me)

    putz/schmuck, shmendrick: in other words, idiot

    chuzpa : brass ones! or spunk

    Mashuguna…went a little crazy, yenta: all up in your business

    Mamala: term of endearment towards a mother figure
    Bubula: same thing except this can be said to a man or Bubbee

    schiztke: we used as non jewish female (in Phila it kinda meant a jewish guy who dated but not married a non jewish gal)

    goyum: male non jew (my dad lol, mom was jewish, dad catholic)

    Schwartza: we only referred this for a black individual in a non derogatory manner. It was not a replacement for N

    Philadelphia Jews got along very well with the black community at the time I grew up because we had a lot of holocaust survivors and they felt like they understood discrimination and respected each other. I often saw Jews with numbers on their arms when I was young. Philadelphians just loved Sammy Davis Jr!

  • Robert Harvey

    This is a great site.
    I had numerous Jewish friends some years ago ’till I moved and lost touch.
    Their conversation was always sprinkled with Yiddish words that had me saying “What’s that mean? What’s that mean?”
    They thought I was meshuggenah.(spelling)

  • klaxon

    Many words seem to originate in the German language, or is it perhaps the other way round? 😉

  • David G.

    I also would say That Yidish comes from the German that is why you would say Vertashed in Yidish which meens Verdeutshed Take the word Disapointed in Yidish Enteushed which is German and also a lot of words come from Polish Shpilkis in Toches meening Pins up your behind

  • elzeide

    Perhaps Michael can confirm this.

    Meshigene or meshuga is an Hebrew word that entered German language.
    Perhaps it is not extremely common, but a german will understand meshuga, and that word came from hebrew (crazyness).

    A chilean writer (Dorfman) once wrote against cultural colonization from English to Latin America countries, but many years later he wrote that he was mistaken. Language interaction is a two way road.

    Jatima Tova al kulam !!!

  • Twist

    Yes toneii , Jews know exactly how to refer stuff to them self, like Homos, Jerusalem, their language etc.

  • Lars

    What about “mischmasch”?

    It’s a quite common expression in Swedish, and is used to decribe something that is messy, some sort of a mixup, a patchwork, a bad blending.

    I’m not sure whether this is a loan from Yiddich or from German – or both.

  • Fran Blaye

    I’m a shicksa, but have learned a great deal of Yiddish over the years, at least partly because I worked in theater for 10 years. Yiddish is definitely the 2nd language of theater, and the 1st show I stage managed was “Fiddler.” The cast was about 60% Jewish, and my Yiddish vocabulary grew by leaps & bounds.
    But I can never remember how to spell tchotchkes, which is how I found this site.
    Yiddish so incredibly descriptive that it often takes a full paragraph in English to define one Yiddish word. Niall’s post above on the definition of chutzpah is my favorite.
    And the slight, but definite distinctions between words like meshuggineh, mishegoss and meshugge. They all sort of mean crazy, but….
    For any of you who enjoy science fiction, there’s a wonderful book out there that uses a great deal of Yiddish. “Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction.” there are 13 stories, an introduction by Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison added a wonderful glossary of Yiddish words at the end. It was first printed in the 70’s, but sites like abebooks,com may have copies.
    Mazel Tov!

  • Gene Nielsen

    Is there any kind of relationship between Yiddish and Gaelic?

  • Shaine Maidel(ach)

    Fantastic site, wonderful contributors – so many meshugeners! so many mavens! Who knew? Can anyone tell me the origins of something that sounded like “lig eingelecht” meaning “put up with it”? My late mother used to tell a story involving this phrase which always had her creased up in laughter before she got to the end, but I never managed to find out what was so funny about it. And quite a lot of things had that effect on her, so it may remain unknown, and I may just have to lig eingelecht.

  • Peter

    Is there any kind of relationship between Yiddish and Gaelic?

    Very distant: they’re both Indo-European languages; there’s about 6000 years of language development between them, though.

  • Schedule

    Best you should edit the page subject The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know to something more generic for your webpage you make. I enjoyed the post still.

  • ShalomB

    I’m afraid it’s even more distant than that–at least according to most philologists & linguists; here’s a typical comment from

    “Hebrew is not an Indo-European language. It is part of another language group that has been called Hamito-Semitic but is now usually called Afro-Asiatic. The languages of this group include Arabic, Aramaic (the language of Jesus), Phoenician, Akkadian (the language in which ancient cuneiform texts were written), ancient Egyptian, Coptic, Somali, and many more.”

  • Lars

    @ShalomB. Hebrew is not an Indo-European language, but Yiddisch is. This is true, even if Yiddisch has borrowed many words from Hebrew.

    For obvious reasons we do not know how far back there was a shared Proto Indo-Germanic language (that later evolved into Gaelic, Yiddisch and other languages) , but 6 000 years as Peter suggests is perhaps correct.

  • Baruch Atta

    I was in the doctor’s office reading old copies of Reader’s Digest, and in one, the “Increase Your Word Power” quiz has all YIDDISH words! I guess RD ran out of English words to quiz on, and needed to use Yiddish.

  • Baruch Atta

    Gene Nielsen on October 21, 2010 4:05 am Is there any kind of relationship between Yiddish and Gaelic?

    Yes. It is the same as the relationship between Shlamazel and Shlamiel. See previous posts.

  • Lars H

    I have surfed around a bit looking for Yiddisch texts written in Latin alfabet, but haven’t been very successful. Anyone that could give any online – or offline – suggestions?

  • elzeide

    to Lars H on November 3, 2010 12:25 pm

    I’m not sure if you will find what you look for but you should visit “Mendele”, that is “the” Yiddish site on internet. I knew they used to have transliterated texts, but actually I never surfed Mendele.

    According to a definition, “Mendele is a moderated mailing list dedicated to the lively exchange of views, information, news and just about anything else related to the Yiddish … ”

    Good luck! Mazeltov !

    For Baruch Atta: what an emotive name you choose ! Congratulations!

  • Lars H

    @ elzeide

    Thank you for the link. I hadn’t seen Mendele before. Most Yiddisch texts are written in Yiddisch letters, but I have found a few transliterated texts, for which I am grateful

  • Simca

    Thanks for posting, we are orthodox and sometimes i don’t know how to explain the yiddish phrases or words to my friends, so i reccomend them to you! Also, some phrases i wasn’t familiar with, which is nice.


    -Simca Le’ah

  • cindy

    My everyday words huh-yo-who- knew

    21.oy vey
    Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement. When you realize you’re about to be hit by a car, this expression would be appropriate.

    To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly. When people “shlep around,” they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I’m the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home, I shlep it.

  • JZ

    Language lol
    Lovely language personaly. Would be nice more people command a comprehension of yiddish, and, we all know we command a comprehension 🙂


    There are many more forms of language such as body language, etc…

    I honestly have a deep emotional sense for spoken language yet fear the emotional bond/attachment is borne more out of my fear of the fetlocks/bondages of humans deciding to ground freedom with translation.
    Whenever I read this information I’m reminded of my awareness’ to the strong reality of my life being translated & vice/versa. I changed my name, in part, because my original name reminded me ‘What are you waiting for, the messiah? Hurry up!’ and the name change is my expression of I stopped questioning humans and moved into the next phase.

    Written language to me is a representation of raw creative power studied and then with minmal contamination communicated into visual form ‘I speak/see therefore the program has been executed’. I think this accutely with greek, etc… With the arrival of voice command… a thousand years anyone?

    Helpful to know yes! Explained why here.
    I’m just concerned a little help might be required protecting people with names newbies to a language might suddenly become suspicious of. Hopefully we have more heart to understand this point than the oil we use to.

    And with that my entire experience of yiddish changes again 🙂

  • JZ

    I know my statement verse slight from the sites purpose (hardly offered any necessary words), I just find my own domination of ‘the game of rock’ – ‘Life’ often bares result by adhereing to others rules. I must command a dominate european heritage through the protocols of europeans choices while living in australia.
    Helps me that much! 🙂
    (Heres) ” to my french girlfriends 🙂
    Dominating the competion ‘Translate Life’ is consuming, especial as a very expresive entity.
    I just find conversation with humans in all of this more effective subjected to spanish inquisiton protocol, and there is still way too much already here. Human difficulty I find is borne of humans explaining implied truth for all life and then freed to explore futher in the universes.

    Don’t like what I say… Think I really like the true fact spanish inquistion spirituality works for me… keeps paragraphs effective.

  • Barry Willig

    Schwarze and Weisse (white) if used interchangeably or to describe accurately one or the other are perfectly fine. Many older Germans and German-Americans recognize Yiddish from their youth. In Germany they were employed as shop terms or street slogans, and in pre-Pearl Harbor America they were well known to German-American youth who were taught how different they were from Jews in the atmosphere of the German-American Bund and Hitler’s radio speeches. As for Third reich-era young Germans who are now among the elderly in the U.S. or back in Germany and Austria, there are also the memories of Nazi propaganda applied to Jews and Yiddish-speaking Jews.

  • Jane Grodin

    I am a yiddisha maidela and grew up with grandparents who only spoke yiddish. My parents did not want me to have an accent so did notteach me yiddish. I understand many words but would love to speak it. I was the shana maidela of the family (beautiful girl)

  • Robert

    Your Yiddish isn’t quite right. Please consult with a Jewish authority next time you try a compilation like this.

    1. Speil isn’t from the German anything. The Yiddish and German words share a common root

    2. Kosher is from a Hebrew root meaning “proper.” It has nothing to do with orthodoxy in Judaism.

  • Lars

    Robert: Speil, or rather Spiel (my guess this is the word you refer to), is by origin a Germanic word well established in German and in the Scandinavian languages.
    But at the time Yiddish was created, this word had by far left the Proto Germanic era and was then a German, not a Germanic, word.
    Therefore I would say that Yiddish and German words does not share a common root, but Yiddish has borrowed the word from German.

    Regardless of anything, one must accept the fact that when Yiddish was created, the German language, as one of several versions of the Germanic language group, was already existing and separated from other Germanic languages. So there should be quite few words where Yiddish and German share the same root. If you think that is the case with “Spiel” please present facts to support that opinion.

  • elzeide

    As Robert correctly pointed out (Dec,10 2010) the explanation about kosher on the original post of this site must be corrected.

    Kosher means what is proper, and is used on the jewish dietary laws to separate what the jewish people can eat and what is forbidden to us. Despite of what is written on the initial explanation of Kosher, those laws are mandatory for all jews. For many reasons many jews don’t follow “kashrut” but the law exist.

    This custom, of ignoring the law, unfortunately repeats with other parts of the law, like working on Shabbat or during the Jaguim (high hollidays).

    Note: I’m not a “100% kosher” jew (sorry), neither I am a chacham, so surely you will find a much better explanation than mine in the future.

  • Ellen

    Thank you all so much for this site. I have it bookmarked now and will check in now and again to see what’s new.

    Thanks also to the poster who put up the link to Yiddish Language Lessons. I definitely intend to try it out.

    Yiddish along with Basque are languages that are very difficult to learn because so few courses are available and also they are very region specific dialects and difficult for beginners to get a handle on.

    Anyway thanks again. I have really enjoyed my time here.

  • elzeide

    To Ellen on December 17, 2010 6:07 pm and To Jane Grodin on December 8

    If you want to learn Yiddish, you should visit the website of the YIVO (or IWO). As they said in their webpage “YIVO continues to serve as the “world headquarters” of the Yiddish language.”. And besides IWO’s own classes, they surely know about classes at universities or other centers.

    Indeed it’s a difficult task for begginers, so Good Luck !!!

    YIVO page:

    I really love this “Yiddish Handbook” page, as it allows an easy and productive communication between Yiddish lovers.

  • Ruchie

    tchatchke – not to be confused with tsatske – Yiddish for bimbo…
    You might say: I picked up a few tchatchkes on my trip to Niagra Falls. Quite different from: I picked up a few tsatskes on my trip…

  • YakDriver

    I loved the post. I find it interesting, though, that so many people use the comments as a forum for written combat.

    It feels rather like the Alamo with people drawing “lines in the sand.” Accept that this was an attempt to share some cultural diversity and not an attempt to establish any racial superiority. I, for one, was pleased to read information that explained many of the Yiddish phrases that I’ve heard from Jewish friends. For that I offer my thanks.

    As for those who are so combative, give it a rest. I’m sure that your opinion MUST be correct because it is your opinion, but keep it to yourself. That way you can be secretly superior to the rest of us. It’s much more gratifying to know secrety you are superior than to expose yourself to the chance that others might not believe it.

  • YMedad

    Well, if you have tuches, you should have tsitskes (sing. tsitskeh), boobs, which should not be confused with tzitzes, which is a term for the small, under-the-shirt tallit Orthodox Jews wear, also called arba kanfos in Yiddish. Nor confuse it with tzaddik, who is someone who doesn’t quite know about tsitskes.

  • Baruch Atta

    YakDriver : concerning your post on Jan 8: Is that your opinion? Or is it a FACT?

  • Elisabeth Moses

    I’m interested in learning ho w to speak Yiddish. What would you suggest?

  • Tsada Kay

    Required reading for all smart-asses! Great list. Thanks!

  • Don Woods

    Yiddish: Mentsh
    An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.

    Mensch in German means human.

    Yiddish: Mishegas
    Insanity or craziness. A meshugener is a crazy man. If you want to insult someone, you can ask them, ”Does it hurt to be crazy?”

    Mischgas in German is often referred to laughing gas.

    There are way too many to add.

  • Jay Lewis

    I enjoyed reading the 40 yiddish words as well as the posts. . I understood there were two versions of Yiddish, the Spanish version and the German version. The German version was used by Jews during WWII because they were prohibted from using Hebrew. This version is universally used today. The Germans obviously accepted Yiddish as German, and never became the wiser. Yiddish in Isreal ism’t used like it is in Europe and the United States, and if it is, it is totally different.

    One good book you might want to read is “The Joys Of Yinglish” by Leo Rosten, and is 584 pages. I think it is available from Amazon.

    “Drop Dead” is a yiddish word, which means go to hell. The Jew who converted to Catholicism and became a priest, opened his sermon with “My fellow Goyim”.


  • Joster

    Hello. Is there a standardized spelling of Yiddish in Latin characters? I understand that properly written Yiddish is written in Hebrew characters. Obviously, there would be a lot of regional variation in a language spoken in such a wide area in Europe. Also, is there a geographical birthplace for Yiddish? I would suppose it would be somewhere in modern Germany?

    As for the many comments as to whether Yiddish is a Germanic language, or is derived from German is sort of a non-issue. Hochdeutsch was not standardized until the Nineteenth Century. The German language is still going evolving to this day. Prior to the political organization of Germany in the late Nineteenth century there was (and continues to be) a great deal of dialectical variation. The fact that Yiddish is written in Hebrew characters and incorporates loan words from Hebrew, Slavic languages, Romance languages, and others makes it more divergent from many other German dialects. At what point a spoken idiom is considered a language and not a dialect is largely abstract, political, and subjective.

    If Yiddish is rightfully a separate language (as I would consider it), it has just diverged from the Germanic “family tree” more recently than other Germanic languages such as English or Danish.

    In any case, I love Yiddish and love using many of the expressions and words found above. Thanks for a lively discussion!

  • Ogmios

    Self patronizing at the least.
    Yiddish is with no doubt an allegory of many languages however it is not an invention per se.
    It is the native tongue of the Khazar tribes that became the Ashkenazi.
    I can easily say “Good day” the implied sentiment is just that, to have a good day – Why say Shalom when I can say “Good day”.

  • Vic

    It’s curious how there can be no discussion of anything related to being Jewish without racist comments creeping in. What a shame.

    What began as an exploration of language ends up being a commentary for racist attitudes.

    Yiddish words come from a culture, not merely a language derived from other languages. Until WWIi there was a Yiddish culture. It was rich and thrived under circumstances less than ideal. Certainly, there are words of German origin (as well as Russian, Polish, Hebrew, and even English), but Yiddish words are colored by Yiddish culture.

    Is this threatening? It shouldn’t be.

  • Kate

    Can someone please explain the meaning of the word “sprinza” and I am definitely misspelling it. I’m guessing it is along the lines of Shickza but would appreciate knowing the real meaning of the word. I’m not even sure if it is Yiddish. However – any help is appreciated! Thank you in advance.

  • Ogmios

    Vic – The sad part about your comment is that it is you that introduce the thought of racism.
    Q. Are Jews a race? NO they are not – When did you lose your semitic connection/s – NB Jews are not Semitic in the main they are Turkic Finn aka White Fellas.
    Once again Yid is the native tonue of your Khazar fore fathers -FACT.
    So is there a Catholic race – NO.
    I have noticed that when a Jew feels threatened that racism and crazy come to pass.
    I wish the Torah followers all the best – As for Mishna we are all Goy.
    Now if separatism is not in fact racism what is?

  • Crystal Hicks

    I still haven’t gotten any information on the Yiddish word for “super salesman”. You know…the guy who could sell ice to Eskimos!! lol

  • mo

    One of the posters above mentioned that English hadn’t borrowed many words from Arabic–this is only half true. English has borrowed considerably from Spanish, though, which was occupied by the Arabs for some centuries and so we’ve gotten some words by proxy there, not dissimilar to picking up a bit of German by way of Yiddish.

    Algorithm, alchemy, alcohol, coffee, cotton, checkmate, elixir, hazard, mattress…

    It’s more that, like ‘maven’ and ‘klutz,’ they’ve been with us so long that we forget they’re borrowed.

  • mo

    (Gah. Please forgive the typos. It’s not even 6am here.)

  • Frisco Plumber

    Great information. I got lucky and found your site from a random Google search. Fortunately for me, this topic just happens to be something that I’ve been trying to find more info on for research purposes. Keep up the great work and thanks a lot.

  • Loretta

    When I became an Orthodox Christian, I was puzzled by one word I came across in my new parish: GOYA. I knew it wasn’t Greek because I had some reading knowledge of that language. It sounded Hebrew or Yiddish, but the ending was unfamiliar. I thought it might be Spanish; we have Spanish-speaking parishioners, and we Floridians eat the well known GOYA brand of black beans and other Spanish foods. It took a while before I found out that the GOYA our bulletin notices referred to meant neither Gentiles nor black beans, but the parish chapter of Greek Orthodox Youth in America.

  • Tony

    There are some Yiddish expressions that I remeber my parent using.

    One sounds like Tsei mish ca nar. I think it was part of a joke told by a jewish comedian. The last word is obviously the word for ‘fool’. The joke was about a speak your weight and fortune machine in a railway station. This man spent so long on the machine listening to the weight and fortune, because the machine was really accurate, knew all about him and kept asking for more money to finish off the fortune reading.
    Finally the machine says to him something like, your name is Eddy Goldstein, you live in Golders Green, your wife’s name is Sadie and <<>>, you’ve missed your train.

    Somebody tell me what it means, after all these years.


    I was born on the Isle of Skye 1938 and my first language was Gaelic. The people were very Pro Jewish probably because of the Old Testement,Icame to Glasgow at 17 and worked in a variety of jobs.I was bit down on my luck and living in a downmarket hostel when i got a job with a Jewish coalman in the old Glasgow Gorbals which had a big Jewish population.If it was a cash sale Abie would say gelt an fantesh.ITwas mostly the goyim who got credit although some Jews had accounts.They would take me to Geneens for salt beef and cabbage and i was happy although the work was very very hard.I still have a lot of Jewish pals and dear Micheal S ankey and I get shickered now and then He is a Holocost survivor and he is happy in this messugene velt.Mazel to all the Jews in the world and Israel. A L

  • IsraDane

    Regarding the English translation of ‘Kosher’, a better translation than ‘proper’, would actually be ‘fit’.

    Kosher food is ‘fit to eat’, and in Hebrew Cheder Kosher is a fitness centre, and a sportsman can be kashur (same root) for the next game, (fit to play, as in ‘not injured’).

    And for all the obsessive Jew haters here, who appear to prowl the net for any place where they can vent their hatred – go get something inserted up your tuches.

  • alex morrison

    A jew got converted to Christianity and became a minister he used to address his congregation as “my fellow goyim”

  • Papa97

    A real treat and so informative. I suspect like many who gravitate to this site I’m sure we all agree on how important language is. Many of us finding it’s root’s fascinating.
    In all the time I was enjoying the comments I could not shake a comment by Mike *19…… I’m not normally given to political outburst but my cage was rattled…
    ……’Yes, there is definitely overreaching by some Iraeli’s on the part of their neighbours’…..
    Is that what they call the blatant genocide of an ancient people these days where you come from Mike.. ‘overreaching’…..
    Will someone explain where this whole anti-semitic thing comes from since 85%+ of modern day Jewry are descendants of Khazars (7th Century Khazar king went eeny meeny mynee mo….Islam Christianity or Judaism……) with not a single drop of semitic blood in them. Oh.. by the way, the same lie’s that is the basis of the pretext of stealing Palestine.
    Here’s a couple of good words ‘spine’ and ‘accuracy’… So.. let’s ‘av it right shall we …

  • David Quin

    Fascinating list. I think these Yiddish terms have great energy and resonance for English speakers because they are ‘cousins’ of those English words that are derived from Anglo-Saxon.
    English is basically two languages joined together: Anglo-Saxon and French (and most English words come from French/Latin). The French and Latin terms are more abstract and generally those of an overclass (the Norman and French rulers of England). The Anglo-Saxon words are, in general, more earthy, emotional, onomatopoeic, and usually punchily monosyllabic: squelch, slug, stink (compare ‘odour’ from the French!) and so on.
    The Yiddish terms mainly seem to come from the same ancient word hoard, and thus they sound meaningful to us even when we don’t know their exact meaning.
    Add to that an injection of Jewish wit and humour, and you’ve got some gems!

  • IsraDane

    Papa97, can’t you just go hate somewhere else, Adolf? Why come to Jewish places to start with?

    And what ancient people? And what genocide? Had we been genocidal towards the Palestinians (a term invented in the 1950’s) it would have taken us about a week to finish.

  • TLM

    Grew up hearing Yiddish spoken by parents & grandparents, and the only word I never heard was your #1 on the list. I’m afraid I never heard “yiddishe kop” but recall hearing “goyishe kop” more than a few times to mean “idiot.”

  • Papa97

    Isra Firstly I didn’t realize it was ‘Jewish site’ and secondly I don’t hate anyone I was simply stating what I understand are facts. I’m sorry if you were offended. I have no beef with Jews, just the criminal Imperialist Zionist that have hijacked Judaism…..I have read ‘The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ and am under no illusions (as perhaps you may be considering simply mentioning a couple of facts get’s me called Adolf) about certain peoples intentions.
    Give it a name. My Arabic is scratchy but I’m know they had a name for the land. I’m talking about the people who have lived there for thousands of years not the racist dopplegangers that stole it.
    Your last sentence was very revealing. No… the world wouldn’t stand for you ‘to finish’… so you play the slow game as you always have. Pls… I’ve been to Israel… save it for the dumb Goy…
    I deeply apologize to anyone upset by my comments.

  • jenn

    anyone who comes to a site that is discussing yiddish and starts talking about israeli politics is obviously ignorant to what yiddish is. please take your arguments elsewhere – this is far from the place. unless you’re discussing shtetl politics in ashkenaz, that is. your hatred, bigotry, and ignorance have no place here.

  • elzeide

    to the urgent attention of the list moderators. This Pap97 is doing a lot of evil. First is telling plenty of lies. Consider that he pretends to know because he read “The Protocols”.
    Second he introduced a lot of hate in this basically “peacefull” list, and including comments that are completely off subject, that is “yidish”.
    Third, regarding the supposed sentence of the ex Tel Aviv mayor, I completely believe it’s a complete antisemite lie, exactly the same as infamous “The Protocols”. Also I couldn’t find references to it in internet.
    And finally he shouts so loud his incredibly hate, I’m sure he’s sick (of hate) and he should be expulsed from the site.


    When I first came to the big city 57 years ago and worked with Jews and amongst Jews I was not aware of any anti semitism. The Jews did there own thing worked hard and minded there own business.Today it is a different story with the Asians and I do not mean the Hindus or the Sikhs but the Muslims who take the slightest thing as an affront to Islam.In one of Glasgows oldest Catholic school which has a large Pakastani attendance they objected to to a statue of the virgin mary in the foyer as an insult to Allah It beggers belief.Britain is now sending millions of pounds to Pakistan in aid where the only christian member of parliment was assasinated.The mullahs are allowed to preach hate and promote terrorism burn our national flag in the street.Iam sure there are many decent peace loving muslims but a stand must be taken against the vermin radicals.If they do not like it here go back to Afganistan,Libyia or whatever uncivilised backward hellhole they want to where they wont get hard working taxpayers keeping them in benifits.Iam so angry at people like that sleazy lowlife scumbag MP toches lecher George Galloway who targets the Muslim vote by cosying up to the likes of Ghadaffi and the unlamented Saddam Hussein.may he burn in hell.I am not a racist but I am sick of it all and wonder what is going to become of our civilisation.

  • elzeide

    As you clearly affirm (even before my first word) taht I will loose, is clearly a demonstration of your health.
    Just the fact that you mention “The Protocols” as a valid source after one hundred years that only people who hate jews believe on it, but not normal people, relieves me of trying to answer you.
    Then you make a difference between “rank and file Jews” and “criminal Zionists”. This is enough, and you don’t deserve any answer.

    Many jews were assasinated or died on fire trying to show the truth to people like you, during 500 years of Spanish Inquisition and before. Millions died at the hands of people following your type of thinking during the German nazi regime, in the Russian and Poland pogroms, the jews murdered by the Cruzaders, and also the jews murdered by the muslims. And countless more.
    However as you believe you are the owner of the truth.
    So I beg to you to take off your lenses and go learn the real story.
    And I insist to the list moderators, to forbid you from accessing this thematic list.

  • elzeide

    Papa97, while I was writing my comment, you vomited a lot more hate. I guess on my first answer to you. You’re full of hate.
    Look for medical advice, before going learn history.
    May be this will help you.
    And you insist that I go and read The Protocols. Are you insane or what???

  • Lars H

    Papa97. I don’t know about other countries, but very few Swedes would ever embarrass themselves by claiming that “The Protocols” in any way was a factual document.
    Like you, I have read it and it should be obvious to anyone that “The Protocols” is a product of someones imagination.
    And I might add since it is not written in Yiddish, it is a bit off topic 🙂

  • Papa97

    Anyone noticed not one person has said a word about the disgraceful comments of Israeli leaders… that should set alarm bells off with any sane person…. but no.. not one……Your arrogance is stunning and you have the effrontery to accuse ME of hate…… oh dear oh dear…. Same M.O… every single time…. attack the messenger….. By the way I’m a Prof of History and Comparative Studies for over thirty years and my information is gathered from a lifetime of academic study…. not the idiot box….Oops… Time will tell….

  • jenn

    for someone who claims to be educated, you are extremely ignorant regarding yiddish. if you didn’t notice, this is a page about yiddish. not israel. not middle eastern politics. yiddish, the language and culture of jews in ashkenaz, an area which encompassed most of europe, stretching west to germany (austria, hungary) and east to belarus, romania, etc. during an extended time period pre-world war I.

    this is not the appropriate outlet for your ranting. please excuse yourself – as an educated person, one would think you would be able to find a more suitable venue.

  • josh

    i think its a really good website

  • Papa97

    Yes… hands down.. your right, this is not the appropriate place but as I said earlier someone rattled my cage. Education has nothing to do with it. I am human with humane feelings and being called Adolf for stating a simple fact just got my goat. I keep coming back here out of optimism I guess just hoping someone might say ‘Aw shucks.. maybe your right about Sharrons comment about rape etc …. but can you shut up so we can get on with the Yiddish…’ I would have some respect for that and I would have done just that… But no…. the muck just keeps on getting brushed under the carpet… and frankly I’m sick to my stomach with it.
    Seriously though.. don’t you get it. It’s only human to vent through frustration. I didn’t stop to think where I was. When one see’s image’s of screaming children scared to death after their father has been shot in front of them preceding their house being bulldozed flat…or to once again sit and listen to Mark Regev and his sickening lies when we know Mossad had seven specific targets for execution on the recent aid floatila……. it kind of sticks in the craw…. get it ?
    But you should know…. the parties over… People ARE waking up so I should expect some more ‘inappropriate’ (ahhemm) responses… Adios amigos..

  • Papa97

    It took a while for the penny to drop.
    You were ALL right. What I said was inappropriate and my words here are not going to be sufficient to communicate how infantile I feel I’ve been. Not very smart was I ?
    I”m sure there’s a whole series of Yiddish words that say it well, as only Yiddish can. Feel free !!!
    I am sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings which I know I have and I ask your forgiveness.
    It won’t happen again.
    With your permission I’ll excuse myself from the site.

  • sima

    my grandmother tought me when my mother yelled at me Farmakhen de pisk, lozen shtil- close your mouse , be quite

  • wildasthewind

    RUBY…. If what you say is true, that yiddish is German and it was stolen from them, Then wouldnt yiddish be german, and then why speak yiddish, if its german. just speak german….
    It is not a stolen language from the germans… it is a mix of german ,polish, russian… and is uniqully jewish….. one of the only languages most jews can speak to one another with, and be understood… unless they speak hebrew… not all speak hebrew… yiddish is almost universal…….

  • Jack

    I’ve just spent an enjoyable hour reading this thread from start to finish. I’ll ignore the silly politics and get back to how this started, just with some love of the language.
    One addition, that surprisingly hasn’t been mentioned so far, is “Lansman,” as in a greeting to a fellow speaker of the language, or countryman.
    One modification I’ll offer is for my very favorite Yiddish word, “kvell.” One reader said it meant swell with pride, which, to my knowledge, is true as far as it goes, but, the extra kick that makes it a favorite is my understanding that it is almost always used to mean to swell with pride at the accomplishments of your child — a lovely and unique Yiddish word indeed.

    One disagreement is with the contributer who felt that “svelt” was a Yiddish word. I checked a dictionary and believe it is French. But perhaps the contributer had an experience similar to my mine, where the word was always used by a Yiddish parent and therefore sounded Yiddish. My similar experience was with the word “tumult'” which I was thoroughly convinced for year was Yiddish since my parents would always talk about some big tumult going on, putting their inflection on the word (which I incidentally never heard used by someone who was not Jewish). Thus a question for the many linguists out there: Is there a name for this psychological phenomenon?
    Thank you for this lovely site.

  • Jim Lacey

    Alas, the quintessential New York accent (think Archie Bunker) my father spoke is fast disappearing. Every New York neighborhood usta have a kosher deli–even the part of Bay Ridge I grew up in which was 90% Irish and 10% Norwegian. At least fifty Yiddish expressions was the inheritance of all native New Yorkers. I’ll add a favorite of my own “zoftig,” usually referring to a well-endowed woman, literally juicy, I believe. In German apple juice is Apfelsaft and saftig means juicy. Many native New Yorkers still speak with an unconscious Yiddish lilt.

  • Anne

    Although “Bubele” seems derived from bubbe, it is usually use in referenced to females younger than the speaker. It’s source is the Hebrew word Boobah which means doll.

  • Jan

    I was born in the Rhineland and remember well how my grandparents’ speech was peppered with words that appear in the list that started this post. Schlamassel (current German German spelling) is used to the present day, but not to refer to a person, but to an unfortunate situation, like when a new soccer coach is hired to pull a team out of the Schlamassel it’s in. Any comment?

    On another note: My grandmother used the word Stiewel (pronounced ‘steevel’) to refer to a state of disorder, like the mess in a room that had to be cleared up. It always sounded Yiddish to me, but I have not found it in any compilation. Again, any comment?

  • Jan

    Correction: Stiewel is pronounced “shteevel”.

    Has anyone mentioned “tacheles”? Used to the present day in Germany, as is in “I have to talk tacheles with him”–meaning “I have to read him the riot act”.

  • pigeonca

    Interestingly, I have always heard Yiddish words that end in “a” elsewhere ending in “ie” where I grew up: mezzuzie instead of mezzuzah, schmattie instead of schmatta, etc. Having moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, I recently learned that these “ie” endings are native to Chicago, which I find really fascinating. Here is a European language with a Chicago variant. Pretty cool, huh?

  • barbara harshav

    in modern hebrew slang, “shvitz” means to brag; a “shivitzer” is an arrogant braggart.

  • Karen

    My dad used to use kibbitz to describe sitting and watching someone else play pinochle. He also used it to describe someone’s way of sitting at your dinner table uninvited and commenting on the food. It was not a compliment.

  • Naftali Arik

    This article has it wrong about treif, which means “torn” and refers to meat that is not properly slaughtered by is killed by “tearing.” Shrimp are not treif, because they could never be kosher. But a cow that has been run over by a truck is treif.

  • LittleBird

    In my family (or maybe this is specific to London…I don’t know), we predominantly use schlock to mean “messy” or “an untidy person”. Anyone else know anything about this?

  • Will

    I checked into this site because I am trying to recall the word that I used to hear growing up in NY which referred to any one of the following categories (generally applied to a man, I never heard it applied to a woman): a strict boss, someone hot-tempered, a “prick”, if you will. Not that I plan on using it, mind you! Any ideas?
    Fascinating dialogue, despite some of the irrelevent and attention-grabbing hate speech. Ruby, your comment re stealing language was shameful and totally incorrect. Listen to Jenn already, she’s the voice of reason.

  • Bibby

    You missed the most important one:

  • candy

    How do you spell the world phonetically pronounced “Zi-rah-zi or Tsi-rah-zi” meaning like a bum, sleaze, loser?

  • Me

    The reason the ‘bubele’ is not in the dictionary is because, in Yiddish, the suffix ‘ele’ is a diminutive and a term of affection. So, for example, ‘meidel’ means ‘girl’ meidele’ means ‘little girl’ or is something you would call a girl affectionately.

  • Helma

    Me June 7, bubele is an affectional word for a young boy, when approaching him or talking about him. It is a normal word spoken in the south-german language, although never spoken in the north-german language.

  • careful

    Really enjoyed the definitions and had a few laughs too. Was curious and glad to come across this.

    Be careful of those who claim to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, because usually they are not. They are usually caustic people who choose to spread lies to others and twist the scriptures. They have given in to satan.

  • Jared

    I’ve never heard most of these words and yet “schlep” wasn’t in here. I don’t understand.

  • Josh

    Really enjoying the Yiddish words and the linguistic conversations. (not a fan of the politics/hatred/anti-anyone stuff)

    Will, perhaps the word you’re thinking of is “Putz”? Not a polite word (as I believe it’s one of the many Yiddish words for male anatomy) –but could definitely be used to describe a fool or a jerk

    Crystal, I’m not sure what the term would be for a “super salesman” but “Shyster” might be the term used for a con-artist who could sell ice in winter.

    A note about an earlier comment — the term Mazel Tov is generally used to express congratulations –but one of the beautiful things about Yiddish (IMHO) is that it can also be said sarcastically. So sometimes it can mean “that’s just great for you – you must be so thrilled –Not!” as in: “Your daughter is marrying a shvartza/Your son is marrying a shiksa — Mazel Tov.”
    (come on folks –if we’re truly interested in an honest discussion about how Yiddish is used, let’s be frank — “shiksa” and “shvartza” and others have been used in the past with negative connotation. Not suggesting it’s appropriate to continue to do so — but let’s not pretend to be surprised!)

    Thank you for this site — peace to all.

  • me

    In Brooklyn, all the hushed comments about “shvartzers” led to the inevitable talk about all the “vicers”, since the shvartzers might have figured out we were talking about them.

  • bert

    Oy vey already ! (Well, more in the sense of amazement !)

    This site is just loaded with amazing stuff !!

    It’s just a pity that I never have time to read it all 🙁

    Fantastic site !!

    Vielen dank 🙂

    Arigatou gozaimashita 🙂

  • jessiethought

    Wow. Really interesting. I didn’t know klutz was Yiddish.

  • Vendulka

    My mother tongue is Czech.

    “Kibbitz” (or “kibic” in Czech) is used in exactly the same meaning in Czech you say it does not have in English – it is used for someone who is giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game 🙂

    It sometimes goes in phrase “Kibic pod stůl” (“Kibbitz, go under the table” or “Kibbitz belongs under the table”).

    We also have a verb “kibicovat” which means “giving unwanted advice” (not only about a game but generally).

  • MikeCG

    “Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods” by Michael Wex is a great audio book (available from,, which owns, and probably elsewhere; download it to your iPod). It is also available in hard copy, but to listen to Wex speak the language provides a dimension one can’t get by reading a written text. His explanations of Yiddish origins are erudite and enlightening. Try it, you’ll like it!

  • Harv

    Brand new audio self-learn Yiddish or Hebrew for beginners.

  • Richie

    As a young boy, my siblings and I would sit in the back seat of the car on one of the many long drives into the country we would do on weekends. We tended to bother poor Dad quite a bit, so one thing we always got from him just as the good natured bothering commenced was “Don’t huk mik chynik” which sometimes broke down into a simple “don’t huck me to death” or something. To me, it always sounded like he was saying “huk a mecka chinika” I never quite understood it. I was like 5 at the time. Does anyone know the actual phrase? What does it mean? Something to do with being a nudnik I bet.

  • Alice Spacey

    I am an A level student at a high school in England and am currently writing a short story for my EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). The title of my piece is “A short story exploring the life of a homosexual German-Jewish immigrant living in America during the 1950s”.

    This page has been very useful at giving me Yiddish phrases. However, I would like to know if anyone would be willing to read through my work and tell me if I’ve used words/phrases in the right context.

    If you wish to contact me could you please first reply on here, if you’re intersested, and then we can work on it from there.

    Thank you very much, again, for posting this online. And thank you for your time for reading this comment.

  • Yiddishe Kop

    To Richie on July 22, 2011

    What you’re refering to is the phrase ” Hack nisht kien tchienik”, which means “stop bothering”, and is sometimes used in another phrase with the same meaning ” Drie nisht kien kop”.

  • Harv Mayerowicz

    First of all, I grew up in a home where my parents spoke Yiddish to my sister and me, but we answered just in English. I am 65 years old and have not heard much Yiddish in decades, so I can barely understand let alone speak the “mama loshen” (mother tongue).
    To address, the pedigree of Yiddish, let me say, that while it did begin as middle ages High German, it adopted words from each country where Jews lived. As a result, many speakers of many tongues can recognize words from their languages. I absolutely loved the observation by Robert Aitchison (#11) who said that Yiddish is middle age Ebonics. This was true for all Yiddish speakers until today.
    To the person, arguing about the theft of words from other languages, then as English speakers, we must admit to the same thievery. One of the reasons English is so difficult to master is its inconsistent and limited rules. The reason for this is that English is the mutt of the language kennel. We have adopted (stolen) words and rules from almost all the languages and language groups of Europe. This includes all the Romance languages including Latin. We have also stolen from the Greek, Scandinavian, Slavic language groups and others. In fact, I submit we are the most prolific language thieves in the Western world. So any carping about the lack of pedigree for Yiddish is due to a lack of understanding, or perhaps something more odious.

  • Yiddishe Kop

    A most interesting sign appears in Brooklyn just as you leave the Williamsburg area, going onto the Williamsburg Bridge which goes to the East Side/Manhattan. It says “Leaving Brooklyn? Oy Vey !!”.

  • Alison Lardner-Burke

    If a schmuck is male anatomy, is a schmeckle what I think it is ..
    A South African , bluegum expression that caused my dad lots of angst when I used it , but being an anglo saxon victorian he could never bring himself to translate.
    Even Jews I know here in Australia dont know what it means….!

  • Hittocere

    Wow… it just occured to me how many of these I remember hearing in the movie “Grumpy Old Men” and its sequel “Grumpier Old Men”. It just makes me laugh thinking about how many times the word Schmuck is used in it. Thank you for posting this.

  • Dave

    Regarding “tachles” – thanks to Jan on May 15, another meaning is “to get to the point”, so “talking tachles” means “talking business”.

    I did not find in the whole discussion two Yiddish pearls – shlumper and bekitzer.
    The former is an untidy unkempt person, sometimes a child of wild disposition (“Oy vei, you look like a shlumper! Tidy up right away!”

    The latter is deriver from Hebrew – bekitzur – “in short”. Rather synonymous with “tachles”.

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  • joe schrank

    Yiddish is nowhere near ebonics, ebonics is just plain ghetto and useless.

  • Yiddishe Kop

    bekitzur is really not a Yiddish word, it stems from Lushen H’akodesh , but is used very often when speaking Yiddish.

  • IIL

    A few corrections:
    first- about the Word “KIBITZER”
    it has nothing to do with KIBUTZ (Except for the root which does imply gathering – for hebrew speakres)
    In Yiddish it is a name for a begger (one who asks for handouts- trying to put two pennies together)
    – in Yiddish slang it also means for a guy begging for attention and thus allways sticks his nose in, and gives advice.
    and Naftali Arik- strictly speaking U R right: shelfish are “SHIKUTZ” or “SHERETZ” and not “TREIFE”, but “TREIFE” as the opposite of “COSHER” is generaly and widely acceptable.
    I liked the article

  • N. Goldstock

    Has anyone ever heard the word “Choydamakis” or “Hoydamakis”?
    At least that is how it sounded when my mother spoke it. It means a low-life or redneck or generally uncouth person/people.

  • Mark_W

    Growing up in the NYC metro area in the 60s, enjoying Jewish comics and sharing school classes with Jews, I would have expected that Yiddish expressions could be tossed about cheerfully alongside German ones. I found it not to be so. I was subject to suspicion and correction by kids who thought they owned these phrases. Gott be danken those days are gone! The great power of American English is its lack of an ‘academy’ to instruct us on what is and is not a word or phrase we may adopt for common use.

  • Christopher

    We goyim just adore how that word translates to “animals”. Charming appelation for the chosen people to give to the rest of us.

  • Chris Yost

    Sorry, but you have one error so far that I’ve seen. In “Star Trek III”, Kirk does *not* say “Schmaltz” at all. He is repeating what Captain Kruge said when he beamed everyone but himself, Kirk, and Spock to his ship. The remaining Klingon crewman aboard was named “Matlh”, pronounced “Maltz” to our ear.

    In Klingonese, he said, “Matlh! jol yIchu’!”, which translates into, “Maltz! Activate beam!”

    Sorry, no Yiddish in that movie.

  • carloscelistorres

    6.- it rebs der gantze megileh … that tells the whole story …
    7.- a nar bleib a nar … a fool remains a fool
    8.- azoy brocht der kiegel … that is the way the cookie crumbles

  • Peter Leighton

    My Mum was English and brought up in an Irish/jewish neighbourhood in England in the 1930’s/40’s. Reading this I was amazed how many of these words I knew and had just never questioned where they came from, straight from my mothers childhood playing with Jewish kids from her neighbourhood…I never realised that till today…thankyou.

  • Derek

    N. Goldstock on September 15, 2011 wrote “Has anyone ever heard the word “Choydamakis” or “Hoydamakis”? At least that is how it sounded when my mother spoke it. It means a low-life or redneck or generally uncouth person/people.”

    The haidamaks were paramilitary peasant bands, mostly Cossack, in Ukraine in the eighteenth century. Very like Chmielnitski (yemach shemo). Your mother was spot on.

  • Tzvi

    Written very well, as fact I am Jewish and actually Chabad where Yiddish would be a second or third language (the other would be Hebrew)

    *Yankel Todris* : a random name used for Anonymous.
    *Kaput* : finished as in ‘I walked so much, my feet are going Kaput!’
    *Kaput Gemacht* : totally finished.
    *Alter Kaker/Terach* : Old Fart
    there are much much more sharp words in Yiddish..

  • Barruy Koblentz

    The ultimate yiddish word is ungapochked. eg her furnishing are ungapchked(overdone). The other one is chutzpah. Nerve is saying to a guy “I slept with your wife”. Chutzpah is saying to a guy “I slept with your wife and she is lousy in bed”

  • a1830

    I grew up and live in the Brooklyn hassidic community and yiddish. It’s so interesting to read all the comments and words that some of you have added here. I like the translations! Although, some words are hard to define because they are slang and you need to know where it makes sense to use them.

    To clarify the word ‘shvartze’=black. We do use it to describe a black person. Thats it. I don’t know why people like to think its a derogatory word. It’s definitely not instead of the word N.

    Goy is a Hebrew word. You can find it in the Torah. The real definition is ‘nation’. The Torah can refer even the Jewish people as ‘goy’. We use it as a non-jew, meaning a person from a different nation. It’s not supposed to be derogatory either. Goyta, means a female that is a non-jew. Hebrew words finish differently when used for a male, or female.

    Shikse, is to define a non-jewish female, can be used as someone not modest… “She looks like a shikse.”

    What about ‘hak nisht in kup’?

  • Roberta

    @a1830 on December 21, 2011 1:36 pm …. re: What about ‘hak nisht in kup’? Doesn’t that mean: “don’t you have anything in your head?” or simply “are you empty-headed?”

  • Roberta

    btw: love this site… I can almost hear my (deceased) parents talking to me! definitely a ‘warm-n-fuzzy’…. thank you.

  • Andrew

    Thanks for the site.

    Many Yiddish terms are used in German conversation, especially those of us who speak the dialect of our parents. My dad loved the Yiddish speaking Indians in “Blazing Saddles”.

    I am looking for proper spelling of the word “Kvatchz” or “Kavatch” which means “nonsense”.

  • Claudia

    Has anyone ever heard the term cumma lemma like a schulb not very motivated person. Maybe I am spelling it wrong, would love any input. Heard it a lot growing up from my Jewish relatives.

    Thanks, Claudia

  • Nelida K.

    Thanks to Michael for posting this, and to all the other commenters and contributors who added to the original list (excluding of course the racist, uncalled-for snide remarks: this is a website about LANGUAGE, if you hadn’t noticed).

    To me, this was like meeting with friends whom I had not seen in a long time. I grew up in a Jewish home and used to speak and read Jewish and Hebrew fluently (and translate from the latter into the former as I read: cannot imagine how I did it, at the age of 11!) all of which is forgotten by now. I married outside my faith but always remained close to, and proud of, my heritage.

    Regarding Mazeltov, although “Good luck” is an appropriate translation, I sense it is offered more in the vein of “Congratulations”, as it is, indeed, a celebration of something good, or a festive occasion, that has happened to the individual it is said to.

    My two cents: “yeshive bocher” (both words from Hebrew), meaning those youths (male) who spent all their waking hours studying the Old Testament and Jumesh and Tanaj, the compilation of comments of rabbis and learned men.
    And, I don’t remember if anybody included it, but “bris” is the name given to the ceremony of circumcission.

    What I wanted to comment is that the influx of Yiddish words is so much more significant into English than it is in Spanish, my native tongue. With the exception of very few words, as for instance tuches, yarmulka, bris, Spanish has not incorporated much from Yiddish. Perhaps the size of the Jewish communities in Latin America may have something to do with it, or even the structure of the Spanish language. This leads me to the observation made by someone that Ladino is a “funny language”. I don’t really see how it is “funny”. Ladino is nothing but Middle Ages Spanish (of about the time Jews were expelled from Spain).

    @Roberta: “hak nit in kop”: literal translation is “don’t hit me on the head” and we used it as “don’t try my patience” or “don’t insist” “stop bothering me”, “enough already”.

    And to close my comment, Merriam-Webster (and many other dictionaries as well) has incorporated as parts of the English language and vocabulary, many words originating or borrowed from Yiddish and acknowledged as such in its etymology.

  • Carlo

    Please note that the Yiddish “meshpucha” (family) is not the equivalent of the Maori “mokopuna” as the latter means grandchild.

  • Xevioso

    Where does the word “ditz” come from? Is this a Yiddish word or is this Yiddish?

    Specifically, it is a derogatory word used to refer to certain women, namely, someone who is flaky or an airhead.

    As in, she’s such a ditz. I hear this all the time; it’s slang but I never knew if this was a Yiddish word or not. It sure sounds like one.

  • Lydia aka Libbeh

    Best Yiddish curse I heard – ‘zul em vaksin a burekeh en boych un zel er pishen borscht’ – translation – he should grow a beet in his stomach and he should pee borscht. Doesn’t get any better than that.

  • Leah

    You describe “kosher” as:

    “Something that’s acceptable to Orthodox Jews, especially food. Other Jews may also “eat kosher” on some level but are not required to.”

    You must be a goy to say that. ALL Jews are required to keep the mitzvahs. All Jews are commanded to be Torah observant. There’s no such thing as ‘Orthodox Jews and other Jews’. There’s either Torah observant Jews or non-observant Jews.

  • ron

    The schlemile spills his soup
    the Sclamazle spills his soup on himself
    the schmegeggie spills the schlamazel;s
    soup on the schlemile and himself

  • Dale Fedderson

    “Oy, gevalt!” when you are about to be hit by a car. “Oy, gestalt!” when you are about to be hit by a whole new concept of reality.

    Joke courtesy of my half-japanese, half-mexican brother Rick. Yiddish gets around. (He later married a nice Jewish girl, so I guess he saw it comming).

  • Ed

    Nice of you to compile this list, but I can tell you just from looking it over quickly, there are mistakes here.


    Kibbitz and kibbutz are totally unrelated.

    Schmitzig is not a current “derivation” of Schmutz. It’s simply the adjective and has been around forever.

    There are lots more mistakes, and I hope you eventually correct them

  • Ed

    Hi Alice Spacey,

    I could help you, but you should know that a German Jew would not be using the Yiddish words on this list. German Jews spoke a Judaeo-German dialect among themselves or spoke only German. The Judaeo-German words are little-known in the US, but many are related to Yiddish; however, they are pronounced very differently. There is a book that goes into all of this, written by Werner Weinberg, a German Jew. It is written in German.

  • Blair Feinman

    Yiddish actually got its start and its greatest level of creative growth in the Netherlands NOT Germany. Most people do not know this. The Dutch Jews invented the Yiddish that spread to Germany.

    Yiddish is a separate language from German linguistically. There is absolutely no evidence that Germans lent words to Yiddish. Its the other way around. When the Jews moved into Germany in the 8th and 9th Century AD to set up a civilized network of stores and towns – the “german people” were illiterate to a man. The Jews set up the first language schools.

    The national German tongue we know today borrows about 20% from its Jewish roots. (that’s what got the nazis so upset) they wanted to destroy the true origins of German society and any historians or evidence that contradicted their new “made up story” of German history. (now you know what really happened)

  • Alexander

    Terrific list! Am familiar with — and use — many of them. However, including pronunciation would be appreciated.

  • Bina

    The word mishpokhe for family also exists in modern German today (=Mischpoke). It has a bad connotation and refers to large families – usually of “foreign” origin. Maybe it is because families with many children are not very common in Germany so that people are prejudiced?! I don’t know. It does not refer to Jewish families in particular – it is also used for German “clans”. Personally, I have never heard this word being used in a positive or neutral context. Additionally, I would doubt that most Germans know that it actually means “family” and is Yiddish.

  • Bina

    BTW: “The Meaning of Tingo” by Adam Jacot de Boinod is a great book! It lists and explains words used in other languages that English has no equivalent for.

  • Robin

    Perhaps this is nuanced, but Yiddish generally is. Yiddisher kop goes beyond just a “smart person” to mean a “logical, or clever person.” When someone takes the ordinary and is creative with it — and they are Jewish — they’ve got a Yiddisher kop. Goyisher kop, is not a stupid person as much as one that is not logical — clumsy of thought.

  • Mirel

    I must say, had a great time reading through the site- despite the occasional unworthy post. Years ago when I took a year of Yiddish in college we were told that modern German and Yiddish both developed separately from Middle German, and of course, Yiddish also incorporated many words from and expressions from Hebrew and Aramaic and the various places where Jews were scattered…

    Regarding Mazal Tov (actually Hebrew) while its literal meaning is good luck, it is actually used for congratulations. If you wanted to wish someone luck in some endeavor or the other, you would say something along the lines of “zei mit mazel”

    If I’m not mistaken, “hock” actually means hit. “hock mir nisht in kop (arein)” loosely translates as leave me alone, stop bothering me but literally is closer to stop banging away at my head. The “chainik” is a tea kettle (from Russian chai, or tea), so that expression would literally mean don’t bang the teakettle, and would loosely translate again as stop bothering me or let it rest.

    As someone pointed out, the term “goy” is from the Hebrew and means nation. There are various Biblical passages referring to the Jewish people as “goy” as in the exhortation to be a “goy kadosh” a holy nation. Usually, when used to refer to a single individual or in the plural form of goyim, it refers to a gentile or gentiles. Shegitz (pronounced shay-gitz) is a Yiddish term meaning the same thing. Both terms are neutral in connotation. What makes the term derogatory (or not) is tone of voice. Perhaps an English speaker who only uses Yiddish to express strong feelings might save it for a derogatory use, but among Yiddish speakers, it is neutral. If your next door neighbor is a gentile- you could say “Ich wohn neben a goy/shegitz,” and all it means is that you live next to a gentile. If he was an s.o.b, you’d probably add a nice juicy adjective before the noun.

    Unfortunately, the reality of Jewish diaspora experience was often harsh and full of mistreatment by their gentile neighbors, which may be why there are many cases when the term is not used lovingly. However, there are good and bad people among any and every race, nation, people whatever. And therefore just as there are good and bad Jews, there are good and bad goyim and shegitzes (and goytas and shiksas).

  • Jack

    Mishpokhe (pronounced: mish-pa-kha) is from Hebrew, meaning family, so it is interesting if that word is also used in German.
    Goy is also from Hebrew and literally means nation. The people of ha’goyim, the nations, of the world, were gentile, vs. ha’goy Yisrael (the nation of Israel) and thus, goy became a word to describe gentiles.
    Bris is the Ashkenaz way of pronouncing the Hebrew word brit or brith, and literally means covenant. The Bris Mila is the covenant of the circumcision, shortened to Bris in everyday language.
    I was going to comment about the word ‘treyf’ but someone else already handled that very capably. Glatt is another word that is sometimes used mistakenly. Some think glatt kosher means very kosher, but it actually refers to the the condition of the organs (lungs) of a slaughtered animal. After slaughter, the lungs will be inspected to ensure they are smooth (glatt) and not treyf (torn or ripped)
    On another note, it is amazing how antisemitism creeps into discussions like these and even more amazing how such haters try to justify their hate.

  • Doug Ross

    Oy vey! Our family used to make up words no other families knew or used – like, was some group of people sitting around and someone suddenly said, “Oy vey”! And another said, “man, that really sounds like it stands for “woe is me”. But, truthfully, thanks! I’m now a maven of slang!
    Doug Ross

  • Bruce

    My brother recommended I would possibly like this blog. He used to be entirely right. This publish actually made my day. You can not consider just how much time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

  • al

    Shikse = female abomination
    Goyim = cattle

    Yiddish and Jewish culture are quirky and fun. But know the truth.

  • Barbara Levitt Lichtman

    To all my Yiddish friends all over the world:

    My beloved step mother spoke Yiddish in what I call kind of a smorgasbord of ways—-it was very colorful and fun.Sometimes it was pure Yiddish -sometimes a mix with English ,sometimes made up words.
    One of the words-terms I have never heard is ‘ yoshkee pondray’-
    She would say this when she saw a shrine in a back yard— does anyone know what it means?my childhood was filled with a zillion ‘gay shlof ins ‘
    —sound familiar anyone.?

  • Johann

    I enjoyed this site and can as a native German speaker confirm,that many Jiddish words are easily understood -allowing for a different spelling in modern German.Some are used in Southern German dialects, such as Bueble or Maedle, others are high German: Quatsch (nonsense),Schlampe (unkempt,female) ,Tacheles reden (having a serious talk).Other words are used in every day German language, like schleppen (carrying of heavy loads),hocken (South German for sitzen = to sit) ,Massel haben (to be lucky),ein bisserl (South German = a bit) etc.
    I hope that Jiddish thrives as a living language.

  • Brien Kinkel

    Baruch Atta (above) gets a bit off-topic by suggesting there are only four words in English derived from Arabic. There are dozens. A good place to start is Wikepedia’s “List of Arab Loan Words in English,” a thoroughly annotated and authorotative list.

  • Kathy

    @Alt MIchael, you are way off…while not all these words are in common use in English, who doesn’t at least know schlep, or chutzpah, or schlock, shtick, schmaltzy, speil (schpeil?)schmooze, bupkes, glitch, maven, nosh, and klutz Even though I had little exposure to the Jewish community most of my younger years, these words, at least, were common enough vocabulary around me….I just didn’t know they were yiddish till I was an adult! (and didn’t know “glitch” and “klutz” were yiddish till I read this article!)

    As an adult, other words I commonly hear are… kvetsh, tuches, kibbitz, and schmutz.

  • Michelle

    Wow, what wonderful memories this brings back! I grew up in Brooklyn in the 70’s – my Nana spoke Yiddish constantly. Since moving in teens to Washington, I don’t hear much of it. However I do find myself saying words in Yiddish, and now I even recall more since reading this!! I am going to make sure my Children and Grandchildren get to hear as much yiddish as possible, so as not to lose this from their lives – it would be such a loss.

  • Cocoismo pa ti

    Oy vey, love to just hear when said, ja ja ja. Spiel, I use that all the time, didn’t know it was Yiddish.
    Born in the Bronx, 1950’s, I hear first said. I lived in a Jewish, Puerto Rican street, Fox street. A lot of Eastern Jews lived on my street, survivors.
    Love the word mishegas, ja ja ja, o yes, I use that 2.
    Spiel, when your running a c=scam on someone.
    Bupkes~ you get nothing, ja ja ja bupkes.

    Chutzpah, you got balls/cajones,nerve, daring action giver

    I love growing up in New York City.Moving back.

  • Lily

    Yiddish is, in short, Middle High German – the Medieval German that the Jews took with them when they fled the persecutions of the Crusades in the Rhineland to settle in Poland, invited by King Casimir of the 13th Century.
    It only became Yiddish when these Jews were no longer in Germany –
    When they still lived in Germany, it was simply German, as spoken by all of the inhabitants.
    In Eastern Europe – Poland, Ukraine, etc, is became the Jewish vernacular, and later (basically in the 19th century) a literary language, used for fiction, drama, poetry, etc. Most of the European classics were translated into Yiddish in the 19th-20h centuries.
    Refer to: Yiddish theatre, Max Weinrich Institute, YIVO
    Happy researching.

  • Helen Goldman

    Why so many discussions about where, how and when the yiddish language originated? Enjoy it! It’s self explanatory and has such a flavorful way of entertaining ” the taste ” buds ( Tom ) with colorful words and meanings.

    It dignifies a thought process in such a manner, as to be the pepper and salt, that adds ” Tom ” the spice, to the language. Borscht belt co medians used an use it to this day. Many words, expressions are picked up by many people with no regard to ethnicity.

    Yes, I am a former New Yawker who learned the language just by listening to older family members all of whom didn’t want the. ” kleiner” ( little one ) to understand adult speech. Little did they realize, I would end up understanding and speaking it.

    To get back to my original premise, enjoy it! Use it. it really rocks!
    A bie gezundt.
    Be well,
    Helen, 91 and still swingin’.

  • Big Mitch

    1. Someone who speaks Yiddish better than I do can translate the sentence, “grandfather said, “Gentlemen, let us pray.” In that sentence every wod has a different linguistic origin. The word in this sentence for pray, “bentchen,” comes from the Latin which also provides the root for benediction.

    2. I have often thought that if we could find a lot of second and third generation Americans whose grandparents spoke Yiddish, and study what Yiddish words they know, we might get an insight into Jewish values. For example, the word “shikker” would be widely known, I imagine, although few examples of Jewish alcoholics would be recalled. Is this a clue to the disdain with which Jews regard drunkards?

    3. I also have noticed that swear words in Yiddish never have the same nasty connotations that they do in English. Here are some examples:

    3.a Shtup in Yiddish literally to push. It is used to refer to the sexual act, but it also to refer to tipping, i.e. giving a gratuity to a service person, or to “comping” someone some free tickets. (pushing them across the desk to the recipient.) Cf: the four-letter Anglo-Saxon word for the sex act, when used metaphorically means to do something mean to another.

    3.b. A ‘momser’ is an illegitimate chid. The word comes from the Hebrew. In Yiddish the connotation is of a “love-child,” one who will steal your heart away if you are not careful. Wouldn’t you rather be called a ‘momser’ than a bastard?

    3.c. Is someone calls you a prick, them’s fighting words. More so, if he calls you a “horse’s dick.” But if he calls you a schmuck, he only means to say that you are a foolish and perhaps ineffectual person.

    3.d. “A grubbe yingle” means, roughly, “a dirty little penis.” In English, those words would be said to denote a mean, dispicable person. In Yiddish, it’s no compliment, but the insult is more like, “a course, unrefined person.”

    3.e. Or consider the word, “putz,” with the connotation of a weak, inneffectual person. What would be the literal English translation?

    4. The word “shikse” is derived from the word for “blemish.” It originally referred to a Jewish woman who was insufficiently observant, and therefore tarnished her family’s reputation. Later, it was extended to mean a non-Jewish girl, but it never lost its negative connotation.

    5. My father often called me, “Menachem Mendel, Kock in fendel.” Menachem Mendel is my given name: the rest of the sentence means, “Go shit in a pan.” The first time the rabbi called me up to open the ark, he asked me my Hebrew name. Hilarity ensued.

    6. Finally, on the subject of schvartze: If you are speaking Yiddish it might be a perfectly acceptable word to describe a Black person. However, if it is the only Yiddish word in an English sentence, it is definitely perjorative. Also, in the 1950’s, in NYC, the word was used to refer to a domestic, regardless of her race.

  • Alex Howard

    Thank you for the list, however short.

    I did try to read all comments, but there is only so much time …

    My late mother waited until I was 33 years old, to give me Leo Rosten’s “The Joys of Yiddish,” a book which can teach many Yiddish words and expressions.

    Both my parents, though born in the USA, spoke Yiddish before English and like many families, only spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want their kids to know what they were saying.

    I remember my father telling me there were two main types of Yiddish. Forgive my spelling, as I am trying to be phonetic … the two were Litvak and Galitzianer. Each one influenced pronunciation, and indicated from which part of Europe you originated. I think one was mainly Poland, the other Russian, but I admit I may indeed be wrong.

    Again, thanks for this list of words, and thanks to all who tried to add some good ones, many of which are in use in common English speech these days.

    Zi Gesunt! To all who genuinely added to this conversation.

    Alex, otherwise known to my friends as Unka Heshie

  • Jonathan Stensland

    I clicked into this discussion after my iPhone wouldn’t autocorrect “Mazel Tov” when congratulating a friend on a new position. I was bugged my Apfel couldn’t shpeddle. And I have no idea if shpeddle is a word in any language, let alone Yiddish. But it’s the spirit if it that I love; the Yiddish
    sound+sense+gripe+joy+endearment+boiled vowels with cabbaged consonants. So delicious and somehow seaming to steam a promise of an expression for every impression possible; as if Yiddish can indent any dent in a dented heart. A body shop for whatever daily or more rare damaged might insult a human heart. In Yiddish, I thought maybe, there it is: the language that forgives every situation by digesting it with a nifty linguistic twist, tuck, lift. Thank You for the Language, whether we really “get it” yet, or don’t!! I know I have ancestry in the language but adoptions and wars and shifts and all the brack (made-up word), a thread can keep going that does not break. With that, I find myself noticing a line between respect for a culture and then a kind of joy that rises up all around it, like spelt (rustic wheat) through a bed-spring. How crucial is the respect for Yiddish (as artifact) as opposed to the joy that leaps up through its cadence, inflections, phonetic content and imagination? I lean toward joy because I do not have cachez in the culturally correct grasp of the language. Nonetheless, their is a grief in my chest that celebrates that fact and critically-celebrates my ignorance with some chagrin. And with it, 400-times more joy that this Yiddish permission to bust-up English into spelt somehow exists. What about the heart of a language resurrected for whatever good-hearted reason: does it receive any kind if blessing? Can it? Is there a Yiddish for our time; echoes of a spirit that never dies? Maybe the problems aren’t the same…and the Spirit has no problem with losing some problems to enjoy new ones, the fresh taste of language doing what languages have always done…chew through silence, less with the teeth and possibly more with the tonsils and the tongue. Cheers!!

  • Julie

    Keep in mind that many words from yiddish entered into the American vernacular from family members. We Americans seem to intermarry maybe more easily than than some other places (YMMV), and many famlies have Jewish ancestry without knowing it.

    My ex-husband and my daughter only know because his mother is into geneology. Through her hobby, his family found the “other” side of the family. Some of the family were Jewish and in hiding. The traditions got passed down to the daughters but not the sons. The family members from that branch who descended from the daughters are still Jewish (openly, now). The family members descended from the sons are gentile. But, of course, little linguistic bits migrated.

    I wonder how many other American families are out there with similar histories? Most of the words above are in common usage in the groups of people I grew up with, with their slang meanings, and used all the time. Many of them, we used growing up just as a natural part of American English without ever knowing their etymology.

    It didn’t all come from Hollywood or mass media or being goyim neighbors to Jewish communities. Some of the migration of Yiddish into American English came from family.

    A lot of Americans feel a kind of kinship with Israelis, and outsiders frequently chalk it up to American right-wing versions of Christianity. I think we shouldn’t forget that some of the feelings of kinship have roots in actual kinship that our various ancestors, for whatever reasons, chose to “forget.”

    Perhaps blood remembers.

  • Daniel

    Whenever I used to tell my grandmother I was bored she would say, “Shlog zich kop in vant!”.

    Translation: Go bang your head against the wall!

  • Laura

    Thanks for posting Yiddish words. I get kind of emotional because the words remind me of my parents and grandparents. My dad used to sing a funny song about a “shikker” (drunk). It expressed a rather uncomplimentary stereotype about the drunken Goy and the studious Yid (Jew). I guess it came from the “old country”. All we ever hear about the Old country is that it was a horrible place where drunks would constantly beat up Jews and start Pogroms.
    Well now I am writing a novel which takes place in 1910 and has a Russian/Jewish character. She occasionally uses a Yiddish word, but I have to restrain myself from overdoing it. Unfortunately Jews and their culture have become almost self-parodying with the sitcoms on TV, etc. Using more than 2 Yiddish words per chapter would turn “Clara Epstein” into a comedic character, which she is not.

  • Trena

    Such a delightful post! I probably never met a Jewish person until I was well into my adult years, but many of these words were familiar, probably because of all 4 of my grandparents’ first language was German. I have often suspected there were Jewish roots in Switzerland (long story). I’m such a word nerd. This was so fun!! Thanks for all the comments!!

  • Craig Castleman

    Trena, my shiksa partner speaks fluent “Yiddish” with my dad — because the Swiss-German dialect spoken near Zurich (there is no written form) is exceptionally close to Yiddish. She loves the Yiddish-Swiss dialect as a self-consciously humorous and deliciously subversive dissent from formal German.

    And to AI: Indeed, my uncle, one of the original Star Trek writers, did sneak in Yiddish–as did “Spock” who borrowed from his father, a rabbi, the split-fingers of the blessing, “Live long and prosper.”

  • Saul

    Smart person. Literally means “Jewish head.”

    I don’t want to know what goyisher kop means <——no, you're not an ethonocentric bigot.


  • Richard Katz

    I was on this site via Googling to find out, definitively, what “nu” means, as in “Nu?” Turned out to be a great thread of comments, with even a little bit of flamethrowing in the middle there — all in good form, i guess the hothead got tired and toddled off to bed. And “Nu?” turned out to be the best word for exactly what I had wanted to say to a person I needed to write to, but I had to check to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently insulting to anyone. PS All four of my grandparents spoke Yiddish as their first language, including my maternal grandmother who was even born here in the USA. Hmmm — actually I never met Harry Katz, my paternal grandfather; he died young. RIP Grandpop. I”ve seen a picture of him and I thought at first glance it was me.

  • Rich

    Anyone know what a “Nebbish” is? I grew up on L.I. and I heard this word from time to time. Thanks

  • Brenda Connor

    To:Rich: A nebbish is a nerd , a loser, someone who is shy. Probably someone who will not be successful in life

  • susan

    Had heard of several of the 40 listed Yiddish words. The rest were new to me. I wrote all 40 down to help me be familiar with them. An Italian friend from Chicago, living in CA for years now, uses many of the Yiddish words mentioned. Enjoying reading the responses to the post. Great list.

  • Dora

    “Kibbitz: It didn’t originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game – that’s an American innovation.”
    Excuse me, but no way. It is in Hungarian common use in this meaning since at least 200 years, and the German word Kiebitz (which originally means some bird) is used in the same manner. The word in this meaning comes to both languages from the Yiddish, but from the Old World one.

  • A Biss Greenberg

    Wonderful list. Speaking from my goyische kopf, I wonder why mischegoss and tsimmes were not included, although I agree I would not really want to know what a GK might be more fully expressed as. My question, an answer being sought for some time, is how to spell “hance”(phonetically hon-se), meaning to budge, to annoy, to hurry –since my husband does it all the time. Please advise.

  • David Golding

    What about ‘Nebbish’?

  • Tbar

    Does anyone know the yiddish for having eaten too much?
    I think Jackie Mason uses Zebluzon or verkrept but I cant seem to find this on any dictionary.

  • Abbe

    Love this! My German Grandma spoke Ziddish and I loved her so much! To Bliss Greenberg above- it’s there but spelled Mishegas. Other fabulous words are plotz, schlemiel- I remember a song about a klutz, schlock- I worked in the garment center and heard that one, shtick- a Classic! Also my Grandma use to say when people called on the phone with problems ” I hobn mayn Eygn stores”.

  • Michael David Collins-Frias de Jehle-Romanov

    German Yiddish Hebrew, I never knew my lineage but these words were readily used by my grandmother Viola Ellen Yehle Collins but her name altered from Viola Ellen Jehle-Romanov Collins.

    Our linguistic structures identify our journey across traveling countries, while until last year my identity and title remained unknown it is refreshing to read about these words which are my lineage of my family line through Philippe Jehle-Romanov who’s mother was Christine Jehle-Romanov (death 1850) but his father was Andrew Kümmel.

    Thank you for providing these pages of history to provide clarity.
    My DNA surprise was 2% Italy/Greece; 4% West Russian/Finland; 10% Norway/Sweden; 22% Irish; 30% Great Brittain; 32% West Europe. My father only informed me of our Irish ancestry, yet he was more than half Yiddish Hebrew, by his mother. Secrets hide but DNA can show us our ancestry. Thank you for providing your knowledge.

  • Ivan Dobski

    I don’t really need to know these words, do I?

    It would be handy to know if there were many Yiddish speakers where I live, but there are not.

    40 Yiddish words you should know, in case you come across some Yiddish speakers on your travels. That is a more adept title for me.

    Because thats what live is all about. Me. Me. Me.

    Isn’t it?

  • Daniel Kian Mc Kiernan

    The English “s[c]hlub” (person of little merit, oaf) comes from the Yiddish “zhlub”/“zhlob” (yokel, oaf), possibly from the Polish “żłób” (oaf). (The very similar word “slob” does not come by way of Yiddish; I don’t know whether there is some common ancestry further back.)

  • Susan

    Can you tell me the word or phrase that describes a housewife’s money earning contribution, what farmers call “butter and egg money”? Judge Judy referred to this on the Suze Orman show. She was either referring to the financial contribution or to the work that provides it, such as taking in mending, something, Judge Judy said, “so that a woman doesn’t feel like a stranger in her own home.”

  • Tanya Adamson

    I use klutz to describe myself all the time but spelled it clutz. Tuches too, only I spell it/pronounce it tush. Don’t we all refer to our babies and grand babies as having pinchable little tushes? I know plenty of people who are expert at schmoozing it up with the boss. That’s a less harsh way of saying they are suck-ups! Lol! Oy vey is like OMG written out! Kosher is one that came and went years ago when I was teen we would say isn’t that just narly or some would spell gnarly it means cool. or good or ok. When you think about the slang we use in the english language and how it’s constantly changing, it’s pretty remarkable how many words have multiple meanings depending on how they are used. Remember when the phrase “That’s sick!” used to mean gross or bad or perverted? Who’da thunk that “selfie” would ever actually be added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary? Any body know how to speak pig latin? ow-hay all-tay re-ay ou-yay? (How tall are you?) I can speak it but don’t have a clue how to write it! Don’t you just love words, no matter what language you speak or what the origin is, I like to learn a new word every day.

  • Ken

    Shikse – When I heard it used I understood it to mean a female who didn’t look Jewish. She usually would be a blond with blue eyes.

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